Femme Fashion: The Great Purse vs. Wallet Debate

Remember when I wrote about trying to look “gayer” (whatever that means) when I first came out? Well, one of the changes I made in this attempt was transitioning from carrying a purse wherever I went to sticking a wallet in my back pocket and running out the door.

I made the switch when shopping with my mother at J.Crew. I spotted those “magic wallets” they sell that can open and close on both sides, and picked out one with a hunter green and navy diagonal stripe pattern. (Have you seen these things? They are fascinating to flip back and forth – seriously hypnotic.)

Open, close. Open, close. So addicting

When my mother saw which wallet I had picked out, she responded with, “Oh, that’s so masculine.” I wasn’t out to her at the time, so hearing her call the wallet “masculine” rang like an accusation in my ears and sent adrenaline through my veins. There was a grip of fear, but a simultaneous sense of excitement. I could almost feel my lesbian identity pushing through my skin, clawing its way out in spite of the danger. My mind wasn’t ready for my mother to know that I was gay, but my heart wanted desperately for her to know and to love the real me.

“Here,” she said, handing me a floral monstrosity, “This one’s so pretty!”

In the end, I stood my ground and got the green and navy wallet. My mother, unsatisfied, bought me the pink flowery one as a gift, “for when the other one gets worn out!” But, as you can see here, the green wallet has taken a beating but is still going strong.

Poor little buddy. He's seen better days.

I was excited about the wallet because if my mother thought it was masculine, then other people probably would, too. This was thrilling to me because I wanted to be recognized as a lesbian, and I thought I had to be masculine to do so.

Nowadays, I oscillate between a wallet and a purse depending on my mood and outfit. I’ve always been something of a bag lady, and I have a rather impressive collection of purses, mostly because I never get rid of anything and have been gathering them since, I don’t know, middle school.

Wallets have always seemed like a matter of convenience to me. At first blush, they appear so much easier than having a heavy bag on your shoulder. But lately I’ve been making the mistake of grabbing my wallet on the way out of the apartment only to realize I’m stuck pocketless in a skirt or dress. Then I’m the girl awkwardly holding a wallet in my hand all day. Yeah, not cute.

(Also, can we just talk about the clutch for a second? They are ever-popular on the red carpet, but seriously, could it be any more annoying than to carry a book-sized object with you all night? Any of you fashionistas out there who frequent the clutch-wearing tribe, please explain to me the appeal.)

Portia and Ellen DeGeneres

Do you SEE the size of Portia's clutch here?? That would drive me crazy

What I am getting at (I think) is that I have been a little misguided in my assumption that wallets are necessarily more convenient than purses. Purses don’t just look cute (which they most certainly do!), but they can also be functional. I’m working on putting more of my collection back into my wardrobe starting today.

So I have a few questions. If you see a girl with a wallet, does that set your gaydar off? Am I dooming myself to further femme invisibility by carrying a purse? And what do you carry – a wallet, purse, or some other money-and-necessities-toting device?

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8 Comments on “Femme Fashion: The Great Purse vs. Wallet Debate”

  1. steph
    April 13, 2011 at 8:14 pm #

    i’ve somehow never been able to carry purses – i think because i have narrow shoulders so purses are constantly slipping down to my elbow. i’m usually carrying a tote bag of some sort with straps long enough to cross over my torso like a messenger bag. somehow tote bags seem less clunky to me than purses too, even though purses are physically more compact. also you’ve probably seen my little drawstring bag that i carry around, it is light and i can sling it across my body:

    the great thing about carrying a thin little wallet is it’s hands free and you feel light and unencumbered! granted that you have pockets – which is why dresses and skirts with pockets in them are the best ever :)

    • April 14, 2011 at 12:38 pm #

      I love your fish bag!! So cute. And the sling across the body option is such a great idea. Hands free and spacious!

      Also I am obsessed with dresses and skirts with pockets. You can just chill with your hands in your pockets and be like, “Yeah, that’s right, I’m cute AND relaxed. I don’t even have to try to be this gorgeous.”

  2. April 13, 2011 at 10:37 pm #

    1) I hate clutches. I have a semi-clutch that is super cute and the only reason I wanted it is because it has a handcuff(!) so I can attach it to my wrist (and look like a badass). But the ones you just carry? Just something for me to lose.

    2) I carry a purse. Or rather, a huge hobo bag most of the time, though, like you, I have a large collection of purses that I love. There is a wallet in that purse. That’s where it stays.

    3) I don’t think a purse will make a difference one way or another with regards to femme invisibility. Rather, I don’t think a purse will make it any more likely that we won’t be seen. However, there are those who can see us and can recognize us even with a purse. (My hot, butch girlfriend being one of these people.) :)

    Finally…fuck ’em! If you wanna carry a purse, carry a purse! Sling it over your shoulder and stomp it out girl! Invisibility be damned!

    • April 14, 2011 at 12:40 pm #

      Haha I will stomp it out!

      (And a handcuff on your clutch?? A-MAZ-ING.)

  3. April 14, 2011 at 11:31 pm #

    Yep! It’s from Redhanded and looks like this one only without the outside zipper and it has a sparkly heart on it: http://www.redhandedbags.com/catalog/product_info.php?cPath=22&products_id=34

  4. August 11, 2012 at 2:16 pm #

    I read some where that messenger bags and back packs are
    the “purses” of choice of many gayells. Personally, I love Kipling bags.
    They sell back packs, messenger bags and purses with a simple, practical
    aesthetic. Some of them are in pretty metallic colors for femmes.


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