Nora Ephron's Hilarious Essay About Purses Proves That The Concept Of Having It All Together Is A Total Myth
Everyone knows her: That woman who just seems to always be so perfectly put together. And she's not just killing it at work or in her relationships — she looks put together, too. Maybe her makeup is always impeccable. Or maybe her hair is never not on point. And maybe she has a seemingly neverending series of gorgeous handbags that are always perfectly organized. If you're anything like writer Nora Ephron, it's that last one that has you wallowing in some serious feelings of inadequacy. In her 2002 essay, "I Hate My Purse," Ephron talks about just that: how much she hates purses and all of the baggage, both literal and metaphorical, they can add to our shoulders. She writes:
"I hate my purse. I absolutely hate it. If you're one of those women who think there's something great about purses, don't even bother reading this because there is nothing here for you. This is for the women who hate their purses, who are bad at purses, who understand that their purses are reflections of their negligent housekeeping, hopeless disorganization, a chronic inability to throw anything away, and an ongoing failure to handle the obligations of a demanding and difficult accessory (the obligation, for example, that it should in someway match what you're wearing.)"
And that's just it, isn't it? Our purses mean so much more than just fashion. Ephron goes on to detail all of the different ways she tried to get around the purse problem. As a freelance writer she tried to go the super minimalist route. Often at home working, she was able to get away with packing just a lipstick, credit card and $20 bill in her pocket during nights out. Then she went the complete opposite way, buying a bag so big that she could fit too much in it — old airplane snacks in case she ever got hungry, a cosmetics back she forgot to zip and sunscreen she forgot to close, an electronic date book with no batteries and, of course, a pair of sneakers. She writes:
"Before you know it, your purse weights 20 pounds and you're in danger of getting bursitis and needing an operation just from carrying it around. Everything you own is in your purse. You could flee the Cossacks with your purse. But when you open it up, you can't find a thing in it — your purse is just a big dark hole that you spend hours fishing around for. A flashlight would help, but if you were to put it into your purse, you'd never find it."
Again, we all know that this isn't just about purses. This is about the difference between having it all together, like the girl with the perfectly organized designer tote, or falling apart at the seams as you stuff the entire contents of your studio apartment into some sort of pleather monstrosity. But, here's the thing: no one has it all together, even if their handbags make you think they do. Ephron learned this in stunning clarity on a trip to Paris with a friend, the sort of put-together woman who did think there was something great about purses. Her mission was to purchase a highly covetable (and highly expensive) vintage Hermès Kelly bag at a flea market. Let's just say, things didn't go quite according to plan. She writes:
"Anyway, my friend bought her Kelly bag. She paid twenty-six hundred dollars for it. The color wasn't exactly what she wanted, but it was in wonderful shape. Of course, it would have to be waterproofed immediately because it would lose half its value if it got caught in the rain...The two of us went to a bistro, and the Kelly bag was placed in the middle of the table, where it sat like a small shrine to a shopping victory. And then, outside, it began to rain."
It was right then and there that Ephron decided to give up on purses and, in essence, give up on the idea of "having it all together" by anyone's standards but her own. She went back to New York and bought herself a tote bag with an image of MetroCard emblazoned on its front. "It cost next to nothing," she writes, "and I will never have to replace it because it is completely indestructible. What's more, never having been in style, it can never go out of style." By ignoring all of the societal standards of what makes a great purse — i.e. what makes a great woman — Ephron found her own version of it. And really, what more can we do than that?
"And wherever I go," Ephron writes, "people say to me 'I love that bag.' 'Where did you get that bag?'...For all I know they've all gone off and bought one. Or else they haven't. It doesn't matter. I'm very happy."