Saturday, 8 November 2014

Guest post: A significant relationship? Women and their handbag

I'm delighted to be publishing this guest post from Stephanie Richards

What sort of relationship do you have with your handbag?
Common place or complex?
Do you see it as a branded status symbol?
A fashionable finishing touch to your ensemble?
A familiar accessible private space?
Or just a bag to carry your stuff around?
I enjoy handbags. I don’t like to leave the house without one.
I’m not a ‘just take your phone and a credit card in your bra’ type of girl.  A voluminous sack is my idea of ok. Must have a shoulder strap. Preferably black, with no logos, studs, bling or small stuffed animals on key rings.
I heard Professor Julia Twigg on the radio recently, talking about women with dementia and the affinity they have with their handbags.
(Her website is well worth a visit)
I was very interested by what she said. In particular how having your handbag with you remained important to dementia sufferers even when other things ceased to matter as much or at all.
This struck a cord with me. As in addition to being a ‘must have’ item, I believe that bags can be a comfort zone..think children with blankies. It’s your creature, it matches your outfit (hopefully) and most importantly it can be a secure personal space right there on your shoulder. Or wrist. Or back.
I don’t think that I am the only person who looks upon their bag as a talisman. I am an anxious person. ‘Just in case’ is a mantra for me, not an option. Knowing you have all the items necessary to get through the day tucked in your bag is calming. I know I have tissues, keys, phone, cash; all the props necessary to get me through the day or night.
It’s not just necessary to have house keys, but I feel reassured that I am equipped, control. I have not only got a tangible bag to hold, clutch or cuddle, but am calm knowing that I have no need to fear a runny nose or the lack of pencil and paper (you never know when you might have to write something down)
The contents of your handbag are supposed to reveal a lot about you (must be true, I read it in the paper). What have you got in yours? Something from all the basic groups I expect…valuable, useful, sentimental, forgotten about?
Different people have different ideas of what constitutes essential bag contents.
Ms Prepared has plasters, spare tights and a useful plastic carrier bag (folded)
Ms Mum has wipes, toys, kitchen sink and paracetamol tablets (for her, not child)
Ms Corporate has phone, business cards and a tablet (electronic)
The common thread is that they carry what they want or need in their bags.
Or possibly  in the case of mums because their child thought that a TV remote or a bag of sweets from anywhere within reach was a useful addition.
As well as this repository of makeup, loose change, receipts, sweeteners and emery boards, a hand bag performs a service which most people have had cause to be thankful for. How often when you are out do you take refuge in your bag? Not literally….even a big bag would struggle with that, but as a device to appear occupied. A fallback defense against feeling exposed when sitting by yourself or waiting for someone. Or feeling like 'Janey no mates' not knowing anyone in a meeting or at a meal. Or when you cant think of anything to say..or desperately don’t want to say it…….
Just grab your bag and have a quick rummage. Take things out and put them back in again or leaf through your diary or search for a tissue, the possibilities are legion. I find clearing out the inbox on my phone as useful as anything, whilst hopefully giving the impression I am sealing a large international deal or telling George and Amal that I’m sorry, but I’m busy on Friday.

A handbag can be a talisman, a repository of essential clutter and a smokescreen for the socially compromised all at the same time. Quite a skill set for the humble handbag. Or maybe it’s not the bag we should celebrate, but the skill set of the person who carries it?
Further reading

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