Cute article written in the year 1945 (during World War II ). Has anything really changed in over 60 years, except for what we carry in our handbags?
Printed January 21, 1945, The New York Times, by Anita Daniel
Inside Story of a Handbag circa 1945
A woman without her handbag feels as lost as a wanderer in the desert. And she wants it large. If she cannot get it in leather-now growing scarce-she will take it in fabric, fur, or even plastic. The handbag is the movable base of her supplies-the depot of her expected needs. These eventual needs may reach out to a degree far beyond any man's power of imagination. A woman's handbag is a mysterious dungeon. It's the key to her real self; the prosaic answer to many poetic conceptions.
A magician does not want to explain his tricks. There is an aura of taboo about a closed handbag. Every woman has an uneasy look if somebody glances into its sacred privacy. A decent man should always tactfully stare at the ceiling whenever his companion opens her bag. He will, of course, have to concentrate on that ceiling pretty often. The typical handbag of a typical woman contains a certain number of fundamental things-plus her own individual touch. It is that individual touch that fills the bag. Some item is pretty sure to roll out the moment the bag is opened.
Every woman's handbag is a lost and found department in itself. It is strange, but things actually disappear there, as by magic. They finally reappear on the surface after three or four investigations and complete pell-mell of the contents. Every bus driver is fatalistically resigned to having a lady barring the passage while searching for a nickel in the depths of her handbag. And every man knows about the two-minute drama ever repeated: "Heavens, I must have lost my watch...(or my twenty-dollar bill, my keys, that important letter, etc.,etc.)!" It usually has a happy ending. Nothing gives a man more self-satisfaction than such an experience. The whole myth of the superiority of men is built on the fact that a man never carries a handbag. Men keep women in eternal dependence by buying them beautiful handbags. What female heart would not melt at the sight of a luscious alligator bag, or soft suede or brocade?
A man carries everything in his numerous comfortably deep pockets. It is estimated that a man wearing a suit with a vest and an overcoat has twenty pockets. No wonder he can never lose anything!
No woman's suit pocket is meant to hold her belongings. Every bulge would endanger the slim line and the smart effect. So women continue to carry handbags. As long as women do not wear men's suits with pockets, they will remain women. And men will continue to feel superior.
A young man I knew-the sensitive type-once told me that he was about to propose to a girl, when, accidentally, he had a glance into her handbag. It shocked him to such a degree that he spontaneously canceled his proposal. His whole image of the pretty girl had changed after he had seen the untidiness of her powder-dusted, lipstick-spotted handbag. Worst of all, a fruit drop had stuck to the lining.
Some psychologists think the way a woman carries her bag is characteristic. "Bagology" is quite a science. There is the strap type, the shoulder-strap type and the woman who tucks her bag under her arm. There are a great number of women who hold their bags both by the straps and pressed under the arm. Seen from the psychologist's angle,
the way a woman carriers her purse demonstrates the entire scale of characteristics, from light-mindedness and generosity to caution and greediness. One analyst warns men against women who keep their bag rolled around the wrist and the hand firmly clasped around the lock.
In the good old times, when the definition of a "lady" covered very definite limitations, it was ladylike to carry as little as possible. In sentimental English novels of the last century, whenever a lady opened her bag it was to give money to the poor. Or to take out a small prayerbook, an embroidered handkerchief or a tiny bottle of smelting salts, as it was considered very ladylike to faint once in a while. Today's ladies have a far more varied program. The first time I saw Mrs. Roosevelt I was deeply impressed by the sight of her bag. There stood the First Lady, very tall, very straight, very distinguished in her gray tailored suit. In one hand she carried roses that had been presented to her; in the other, her bag. What a bag! It was of dark leather and of tremendous dimension, practically bursting with invisible contents. It clearly spoke of the activities of the First Lady. One glance and you knew the President's wife had a full-time job.
The typical handbag of a typical woman in 1945 contained:
One or two lipsticks
A compact(the won't close)
1 fresh handkerchief
2/3 crumpled handkerchiefs
A package of letters
The laundry bill
3 tickets from the cleaner
1 nylon stocking to be repaired
1 address book
1 pack of cigarettes
3 packs of matches
1 leather picture folder
All ration books (including expired ones)
Several cards with addressed of a furrier, a wholesale place for children's coats, a beauty parlor, a graphologist, etc.
2 scraps of paper with telephone numbers and no names
1 bottle of vitamins
3 samples of slipcovers
1 fountain pen
1 parcel of V-mail letters covering
several months held by a rubber band.