March 19, 2024

Gadabout Town

Inside Out: What’s in Your Bag?

Collection from Tassenmuseum, The Museum of Bags and Purses, Amsterdam

In this section we ask our readers 
Inspired by Mána Taylor’s reflections on bags and the weight of the things we carry around, we asked a group of writers and editors what they have in their bags.

Rayne Fisher-Quann, Writer

1. Herbal cigarettes – I don’t like nicotine, but I love leaving a party for ten minutes and taking deep breaths. Honeyrose Clove Herbals are my favourite things in the entire world. They’ve become so habitual for me that I do think I’m kind of addicted to them, even though they are patently non-addictive. I buy them in bulk and always have a pack in my bag or in my pocket.
2. Passport – I literally do not have any piece of ID other than my passport so I carry it with me everywhere, sometimes in my bag and sometimes loose in my coat pocket. People keep telling me is not a very good idea — but I feel sort of chic bringing it out at the door at a bar, like I’m a real international woman, and it can be kind of a conversation starter due to being Canadian.
3. Cash – My debit card only works 50% of the time for reasons I don’t understand. I don’t have a credit card — I have applied three times in six years but always forget to pick them up from the bank. For these reasons and more, I like moving around with a big wad of cash. I love saying “I have to hit the ATM!” It makes me feel like my mom when I was little.
4. Earrings – I’m not sure why, but I always have a random pair of earrings in my bag. I actually usually never put on earrings when I leave the house because I just think “I’ll use my bag earrings.”
5. Laneige glowy lip balm – I have maybe four of these, at least one in every bag I regularly use. I bought it for the first time in senior year of high school because I felt certain that I could have my first kiss at any moment and didn’t want my lips to be sticky when it happened. I actually nailed that idea because it is PERFECT for this purpose and I still wear it whenever I think I could be kissing.
6. Rosary – sorryyyy I know it’s gauche to be Catholic now but I do keep a rosary in my purse. For a long time it was my late granny’s rosary, which had been blessed by the Pope in Vatican City, but I misplaced it in my move to New York and am still looking for it. Me and my mom both do the rosary as a sort of self-soothing exercise so it’s nice to have it with me (here I am obviously trying to prove that I come by it honestly and am not a clout convert). I got my current one at the big church on the UWS near Central Park.
7. Book – The book I keep in my bag is usually not the book I’m actively reading; it’s kind of just a book that exists to be in my bag. I’ll usually pick a little portable book every few months and just keep it permanently in my purse so that I can read and re-read it in sporadic five-minute intervals over the course of several months. Most recently, it was Kathy Acker’s New York City in 1979.
8. Tide pen – Listen — I am NOT THE KIND OF GIRL WHO USUALLY HAS A TIDE PEN!!! Seriously. Usually when something spills on an item of my clothing I immediately accept that this is just what it will look like now. I never thought I would own a Tide Pen in my life. But recently I was at a fancy restaurant eating a steak for lunch by myself and the waitress accidentally spilled some of the steak jus on my blouse when she took my plate. I didn’t really care at all — like I said, I actually don’t think I’ve ever really tried to get a stain out of anything — but the waitress immediately stepped out without a word and went to the corner store to get me a Tide Pen, which was an act of generosity I couldn’t have imagined and also made me think that a lot of the customers at fancy restaurants must be really crazy. Anyway, now I have a Tide Pen in my bag.

Marlowe Granados, writer and author of Happy Hour

This bag was the first of my Mid-Century handbag collection. It's made of bakelite and brass. I bought it during a harrowing breakup after first seeing it at a vintage store a year prior. It waited for me! Now, I have about 8 of these bags. All different shapes and colours. People think I just collect them and put them on display, but I wear them all the time and with quite a lot of force. I've had to fix this one a few times, you can tell it's a bit wonky. I once transported a tiny pineapple plant from London to Toronto in it and the bottom cracked from not being supported enough in my luggage. I probably need to WD40 it, too. The handle really squeaks when I swing it around. Whenever I wear one of these bags, men stop me to ask about it. They regard it with a kind of child-like curiosity. It's sweet. There must be something in its construction that speaks to them, kind of like a toy car. 

My friends know me as always having a tiny, tiny handbag. I don't love lugging around anything too big, it feels too casual. I'm this close to getting a desktop computer for my studio because I hate bringing out my laptop. It's just not very glam!

Now, the contents. I'm big on (1) the C.O. Bigelow Lip Shine—it tastes like synthetic sweetness which gives kissing an added conversation point. Unfortunately I always have a (2) doggy bag around now that I have my Pomeranian. They really appear everywhere, in all my jackets and bags (not pictured, but you can imagine). (3) Supergoop sunscreen powder because I've found when I put liquid sunscreen around my eyes it eventually gets in them over the day and makes my contacts so uncomfortable. (4) I carry around some kind of blushy/pink tint whether it's for lips or face. Out of all my makeup I feel naked if I'm not wearing blush, so if I'm going from my studio to an event or something I can quickly re-apply and look fresh as ever. (5) Wired headphones. I can't say I ever loved Airpods, I don't like having too many loose pieces, it's like carrying a button that fell off your clothes with the intention of re-attaching it. You're going to lose it! (6) Wallet. I got this Prada wallet a few months ago and don't know whether I love it, I like that it's fairly thin so it does fit in the sparest of handbags. (7) Perfume. I like to wear perfume to the studio, I'm almost out of this one and need more. (8) Fig Leaf by my friend at Universal Flowering. (9) I packed a Barragan hair clip only because I really need to have my hair out of my face if I'm doing work. 

Okay I am very Holly Golightly about keys, I often get locked out of my house and have to buzz. My keychain is the Freemasons symbol. My grandfather was an accomplished Mason (whatever that means) and he always said to carry it around with me...Actually one time it did come in handy in London after a literary reading where everyone congregated to a strange hotel bar afterwards that was filled with all these old men. Of course no one from the reading wanted to engage with them, but I did! They ended up being Masons, and I showed them my keychain as a sign I was in the fold. I liked them a lot, they were fun—they bought me a round and a packet of crisps. Much more than the literary people ever did!

Emma Specter, writer at Vogue

This ask is coming at an extremely opportune time, because a few weeks ago I went to Thick Thrift–L.A.’s biggest, best, and only fat vintage/handmade market–and picked up this stunningly bitchy clear purse from Zoe’s Vintique for $10. (I also got a naughty little flapper dress, a pristine white Calvin Klein ribbed top and a repurposed Dickies denim chore coat, but we’re talking purses, so I’ll stop bragging.) I have literally always wanted to be asked “what’s in my bag”, but the truth of the matter is that in true queer-millennial form, my bag is usually a filthy tote advertising a leftist cause or upstate New York farmstand; I do own a Telfar, given to me by my partner, but he’s always threatening to repossess it because I “keep it in such bad condition,” so I try to reserve it for fashion emergencies.

Without further ado, here’s what’s in my bag:

1. A copy of the reissue of Chloe Caldwell’s Women with a foreword by Katie Heaney, a.k.a. THE dyke status book of 2024 (and it just so happens to fit, which felt like lesbian kismet to me until I realized I could also fit my Lucia Berlin book–and pretty much every other book I own except for the Franzens–in there.)
2. A perilously close-to-empty bottle of Kahi Salmon Collagen Spray, which I’ve sworn by ever since a middle-aged saleswoman at the Koreatown Galleria who had the best skin I’ve ever seen in real life told me it’s what she uses. I’m very dramatic and sweaty, so it’s nice to have a little spritz bottle on hand to cool myself down (physically and emotionally) when I’m running hot.
3. A hair scrunchie, also purchased at the Koreatown Galleria for too much money because the proceeds went to some good cause and also its colors matched my outfit that day.
4. Hideously tangled headphones. I’m a wired it-girl just like my friend and former Vogue colleague Liana Satenstein taught me to be, but my headphones will always be a tangled rat king that takes twenty minutes of severe aggravation to sort out, and I think that’s just my truth right now
5. A $5 drugstore mascara.
6. A $40 Dior red lipstick that I’ve somehow misplaced in the time since this photo was taken, despite the fact that my purse is clear.
7. The same Olio e Osso cheek and lip stain I’ve been using for years. Some TikToker (or maybe Joanna Goddard?) taught me to put a little on the bridge of your nose in addition to your lips and the apples of your cheeks, so you always look like you just came in from a day at the beach.
8. A small, hard-to open pack of edibles (or, more specifically, 25-mg THC pills).
9. You can’t see it in this picture, but my passport is in here, which my partner and several friends have informed me is an insane document to store in a clear purse. They’re not wrong, but I also lost my driver’s license a few weeks ago, so needs must.
10. I think my debit card is in here loose too, mercifully out of sight? Dear God.

Reflection: I need a wallet, an ADHD coach and a new Dior lipstick, not in that order. 

Alexandra Coburn, writer and film worker

The bag itself is a tapestry bag that dates back to the 1970s. I got it at the Nitty Gritty while visiting my hometown of Louisville, KY. It's one of the best thrift spots in the country, or maybe I'm sentimental.

1. Sony headphones, 2. Miffy keychain + keys, 3. random ribbon scraps, 4. eye drops, 5. Hello Kitty hand cream, 6. pouch crocheted by a friend, 7. travel-size deodorant, 8. Spectacle Theater matchbook, 9. Lana del Rey lighter (thanks Etsy), 10. ponytail holder, 11. Kitteny compact mirror, 12. Maybelline Fit-Me concealer, 13. birth control, 14. band-aids, 15. gum, 16. mace, 17. Secret Boyfriend by Poesie, 18. lipstick case from Pearl River Mart, 19. Pentel pen, 20. wallet from my aunt, 21. Tower 28 lip balm, 22. Kosas Wet Stick in Bikini Blaze, 23. sunglasses, 24. hand sanitizer, 25. notebook, 26. leather gloves, 27. and Slaughterhouse Five, or whatever I happen to be reading.

My mom used to always tell me that in New York City, your bag is your car. I'd compare my purse philosophy to a certain Portlandia sketch (forgive me) where Dave (Fred Armisen) and Kath (Carrie Brownstein) prepare to go hiking and end up taking about 40 pounds of stuff just in case. My roommate and I will be getting ready to hit the bars like, "But what if we get separated and end up on the train alone and need a book? Or what if we need a granola bar?" And God forbid I don't have 24/7 access to my water bottle (not pictured). I guess this is the aftereffect of going to an earthy-crunchy liberal arts college for four years.

Danielle Chelosky, author of Pregaming Grief

I have several tote bags but at the moment my Fiddlehead tote reigns supreme. I got it when I saw them in June last year. I didn't notice I have (1) two tickets from the Brooklyn Steel in my bag but I always have a lot of wrappers and tissues floating at the bottom, which have been discarded for the sake of this photo. I can be sort of messy, hence the pieces of Laffy Taffy (2) . I keep (3) black lipstick on me although I rarely wear it. Do people put their phone and car keys in their What's In My Bag? I don't. Those go in my pocket. I always have my notebook on me (5) though I rarely use that, too. I like to be prepared even when there's nothing to be prepared for. The Coach wallet isn't really my vibe (6) but my grandma got it for me. Shoutout to my grandma.

Sophia Kaufman, Angel Food and Harper editor

The bag is from my first and only trip to California, in January 2020.

1. Highlighter and pencil, 2. airpods, 3. barrett, 4. Laniege lip mask that I bought with Sephora points which you’re supposed to use while you sleep which is a total waste so I keep it in here, 5. tiger balm for headaches/tight traps, 6. extremely old pack of gum, 7. floating dollars (extremely important to have cash free floating in your bag for other people’s emergencies - same with band-aids), 8. matchbook (medically can’t smoke but you never know) a perfume oil that looks like I stole a sample but I actually bought it at the Upper West Side farmer’s market over the summer, 9. Givenchy lip tint, 10. Elta MD sunscreen sample, 11. EmergenC packet, 12. vintage pill box (60’s? idk), 13. extra contact lens, 14. hand sanitizer, 15. the magazine/book/play I currently have in rotation (plays are courtesy of Broadway Book Club, one of my favorite subscriptions). 

Not pictured: 16. backup perfume oil (jasmine), 17. seam ripper (you never know), 18. limited edition TigerBee Press tote (just in case), 19. driver’s license (I don’t have one).

NB: If anyone has contact information for Slavenka Drakulić please DM me.

James Webster, Seven Stories Press

For most of my adult life, I’ve carried a bag of some sort. But about 6 months ago, the nature of this bag changed significantly, and instantly, when my wife and I welcomed a baby. The bags of my twenties were mostly totes, adorned on the outside with cultural signifiers, and filled with the requisite detritus: garbage and headphones and disintegrating chargers. The bag of my thirties, however, requires a certain level of organization and thoughtful planning—it’s not just me I am thinking about anymore. Symbolically, the change is satisfying, if a little obvious.

In a nondescript SkipHop backpack, I carry the following items, from left to right:

1. Wet Wipes

2. Diapers (size 4, for now)

3. Changing pad. Most often this serves as additional padding when changing the baby, but occasionally functions as a changing station itself—in the back seats of cars or on countertops, etc. That the large, wall-mounted changing tables are sometimes absent from certain bathrooms seems like a long shadow cast by outdated expectations of who does the moment-to-moment work of childcare, and is, in fact, inconvenient to everybody.

4. Sun hat

5. Two-to-three bottles

6. Change(s) of baby clothes

7. Baby formula. Another one of those really eye-opening things. At the grocery store near our apartment, the baby formula is the only item in the entire place that’s kept under lock and key. It makes my pulse quicken a little when I think about it.

8. Toys and teethers (pictured here are two favorites, which we call “rattle” and “silly goose”)

9. The book I am currently reading. In this case, the colossal Miss MacIntosh, My Darling by Marguerite Young, which has finally arrived back in print after years of delays, and easily doubles the weight of the bag. I basically live inside this book during all down time. It is a beautiful laudanum dream.

10. A variable number of keys on the same shitty carabiner I’ve had for over a decade. Certain dirtbag habits die hard, I suppose.

Miriam Gordis, Angel Food editor
I have around 12 purses that are all hung on top of each other on this rack. To be fair to me, most of them were inherited from my grandmothers: one, very chic and high fashion, the other, very kitschy and cool. I also have a velvet makeup bag that came with a lip oil giveaway which I carry like a purse, and this really ugly beat up plastic laminated tote bag, and a beaded bag with a giant bee on it that someone tried to convince me was the Cheerio Honey Bee. I feel like I have to preface this with a disclaimer that I have a lot of purses because each of them contains random clutter that I stuck in it one night and forgot about after. One of them probably contains the key to drop off my rent check, tucked away in a pocket somewhere, but I may never figure out which one.

Most days, when I’m going to work, I carry this Mansur Gavriel bucket bag that I bought with my employee discount when I was working at Buffalo Exchange in Chelsea. That store is evil but I have had the bag for almost five years now and it is still very sturdy.  Here is what is inside on average:

  1. Wallet. 
  2. Two types of headphones (in ear, over ear). The over ear ones are better for music but they don’t have a mic which is annoying for talking on the phone.
  3. Gloves. I have circulation issues and freezing hands like all the women who come before me. 
  4. Miniature sewing kit. 
  5. Print out of my health insurance card. This was from before I got the physical card. 
  6. A notebook, a notepad, and a small calendar that is supposed to make me more organized. 
  7. Glasses.
  8. Various pens.
  9. Hand sanitizer.
  10. Hand cream.
  11. Painkillers, allergy medication, and birth control.
  12. Lipstick, lip oil, tinted lip balm, minty lip balm. 
  13. Chocolate. 
  14. Makeup bag. 
  15. Breath mints.
  16. Loose change.
  17. Some plastic knives.
  18. Pack of Vogues I bought in Germany after a very glamorous woman let me bum one. 

This feels like a strange combination of extreme disorganization and disaster preparation. Not sure what else to say.