It may not be the purse we want, but it’s the purse we need.
A few years ago, I started slowly downsizing my shoulder bags and eventually settled on a small cross-body bag. It wasn’t the smallest bag out there, but it was pretty small, and I liked how low-fuss that felt. But a month after I relocated to New York City in late 2014, this bag was no longer working for me, mainly because it was a pain to put on and take off over my huge winter jacket. You know, the coat every woman in NYC has right now — the one that basically looks like someone sewed the top half of a costume from the Broadway Lion King to a sleeping bag.
After wrestling with the strap and the hood one too many times, I realized what I needed: a fanny pack.
My mom, a tomboy her entire life, hated purses and carried a fanny pack for several years. The bags were — are — pretty universally unfashionable, no matter how hard American Apparel and Jared Leto try to make them ironically cool, and my aunt and I always teased her about it. Between our snark and her growing need for more bag capacity, she eventually started carrying a messenger bag, and then, finally, a purse.
I had forgotten about this dark chapter in my mom’s fashion history until 2013; I was planning a trip to Cedar Point with my mom and brother and needed a roller-coaster-friendly way to carry my phone, my camera, and my wallet. When I raised this concern, my mom looked at me like I was stupid and told me I needed a fanny pack. Apparently, she would not be making room for my things in the advanced-level fanny pack she uses for events like this, the one that I refer to as a “double wide” because it has holsters that allow her to carry a water bottle on each hip.
So, before our trip, I went to Walmart and found a plain black fanny pack for $5. It was small, almost (hopefully?) discreet. After filling it with the essentials, I stepped out of my mom’s minivan and clipped it onto my waist. As we walked through the parking lot, I was surprised how light I felt. And just…liberated. I left that park thinking, My mom was right when she said I’d one day outgrow my love of roller coasters, and also, My mom was right about the practical beauty of the fanny pack.
Despite this, despite the epiphany that this was clearly the best way to transport my shit, I didn’t stick with it once I got home to Houston. But later, after three weeks in New York spent dealing with my coat-purse-scarf wrestling match at least four times a day, I realized I could no longer relegate the fanny pack to special occasions. The nylon one I’d worn to Cedar Point felt too casual for everyday wear, so I started looking for one that was leather or leather-ish. Maybe even stylish.
Unsurprisingly, it was not easy to find something that fit my list of requirements. No offense to the $595 Gucci-logo-print fabric fanny pack (actually: much offense to that SIX HUNDRED DOLLAR FANNY PACK), but I was looking for something leather (or leather-ish) that cost less than $100. After about a month of searching (during which I never found the courage to tell sales associates what I was looking for when they asked) and finding nothing, I spotted just the right little black bag at the C. Wonder going-out-of-business sale. I strapped the fanny pack to my waist the very next day, and never looked back.
Now I wear it whenever I’m out and about, under my “lion sleeps tonight” winter coat, leaving my shoulders blessedly unencumbered. When I step out in it, I feel insanely carefree. And I often find myself thinking, Is this how men feel every day? Because if so, holy shit. I will go on the record that this is the first time I’ve ever experienced penis envy.
The fanny pack is small, but it holds a slim card case, my keys, a pen, my phone and charger, an eyeliner pencil, Chapstick, and lipstick. It can even hold a super tampon when necessary. So, basically all I need.
But an unintended side effect is that it’s not big enough to hold everything other people might need. This is actually a feature I really appreciate. Because, while I love my husband, maybe he should just carry the car keys for once. And the nail scissors, the ibuprofen, the Band-Aids, and whatever other care items women are sort of expected to have on hand during any given outing.
I am constantly negotiating the things I will and will not do in my ongoing quest to be both accepted by society and also have a soul and fight the good feminist fight. And I’ve realized that while I will (or at least have) let a stranger pour hot wax on my vulva, I draw the line at carrying a big-ass shoulder bag.
Since I no longer spend my commute focused on not slapping people in the face with my shoulder bag, I’m able to observe what’s happening around me, and I’ve started noticing all the women who are carrying large bags, and multiple large bags at that. These bags are filled with their book club books, the uncomfortable heels they’ll put on in the office, the laptops they took home so they could work a little more the night before, their homemade salads and their healthy snacks, their workout clothes and shoes for their post-work cycling class. It’s “having it all” in sartorial form. For years, I too carried the need to do it all on my shoulders every day. But now I’m letting go of the idea that I need to have fucking Band-Aids with me at all times. There’s a drugstore on every corner for a reason.
As for how the fanny pack looks, well…any fucks I have to give about that actually won’t fit in my awesomely tiny, hands-free bag, so I’ve had to let them go! I’m not hip/thin/rich/white enough to trick people into thinking it’s normcore, so maybe everyone is thinking what my co-worker recently (and not meanly!) said aloud: “Rachel…are you wearing a fanny pack?” To which I replied with some variation of, “Hell yes, I’m wearing a fanny pack.” Because SERIOUSLY. The only shame I have about it is the shame that it took me this long to realize what freedom feels like.