Doing the New York Tote
>> Everyone in New York carries a purse, which, for unisex reasons, is called "a bag." These bags aren't delicate little numbers just large enough for a wallet, comb and personal electronics. No! They're big, bold, and function like suitcases.
New York requires that we carry enough to satisfy our needs at all times, wherever we might go.
Who knows? We can get stuck on the subway, run into a dating opportunity or need a multitude of files for business tasks. Whatever. Suburbanites carry this type of stuff in their car trunks. We carry it on our shoulders (similar to the way natives used to carry their stuff on their heads).
Want to look like you're from out of town? Travel light.
Big Bags Reduce Loss
The most compelling reason for carrying a big bag is to keep loose, unrelated things together. Have you ever accidentally walked away from your umbrella or lost a sweater or light jacket because you were inattentive? In New York, being "inattentive" is the result of being alert to a million simultaneous events, consequently, the loss of personal stuff is epidemic.
A few months ago, I developed a sore shoulder from carrying too much, so I bought a small, designer bag to lighten up. God, I looked great!
Unfortunately, because I also travel around the city on business, my new bag forced me to carry my portfolio separately. And magazines. And newspapers. And, of course, my umbrella. Within a week, I lost two portfolios (one on a train and the other in a restaurant), plus an umbrella (somewhere). So much for better health and good style.
The NY Good Bag
A really good New York bag holds everything securely. The perfect bag will be wide enough to hide virgin newspapers, leather portfolios and a collapsible umbrella. At minimum, if some of these things need to protrude from the top, they should be secure, leaving enough extra room for pair of shoes and spontaneous shopping.
Numerous compartments, most zippered or Velcro'd, are a "must." Why? Big, floppy, open bags inspire pickpockets. Zippers, of course, also keep things from spilling out when you mine your bag's contents for deeply buried items.
Designer Bags May Not be Designed for Utility
Kate Spade, a purse designer, is known for her expensive bags. I, however, never heard of her when I first moved here. Shortly thereafter, I purchased a marvelous $20 "Kate Spade" bag from a street merchant and thought nothing of the label. This bag had a secure flap which hid a multitude of zippered compartments and an adjustable shoulder strap. Best, the bag's body molded itself to my side no matter how much I carried.
Spotting my bag's label, a friend told me about Kate Spade's reputation. If my bag was even remotely similar to Ms. Spade's line, I thought, her bags would be reasonable at any cost. I decided to check them out.
Talk about a disappointment! The moment I saw legit merchandise, I knew that fraud was committed. While my bag was finely fitted for every aspect of daily life, most of Kate Spade's were not (although I must admit, hers are pretty). That said, the street merchant who borrowed her name to make sales needn't have bothered. His merchandise was functionally superior.
If you want a high-quality, pick-pocket-proof, huge, day bag, I recommend the Tumi line. Tumi is a travel bag specialist that has an excellent selection of very stylish, sturdy, secure, unisex bags that range in price from $60 to $300 (all worth it). Check them out at 64 Grand Central Terminal as well as in other Tumi shops and major department stores.
Unisex Fossil bags are also excellent and are relatively low priced (under $100). You can find them in many department stores as well as in Fossil's neat 5th Avenue shop, between 44th and 45th Streets.
The Frankie and Johnny brand features inexpensive women's bags with multiple pockets and zippers. These sell for around $60, but are commonly on sale for $30 in department stores like Sterns and Macy's. Although not as sturdy as Tumi or Fossil, they can be functionally better than other bags in their price range. With heavy use, they last about four months.
I purchased my last bag, an Italian leather Perlina, at Century 21. Century 21 is a Financial District discount store that features top quality, designer merchandise, attractively displayed. Visit its huge bag section as well as other departments in this store for incredible bargains.
My bag (pictured) meets nearly all city bag requirements, except for the lack of adjustable shoulder straps. Note that although this bag is flat, it is wide enough for virgin newspapers and leather portfolios. Fully stuffed, it doesn't knock other travelers out of my way as I weave through heavy pedestrian traffic.
When you buy a bag, shop carefully. Don't make do by schlepping numerous bundles because your primary bag is not the right size. A cool bag that's as little as an inch too small can cause a lot of travel misery.
A word on backpack use: Heavy, overstuffed backpacks are a menace, especially in close quarters like subways, subway stairs and busses. Someone should come up with a T-shirt warning "bump me again with your backpack and I'll expand my umbrella up your butt." There's definitely a pent up market out there to articulately vent pedestrian road rage . . .
Questions or comments?
Article and photos by Karen Little. First published on 1/28/2001. All rights reserved by www.Littleviews.com.