The other day I was waiting at a gate area for my flight when the gate agent made the familiar announcement about how passengers would only be permitted to board with one piece of carry-on luggage and “a small, personal item, such as a purse.”
And I thought: a purse is a “small, personal item”? Since when?
As I looked around at the women waiting to board, I saw nothing “small” about the prodigious purses they were lugging around. The gate agent, and the airlines, clearly have missed the explosive growth of purses into storage devices of colossal proportions and have never sat next to a fellow passenger who is struggling to jam her sprawling, bulging “small, personal item” — i.e., her purse — into the available space under the seat in the row ahead.
The days of “clutches” and dainty “handbags” that could house a tube of lipstick and compact mirror and be placed on a restaurant table next to the glass of wine are gone. Now “purses” tend to be capacious, multi-compartment sacks carried over the shoulder and used to store laptops, wallets, cell phones, pens, appointment books, food, bottled water, articles of clothing, make-up items, toys and snacks to keep young children quiet, and other assorted paraphernalia, besides. They’re like Mary Poppins’ magic bag, capable of carrying just about anything. And forget about expressing wonder at the notion of “purse dogs” — you could probably fit a Great Dane into some of the stupendous purses of the modern era.
I don’t begrudge modern women their enormous purses; when I go on the road, I always carry an over-the-shoulder bag because it’s handy. But can we please stop with the reference to “small, personal items”? The “purses” of the modern world really aren’t purses, they’re luggage.