Wanted: An Evening Handbag That’s Pretty — And Big Enough to Do the Job

A small silver evening bag at Nordstrom with ruching and a chain sells for $268. Photo by BF Newhall

In the stores: This bag was $268 at Nordstrom — pretty, but way too tiny for my purposes. And I couldn’t figure out what the flap at the back was for. Photos by BF Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

The mother of the groom was discombobulated.

There she was, recessing down the aisle after the wedding, her overstuffed evening bag dangling half open from her wrist. Also dangling from her wrist, a camera and a beat-up camera case.

Not a pretty picture.

What gives? Why was this otherwise reasonably-well-put-together lady – that would be me on my

A long, narrow black satin evening bag at Macy's. Photo by BF Newhall

In the stores: This is the bag I wore to my son’s wedding; $26.98 at Macy’s. I overstuffed it and the snap kept popping open. My cell phone didn’t begin to fit into it, so I resorted to using my threadbare camera case as a second handbag on the day of the wedding.

son’s wedding day – so disorganized?

Why didn’t she put all that stuff into one nice presentable evening bag and recess down the aisle like a woman in charge of her life?

Because there’s no such thing as a presentable evening bag that can hold what a woman – a real one – needs to put into her purse these days.

Designers of formal handbags, it seems, are stuck in the pre-women’s movement, pre-digital mid-twentieth century. A tour of Macy’s, Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s accessories departments – and my closet – reveals that a typical dressy evening bag is six to ten inches long and a scant one-inch thick.

What then is a twenty-first century woman to do with all her stuff? She’s dressed up in her favorite floaty, feminine cocktail dress or evening gown. Her new shoes are strappy and sexy. Her

A black beaded evening bag for sale at Macy's for $40.

In the stores: This black beaded bag was $40 at Macy’s. Too skinny to hold much.

jewelry sparkles. Her highlights are glowing. She’s planned her make-up for days, and for once her mascara hasn’t caked.She’s ready for a night on the town.

But what about her stuff?

She’s got the twentieth-century usuals, the same things her mother and grandmother tucked into their purses back in the 1950s and 1920s: lipstick, comb, powder. Extra stockings in case the ones she’s wearing get a run. A packet of tissues in case the opera/concert/wedding is a tearjerker. A thin wad of cash – her mad money, as my mother used to call it, in case her beau turns out to be a bad actor.

She’s got all that, but this is 2013, so there’s more.

True, there are no cigarettes to squeeze into that dainty little evening bag of hers. And no lighter.

But there is a cell phone — or maybe a mini iPad. There are the MapQuest directions to the wedding she printed out at the last minute. Also her business cards. Her credit cards (these days she might be picking up the tab). A fat wad of cash (the dollar isn’t what it used to be). And, if she’s in the mood and thinks he might be, protection.

In addition to all that, if she’s me and she’s headed someplace fun, she’s got her camera, a spare battery, a notebook and a pen.

This woman needs an evening bag with girth. Something that is as pretty and dressy as the rest of her outfit. But a handbag of substance, like its owner.

Where’s that bag?

Not in my closet. Not in the department stores of downtown San Francisco.

And, no, not even on line.

Monica Black

On the internet: This Carlo Fellini bag is 8 x 6 x 3.5 inches — and $53.99 at ebags.com. Some — but not all — of the reviewers said they could fit their phones into this one. Nice bag, but way too small for me.


Jessica Olive

On the internet: Another Carlo Fellini. This one is 6.5 x 5.5 x 2.5 inches — and $33.99 at ebags.com. Pretty and fun, but still too small for my purposes.


 Women's Double Sided Sequined Tote/Handbag

On the internet: At LightInTheBox.com, it’s $19.19 on sale as I write. At about 16 x 10 x 4 inches, this one would do the trick size-wise. But with all that glitz, it would steal the show.

I’m still looking. Got any ideas?



  1. Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

    My friend Sharon sends along a link with some handbags for sale. Some nice ones, but I didn’t see a sophisticated dressy bag that was big enough for all my stuff.

    Here’s the link: http://www.shaaronusuniquestore.com/store/WsDefault.asp?Cat=HandbagsAccessories

  2. I like to go on Etsy or Ebay and search for vintage bags. A lot of the really cool lucite ones from the ’50s are quite large and they’re gorgeous. Sometimes they can be kind of pricey but they’ll last forever and go with everything. That’s the type of bag I carry around when I’m doing something fancy. Also, I think you’re trying to carry too much around with you. You can kill two birds with one stone if you have a smartphone. Most good smartphones have pretty decent cameras these days so there’s no need to carry around a phone and camera.

    This one is priced too high but it’s an example of a really gorgeous one that would hold everything: http://www.etsy.com/listing/154713812/vintage-wilardy-light-grey-pearlized?ref=sr_gallery_41&ga_search_query=lucite+purse+wilardy&ga_view_type=gallery&ga_ship_to=US&ga_search_type=all

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      Wow. What a neat handbag. But $425 is a little high for me. And you’d almost have to make it the focal point of your outfit. Which would be fun. But I’m a grab-and-go dresser; I need something that will go with all my dressy outfits. Also, I know the ’50s are a very trendy place to revisit these days, but to me as a person who lived through them they are sooooo passe.

  3. Diane Erwin says:

    I just experienced the same problem in March. Fortunately, the wedding and reception were at the hotel in which I was staying, so I could buzz up to my room when I needed something that I didn’t have (i.e., extra stockings, which I did end up needing). My cell phone had to act as my camera. Hence, I didn’t get any pictures worth beans. I feel your pain.

  4. Meredith says:

    I’ve opted for the two bag solution–the clutch within the bag. If I’m traveling somewhere the large bag has everything, but I then downsize it for when I got to the actual event. For example, I have a MASSIVE wallet that fits into nothing shorter than a backpack. So when I go out I grab my license, creditcard, and cash and wrap them together in a hairband–I figure I can get anywhere with those three items. The AAA membership and the library and CVS card won’t be needed tonight. I then have my phone (which is a camera) and keys to my car/hotel and essential makeup–lipstick, liner, and shadow. Because, really I’m not going to be reapplying foundation for touch-ups. Maybe a pen (but someone else usually has one) and a piece of paper. I leave everything else locked up in either the car or hotel for access if needed. The rest of the make up (for disaster clean up jobs) stockings, maps, battery, change of shoes (yes I put flats in my BIG bag), rest of my wallet, rest of my keys (I have tons) is left behind. It’s the only way I’ve found to make it work and look chic. I mean, men don’t even have a bag, so there must be economies that can be discovered.

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      Meredith. I love it — men don’t use handbags, “so there must be economies that can be discovered.” I think that’s what the makers of smartphones and bio-id’s are working on . . . As for my need for a big bag, maybe it’s my insistence on carrying my trusty point-and-shoot with me everywhere I go that is putting me over the top.

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