A friend recently snapped a pic of a sleek yet functional new backpack to social media. Unlike the many useless posed photos that pop up in my feed daily, this one hit me because of the caption, which described how and why the bag symbolized an exciting new phase in her life.
It made me stop and consider the significance of the bags we carry every day. They go where we go, appendages to our body but also extensions of our spirit, our fashion sense, and interestingly enough, our wants and needs at that particular time in our lives.
I thought back to the very first bag I carried regularly—the trusty Jansport Backpack. In high school and college, the roomy interior held books and binders by day, extra clothes, shoes, and provisions/vices by night. Jansport backpacks were pretty straightforward in the ‘90s (today you can find assorted sizes, styles, and designs), but I distinguished mine by writing the lyrics of my favorite songs in black marker, which also served as a worthwhile icebreaker among potential friends.
The Messenger Bag
What happens when you’re 21, just out of college, and working in book publishing? You upgrade to a (manuscript-friendly) Messenger Bag. With the easygoing, hands-free soul of the backpack and the more mature briefcase shape, it was a good transitional piece as I continued to save money and commute back to my parents’ house in the outer boroughs of NYC.
The “Bowling” Bag
My early- to mid-twenties were such “unencumbered” days, as evidenced by my smallest, most sophisticated purse yet: a bowling-bag style that when worn over the shoulder, fit securely under my arms (excellent for subway commuting). How lightly I traveled then! A small wallet, simple keyring, and I assume some relic of a cell phone—I never really used one until it started doing more things than making calls. Wow—remember when we carried actual address books with our contacts’ phone numbers? Remember when we actually REMEMBERED phone numbers? Reminiscing about that lovely lightweight bag and my lightfooted 24-year-old self, I’m surprised at how wistful I am for that now-unfamiliar feeling of DISconnectedness.
The “Treat Yourself” Bag
By the time my husband and I had moved on to our second, officially grown-up apartment, I had also ascended professionally. Which could only mean one thing: it was time for a status bag. I chose something generously sized and timelessly stylish that cost about 1/3 of the monthly rent of our one-bedroom Manhattan apartment. It was the first (and last) time I ever treated myself to something truly outrageous, and I still treasure it 10+ years later. If you’ve reached this stage in your life, I highly recommend you experience this kind of purchase. You deserve it!
The Diaper Bag
Then we had kids. Translation: dark days for handbag couture. Putting together that first baby registry, I obsessed over choosing a diaper bag that was “exactly me.” Then I had the baby, and another, and in the waking moments when I wasn’t half-asleep I realized that it didn’t matter what the bag looked like or what I looked like, as long as they didn’t lose their sh** in public when we ventured out for the first time in what felt like years. I learned to rely on something large, dark-colored, and easy to clean before graduating (regressing?) to a backpack again. How else could I juggle two (then three) young kids plus their snacks, juice boxes, Matchbox cars, diapers, dolls, wet wipes, toilet seat covers, and library books AS WELL AS my ID, keys, and phone?
The Leather Tote
According to some older, wiser people, my current age/life stage is considered a sweet spot when one finally has the right balance of everything: family, career, home, financial security, etc. Emotionally I don’t feel that way, but in handbag-speak, it’s possible I do. My current bag—a spacious and chic leather tote—seems to embody all the best qualities of all the bags of my life. It’s also exactly the type of bag that only improves with age. Here’s hoping—for both of us.