Ana Veciana-Suarez

Men get by with a pocket; women require purses | Opinion

“What do you keep in here?” The Hubby asks, grunting as I hand over my purse.

“What do you think?” I retort, having answered this question a million times. “My life. My life’s in there.”

I’m not exaggerating either. If I’m ever stranded on an island a la Robinson Crusoe, I’m certain I could survive for days, perhaps for weeks, with just the contents in my purse. At different times and for varying reasons, I’ve stored all manner of essentials in my handbag: energy bars, cotton swabs, nail clippers, small round-tip scissors, eye drops, tissue, aspirin, an insulated coffee mug, dental floss, pens, a highlighter, a notebook and index cards, dark chocolate and mint candy, a tiny Swiss army knife, rubber bands, a collapsible umbrella, a hair scrunchie, a diaper, a portable pack of wipies — and, of course, a wallet, keys, a smartphone, a gym ID, lipstick and a mirror. In other words, I am ready for apocalypse, if need be.

Without my purse, I feel naked, vulnerable, at the mercy of who knows what. You know how some children drag along a blankie or a tatty toy wherever they go? That comes close to describing my attachment. Men don’t get that need — or devotion — to handbags. They traipse through life footloose and fancy-free, with no more than a couple of possessions in a pocket. How they manage, I have not a clue.

Women, we require purses. How else to keep our world and ourselves functioning? The necessity for purses, I noticed, starts young. My twin granddaughters, for example, wear crossbody Harry Potter handbags everywhere they go — and I mean everywhere. If they could keep them hanging from their shoulders during basketball practice, they would. Because of their small rectangular size, not much fits in there, but that’s not the point. The point is, well, I’m not really sure what the point is; but I’ll venture to guess that they feel very grownup accessorizing.

The 6-year-old kindergartner, who is all knobby knees and sharp elbows, also carries around a cream-colored, gold-stitched purse, though she does not take this fashion statement to school or to dance class. She does bring it along on shopping trips and visits. Like her abuela, she stores essentials in that handbag: plastic toys, loose coins, a pair of Pepto-Bismol pink sunglasses, a stubby pencil, a scribbled-in notebook, and a doll-sized hairbrush. She may not be ready for the end of the world, but at least she has enough to keep her entertained in the event of boredom.

Out of curiosity I looked up to see how many purses a typical woman owns, and though that’s not a readily available number, I did find an interesting study. Back in 2014, San Francisco-based thredUP, an online shop that buys and sells like-new women’s and kids’ clothing, found that American women, on average, own about 11 handbags. Ten percent of them have more than 20. I own six, not counting the one in current rotation. Each bears a distinct purpose: eveningwear, travel, and so on.

While my handbags have grown in size over the years, I’ve owned all kinds. Crossbody. Clutches. Pouches. Shoulder bags. Hobo. Sling. Also, different colors, different styles, different manufacturers, but always bought on sale.

Which brings me back to that 2014 survey. It also revealed how much we fork over for a purse. American women spend, on average, as much as $160, with 20 percent spending more than $200 and about 8 percent splurging more than $400. Frankly, those sums are a little rich for my blood, a detail I shared with a purseaholic friend who dutifully pointed out that some “very fine” purses retail for a lot more. A Burberry, for instance, sells for $1,600, a Judith Leiber Couture for $6,295, an Hermes for a whopping $72,600.

While these are totally out of my budget, that doesn’t mean I will buy just any handbag. No, siree. I have a very strict preference for pockets. Lots of them, inside and out, large and small, zippered or not. The paucity of pockets is a deal-breaker for me. I can’t imagine a handbag without them.

How else would I manage to organize my life?

Ana Veciana-Suarez writes about family and social issues. Email her at or visit her website Follow @AnaVeciana.