Minimalist Purse Shopping For Stupid People A.K.A. How I Became An Accidental Coach Bag Collector
I’ve spent approximately the entire 8th Season of Law & Order: Criminal Intent shopping for a new handbag. That show is so stupid. The villains always tell all at the end. It’s like SCOOBY DOO for adults.
But back to the purse shopping. I know. It’s such a stereotypical girlie time suck-hole that I can’t believe Mens Rights Advocates aren’t making a billboard about it.
It all started with my birthday. My parents and my inlaws both sent me checks that added up to $200 in birthday spending money. Since Mr. Foxypants and I are both unemployed and on a severely restricted budget for at least the next six months, I’d decided, at the beginning of the year, that I’d allow myself to spend my birthday money, whatever the amount, to buy myself a new-to-me handbag, as the $6 black vinyl purse I got two years from a clothing swap party has finally gotten too tatty looking to be part of my work wardrobe.
Who knew that buying a handbag would be such a pain in the ass? Thinly veiled shopping sites like pinterest and polyvore are supposed to make shopping easier. And I suppose if I could afford to buy the Celine box bag (sold out, but selling used on ebay for $2500) or the now classic mini flap Chanel bag ($1355 plus $12 for priority shipping on etsy), then I could have bought a bag that suited all my carrying needs in one episode, even before Goren and Eames could throw the book at a character actor from THE WIRE.
Alas, my purse budget is $200, which seems like not a small amount of money. However, it’s apparently super difficult to design a minimalist, lady-like, cross body bag because all the pretty ones that aren’t lined with cardboard cost a fortune.
I know I sound like I’m eleventy years old when I say this, but since childhood I have always hated huge labels on clothing. I’m not a NASCAR driver. If purse designers want me to walk around with a bag that has a two inch wide metal logo over the front clasp, then really, they should pay me for the advertisement space on my body. Jeez. When did purses get so fugged out and blingy?
Gross gold-tone detailing aside, for some reason it’s hard to find a cross body handbag that doesn’t have twelve exposed zippers and look like I’m wearing fanny pack slung across my chest like a bandolier. Although there are numerous swoon-worthy purses out there, my real life as a klutz requires that I carry a hands-free purse. I don’t do well with classic handbags or clutches since most of my daily activities such as eating tacos, texting, and speaking Italian all involve using two hands. Shoulder bags are also a no-go for me because they make riding my bike too difficult. And don’t even get me started on the current trend of gigantic purses worn at the elbow. I don’t think I’m the only person with a sweaty arm crook.
Since I am always looking for ways to shrink my already small wardrobe, I spent the four episode arc where Goren and Eames disappear from the show contemplating purse strategies, before coming to the conclusion that I need one small cross body bag that will work for daytime meetings and evening events like art openings, one evening bag for more formal events like weddings and film premieres, and one leather tote bag that I can use in lieu of my too-casual-for-business-meetings Patagonia laptop bag.
As my wardrobe is primarily black and white, initially I thought I’d stumbled across the perfect handbag when I found a mint condition Orla Kiely Ivy bag in black and cream on ebay.
Elegant enough to go from day to dinner, this bags lacks the extraneous doodads that quickly date purses. Alas, I quickly discovered that it has an annoyingly common design flaw: the cross body strap is removable, but the short
sweaty arm crook hand strap is not. When worn with the cross body strap, the hand strap just flops around like a flaccid penis, readily available to get slammed in the car door, catch on shrubbery, or knock things over.
Unable to find a black and white bag to match everything in my wardrobe, my next brilliant time-wasting idea was to find a colored bag that coordinated with my clothes but wasn’t an exact match to any of my shoes or belts. After considering a ridiculous number of leopard print handbags, I finally decided that Dooney & Bourke’s Happy Bag in Melon (coral) was the perfect handbag.
Frankly, I was a little shocked by this decision, as Dooney & Bourke is a brand that, after spending the late 1980’s working retail in the wasteland that is suburban Arizona, I will always associate with judgmental, social-climbing housewives who change into “nice clothes” before driving to the Scottsdale mall to window shop.
That pebbled leather, to this day, gives me the shivers.
Bad memories aside, the Happy Bag, with its $198 just-barely-in-my-price-range, price tag, beckoned to me. It’s clean equestrian-inspired lines and shiny, candy-like finish remind me of vintage Hermes. It’s so cute.
Why are the best things always discontinued? Dooney & Bourke discontinued the Happy Bag last year.
One of my random googling efforts for “orange saddle bag” led me to Coach Bag Rehab, an etsy storefront containing the handbag that ultimately broke my brain.
Of course the 1960’s era, burnt orange, Courier bag that I immediately fell in love with had been put on reserve for someone else the day before. I contacted Stephanie, the Coach Bag Rehab shop owner, and asked her to let me know if the first buyer flaked. But sadly for me, the next day the orange bag was marked sold.
Knowing that I’d missed out on the perfect handbag by one day, made me desperate to have it. I had never seen a vintage Coach bag in orange, so I knew that it was either an exceptionally rare color, or a custom patina that came only after years of wear. Either way, I wasn’t going to get it. But perhaps I could find it in British tan instead…
Even though it pushed against my minimalist aspirations, I finally decided to go with the prevailing, old lady, wardrobe wisdom of buying a brown bag to coordinate with my brown shoes and belts and a black bag to match everything else.
“Well, there’s Good Coach and there’s Bad Coach,” is how my friend Lisa describes iffy fashion decisions. It’s also the most succinct way to describe how Coach went, in the last decade, from being a Flag Ship American brand to a purveyor of tacky accessories made in China. After wasting half of Season 8 looking at hundreds of other handbags, I realized that I should have started my online search with vintage Coach bags. I still own my French wallet that I saved up to buy from the Coach catalog when I was fifteen. I used the gigantic, ultra-yuppie, Coach Filofax-style organizer as my lifeline to sanity during college. My miniature travel kit is a Coach pencil case that I bought in 1988. The last gift I bought my grandmother before she died was a Coach coin purse. Unbeknownst to me, I was brand loyal. I just hadn’t realized it because I haven’t bought I Coach bag in the last ten years. Why? Because new Coach bags are ugly.
Unlike modern Coach bags, or even the Orla Kiely or the Happy Bag, the vintage Courier bag had oodles of character and can take a beating. I’m really hard on my handbags, so it’s dumb that I was shopping for handbags that would have lost their glamour and their value with the first scratch or water spot.
After losing four consecutive ebay auctions for a Courier bag in British tan, I finally managed to purchase one for a grand total of $102. Victory! Not only is the bag the exact right size to hold all my junk, I still have $98 in my birthday fund to spend on a black bag.
It’s at this point, that my shopping plans, go horribly awry.
Now armed with the knowledge that vintage Coach was the answer to all my handbag problems, I started scouring ebay and etsy for a black, vintage Coach bag that was both in excellent condition and under $98.
Almost immediately I came upon a mint condition Coach Willis bag in gray with a starting bid of $49. For the first week, I ignored the gray Willis bag. I was shopping for a black bag. Even though gray kind of goes with everything, and the Willis is super pretty and has a completely different look from my Courier, I couldn’t justify buying another non-black handbag, especially one that I wasn’t completely in love with. Well, I couldn’t justify buying it until I realized that the seller had mis-listed the bag, which is the reason why the Coachies (the name that Coach Bag collectors call themselves) hadn’t noticed the auction and were busily buying Gray Willis bags from other ebay sellers for $299! I don’t love the Willis design like I love the Courier, but with shipping and handling the Gray Willis came to $62. I’m not really spending my birthday money if I’m buying the Willis bag to resell it for a profit, right?
So now I own two Coach bags. Neither of them are black, and one of them doesn’t even fit into my revised minimalist purse count. Officially, I own one Coach bag, and one project to put on my etsy To Do list. Great.
“When you sell it, I get first dibs,” my BFF said in an attempt to sooth my frayed nerves. She knows I suck at shopping. “Have you gotten to the episodes with Jeff Goldblum yet?” Her go-to handbag happens to be a bottle green Willis bag. She waxed poetic about square bags and green bags.
I blame all the stupid television I was watching for making me so vulnerable to suggestion. Because just thinking about my BFF’s green Willis sent me looking for a green bag. Like I need one. Which I don’t. But, one Coach bag that I’ve admired, as far back as high school, is the ultra minimalist Coach convertible clutch bag in olive green. That I found on ebay. Almost immediately. For $30 with free shipping.
So now I own three Coach bags. None of which are black.
The next day I took a load of clothes to sell into a consignment store, and ended up buying a vintage, black, cross body Coach bag for $18. Since I had trade credit, my total purchase came to $8.
The Multi Zip Bag is actually one of my least favorite vintage Coach designs. It’s from that period in the early 80’s when MIAMI VICE was the biggest thing on television, and handbag companies were trying to sell clutch bags to men. The Multi Zip looks like a Filofax with a cross body strap, which is ironic, considering that in college I used to wish that my Coach organizer had a strap, believing that was the only thing that could possibly have made it any better. So here I am, getting my aspirational college bag, twenty years later, and wow is it not cute.
All that homeliness aside, I am still pretty pleased with my $8 Coach bag, even though it put me officially $2 over my $200 birthday handbag budget. In addition to the exterior slip pocket that’s the ideal spot to stash my cell phone, the interior of the bag is really well laid out. The main compartment of the bag is divided into two sections by a zippered pouch, and there’s also an interior slip pocket and a little pocket for business cards. If I had any sense, I’d stop shopping for a black bag now, since this is super functional, and it’s only slightly more ugly than the black vinyl bag I’ve been using for the past two years. However, I’m now officially on the hunt for the Coach Lunch Box bag in black, which is, of course, the perfect handbag. Also, since I’m already committed to reselling the gray Willis bag, I might as well sell the Multi Zip as well to off-set the cost of the Lunch Box. If I’m going to break my minimalist New Year’s Resolution, I might as well do it really hard. What’s one more thing on the To Do list, hmmmm? Besides, if I sell both the Willis and the Multi Zip, what are my chances, really, of overspending on a Coach Lunch Box bag? If I sell both the Willis and the Multi Zip I will definitely be under budget and probably make a decent profit!
I arrived home with my black Multi Zip bag to discover an email from Stephanie at Coach Bag Rehab. The original buyer of the orange Courier Bag hadn’t paid. Was I still interested in buying it for $149?
Ahhhhhh! Nooooo! Whyyyyyy!
I sent an email to my BFF for emergency purse advice. “Should I buy the orange Courier bag and put myself over-budget by $151?” She confessed to her enabler tendencies and refused to intervene. Because Orange. Coach. Vintage.
She is the worst best friend a girl could have.
I bought the orange Courier bag. Now, I’ll just have to figure out what bag gets ditched down the road. I think I will have to see how close in color the orange is to the British tan bag when it arrives. If it’s close, then I’ll sell the British tan one. The little black man bag will get sold when I find a suitable black lunch box. I have a vintage flowered carpet bag which will work as my night time business event bag, even though it’s a crook of the elbow bag, and annoying to carry.
Yes. I am aware that I sound crazy.
So now I own five Coach bags. And one of them is black. But it’s not the black bag I want.
The orange Courier bag arrived today and I just discovered two things. The first: Coach made two sizes of Courier bag. My British tan Courier is the small version. My newly arrived orange Courier is the big version. The second: the big Courier version is a shoulder bag, not a cross body bag. In my initial frenzy I’d missed that fact.