Looking for organization first, prettiness second.
May 15, 2012 12:01 AM   Subscribe

Is there such a thing as the perfect purse?

Until maybe 5 months ago, I'd hardly ever used a purse. Finally I put my foot down and bought one that was basically just a squishy bag with a shoulder strap.

But I kinda hate it now.

There's only one pocket inside, so everything else just floats around at the bottom. I have slim shoulders, so the strap keeps falling off, often dragging my looser shirt sleeves, tank top straps, or bra straps with it.

So now I'm looking for a new purse, one that would be a complete opposite in form and function.

I'm looking for a cross-body purse, possibly with a flat bottom (since one of the most common places I set it down is on public sinks, which a squishy bag just rolls out onto, somehow getting into water, soap, and who knows what else). I'm not seeking messenger bag huge but large enough to fit my Amazon Kindle, slim man-type wallet, phone, knife, a couple pens, medium or small and slim moleskine book, and various other "I like to be prepared" items (flashlight, floss, a MiO liquid water flavor thing, etc). I usually also carry a water bottle, but that might be a bit large for the size of the purse I want. I mean, I'm the kind of chick who carries a small bottle of sunscreen if the occasion warrants, but a lighter always even though I don't smoke. Not excessive, just.....compactly prepped.

I am looking for...a super organized purse that isn't huge...but hopefully has more than 3 measly inside and outside pockets to keep things neat. And doesn't advertise all of my delectable worldy possessions at once (as some of those little hip bags do with mesh and plastic windows). And -might- just come in pretty colors. And fits across the body, despite the disadvantage of it cutting right between my boobs. I mean, I'm a woman but I'm practically looking for a man-purse, a murse if you will.

If such a purse exists, can you help me find it? Do you know of one already?

posted by DisreputableDog to Shopping (31 answers total) 60 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You can get a bag that looks how you like on the outside but is relatively light on the interior pockets, and get a purse organizer insert thing. (That's just the best thing that came up when I googled "purse organizer" but you can find similar ones at bed & bath stores all over.) That way you can switch between purses if you get into them as an accessory later, too, and get as obsessive about pocketing things in the right place for maximum preparedness as much as you please. As for reasonably sized and priced and pretty colors, I'm a big fan of Fossil bags, which they sell at Macy's as well as their own stores. They do a nice crossbody. You can normally find last season's colors on clearance, too. You might like the Maddox collection?
posted by Mizu at 12:16 AM on May 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

The colors aren't the most girly, but from your list of things to carry, I think Tom Bihn's Co-Pilot could do you well. It's my general bag if I'm not trying to carry my laptop or go extra light.

It has four separate main areas with an outside pocket and a few extra inside pockets. My organization generally goes as so:
Front right: Wallet/keys/cellphone. The keys attach to the bag on a lanyard so they don't get lost. Cellphone goes in the nice suedey pocket.
Front center: Water bottle or folding umbrella. It can hold a pretty big water bottle, and a normal PET bottle will fit with room to spare.
Front left: Pens and various and sundry. Handkerchiefs, my camera will go in here if I'm carrying it.
Big back pocket: Easily fits my iPad, a travel book, the small pockets will fit a small moleskine no problem. I generally also carry a reusable shopping bag or two, some medicine, etc etc. Can also fit a crushed up nylon windbreaker or other light outer layer and approximately everything else I can try to fit in there.
posted by that girl at 12:25 AM on May 15, 2012

I solved this problem by dividing my stuff among a few small zippered pouches - a friend made mine out of cute vintage fabric, but any small makeup-bag type pouches will work. One for makeup, one for things like pens, stamps, and USB drives, , one for gum and headache tablets and rolaids. That, along with my wallet/change purse and phone, covers it for me. Makes it super easy to change bags, too.
posted by cilantro at 12:37 AM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oo! I have this bag from ebags and I think it might be exactly what you're looking for. It's not that large but holds a lot -- I regularly use it to carry around my Kindle, camera, wallet, cell phone, passport, journal, and keys, and still have plenty of room left over. I've been traveling a ton this year, and since almost everything has its own compartment it's been fantastic about keeping things organized. It's also super-durable with flat bottom, not super pricy, and comes in different colors.
posted by sparrow89 at 12:52 AM on May 15, 2012 [6 favorites]

Queen Bee Bags are lovely! I have a new Truckette, which sounds like a perfect size for you.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:00 AM on May 15, 2012 [9 favorites]

One of the bags from Baggallini might fit the bill.
posted by oceano at 1:01 AM on May 15, 2012

I recently bought a Moop Carrier Bag, and it's the most useful purse I've ever owned (and I've owned quite a few). It has four interior pockets: one big zip, one for a pen, and two for your mobile phone, etc. The waxed canvas exterior is durable, easy to clean, and waterproof. And the Cordura interior is also easy to clean -- you'd never know that I spilled coffee in mine two or three times. You can carry it on your shoulder or cross-body.
posted by neushoorn at 1:21 AM on May 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

I couldn't tell from your profile where you were based, but if in the UK, Ollie & Nic have some pretty and sensible across the body bags with lots of compartments. Here's one.
posted by Ziggy500 at 3:04 AM on May 15, 2012

Oh, sorry! East Coast. Don't know how I missed that. :\
posted by Ziggy500 at 3:05 AM on May 15, 2012

Best answer: Related and informative, recently.
posted by thinkpiece at 4:03 AM on May 15, 2012

I also recommend a purse organizer.
That said, as far as murses go, I love a Jack Spade.
posted by like_neon at 4:07 AM on May 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I lust after this super-organized bag from Magellan.
posted by jb at 4:17 AM on May 15, 2012

You're not asking for a knitting purse, I know, but they have a ridiculous amount of separators, little compartments, clips for this and that, and are made to stand up and be tough, so possibly something like that would be useful for you. I love Jordana Paige bags, maybe you will, too.
posted by thylacinthine at 4:34 AM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Baggallini London bag would be good, as would a Fossil crossbody bag.
posted by jgirl at 4:48 AM on May 15, 2012

Marks and Spencer has some good bags; I have an earlier version of this and keep it in heavy use as the two zippered pockets, one velcro pocket, and many other little ones are just right, and it also holds way more than it looks like it should hold, and it's comfy to carry and apparently pretty indestructible. Unless it's empty it sits up nicely. I was a little worried about the cost, especially with shipping, but it turned out to be wonderfully made, nothing like the junk in a modern N American mall. Sturdy canvas, good zippers, nice leather. I also think it looks nice, even if it's more 'military surplus' than pretty colour[s].

It actually said MAN BAG on the tag, too.
posted by kmennie at 4:56 AM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I love Levenger's bags for this. Here is their entire collection of organizer handbags. They don't seem to have the particular version that I own right now, but perhaps this Ruffinato Crossbody organizer purse might work for you? I've been very happy with their products.
posted by peacheater at 4:59 AM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am a big fan of The LeSportSac Everyday bag for this. I stopped carrying one and switched to a Big Buddha handbag when I got a car. While I think the Big Buddha bag is cuter (it suits me more), it's less functional. That lesportsac was amazing. It was like there was a special pocket for everything I needed, and with the adjustable strap, I could wear it cross body or over the shoulder, depending on what worked best at the moment. If you take public transportation a lot, I swear by it.
posted by pazazygeek at 5:48 AM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

My friend has this bag and I've also seen and admired it in person at the MoMA design store. It has a ton of pockets, so it's great for organization, yet still slim and stylish. However, it may not fulfill the flat bottom, will stand on a counter requirement, but I figured I'd throw it out there since it seems to meet your other requirements.
posted by kaybdc at 7:00 AM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

2nding LeSportSac! Mine even came with a zipper pouch for additional in purse organization.
posted by vespabelle at 7:05 AM on May 15, 2012

Along the same lines as the purse organizer -- you can put smaller bags or a large wallet with lots of compartments into a larger bag. I prefer this approach to having one big bag because I can remove my clutch-sized wallet (which holds all my essentials -- money, cards, keys, phone) and put it into any bag, or attach a strap and carry it by itself. Your "be prepared" items could go into a small zippered pouch, especially since you don't use them that often. You could have a makeup kit that includes things like sunscreen and lip balm.
posted by chickenmagazine at 7:40 AM on May 15, 2012

Seconding the Queen Bee Truckette. Mine did all that for me (except the Kindle, which I don't have, so you will want to check the dimensions), including small flashlight, floss, knife, sunscreen, and lighter though I don't smoke.

Mine eventually died and I haven't replaced it yet because I'm looking for something basically identical but in a non-synthetic fabric (so, I guess, waxed canvas or leather) ... but I might just be sucked back into Truckette-land, because it is a great bag. (Unless anyone else in this thread has good leads on natural fabric bags that meet the other criteria? I haven't checked all the links yet.)
posted by librarina at 7:42 AM on May 15, 2012

Seconding the Highway bag that kaybdc linked to above. They're incredibly durable, but much more stylish than the sort of travel bags one tends to find when one looks at durable multipocket bags like this.
posted by judith at 7:53 AM on May 15, 2012

They're not super-girly, but Head Porter makes awesome messenger bag type things with a veritable orgy of interior pockets and useful zippy bits.
posted by elizardbits at 8:08 AM on May 15, 2012

Best answer: Awesomely organized yet comfortable and practical, you say? Not too big with nice colors? Meet my favorite travel purse and daily tote, Tom Bihn's small cafe shoulder bag , which I wear cross body with the ultrasuede shoulder strap.
posted by bearwife at 8:26 AM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you want to go the purse organizer route, I would submit this Nomadic "Pouch in Bag" as the ultimate. I have a Nomadic Wise Walker Bag and while more on the messenger bag end of the bag spectrum than what I sense you're looking for, but I've included a link anyway. This bag has so many pockets, I need a map to remember where I put things. I got it for some of the reasons that prompted your question. I was sick of digging in a big dark bottomless pit of a bag for my phone/pen/kindle/sunscreen/keys etc. It may have been a bit of an over correction, but it's a great work bag as it holds all that plus my lunch and has 2 side mesh pockets for my coffee and water. While it's not as stylish as the Highway Bag, despite all the pockets, it's way less bulky than your average messenger bag.
posted by kaybdc at 8:55 AM on May 15, 2012

Yup, another vote for the Tom Bihn small cafe bag. I usually carry my large wallet, a Kindle, several pens, a phone, keys, and five pounds of random objects my children hand me. It fits it all, but on the rare occasions when I'm carrying less it doesn't seem too big.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:57 AM on May 15, 2012

I have one of these which I slip into and out of various other totes (I have a lot of handbags, it's ridiculous). There are so many pockets in that thing that I cannot even use all of them and I am a chronic over-preparer. But it's also nylon so the organizer itself is very light, which is handy when you're carrying around so much crap.
posted by marylynn at 11:21 AM on May 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have one of these organizers in which I keep a miniature first aid kit including vent-aid, nitrile gloves and coagulant; a mini sewing kit; a weeny mirrored notebook and pen; a length of duct tape folded flat; a friendly rock; a handbag hook; a makeup kit; a clear plastic envelope of credit and other necessary cards including loyalty cards which I only got because one is a magnifier and the other a mirror, also some stamps; a business card holder; a change purse; a stick of lip balm; sunglasses; travelcard; car keys attached to purse keyring containing change for the meter; house keys attached to a purse keyring which also contains a vent-aid and nitrile gloves; Cath Kidston paper tissues; an Envirosax foldable shopping bag; hand sanitiser on a string tied to a carabiner; and when not in use, an iPhone and its iEarbuds. (I want to get a kitchen sink charm to attach to the zipper, but I can't find one.)

If you have that, it won't matter so much if you get a handbag that doesn't meet your needs, because you can take the organizer out and put it in a different bag. I would suggest that you stick to your plan of getting a cross-body bag because putting a bag down on a public sink is a bad idea; it's one way handbags can become a vector for spreading infection. Perhaps a mid-brown, not too dark, leather bag would be the most versatile for daytime, and you can wipe it down with a baby wipe at the end of each day.
posted by tel3path at 11:51 AM on May 15, 2012

Thirding Queen Bee. The Truckette is great, and the waxed cotton Finley has many pockets and an optional crossbody strap. It's convertible, so it can fold over to half size, and the strap it comes with is comfy and not slip-prone.
posted by ants at 3:24 PM on May 15, 2012

I went through this EXACT thing several months ago -- wanted something that wasn't exactly a purse, but wasn't a geeky computer bag either. Not too big, not too small; neither too feminine nor too masculine. What I ended up doing was poking around some thrift stores and doing some trial runs on the cheap. Sure, I lust after lovely bags just like everybody else, but couldn't stand the thought of paying like $60.00 for something that might not work out for me. (And beyond that I absolutely Will Not Go; just can't do it.) There are some really nice brand name -- and seemingly brand new -- bags in thrift stores if you don't mind sorting through some dreck to find them. I did this and ended up experimenting with several different styles/models/sizes, discarding one (back to the Goodwill bin) when I found another one I liked better. Granted, this process may have cost me in the neighborhood of $50.00, but I still felt like what I ended up with was a BARGAIN! And I do love a bargain -- no matter how much it costs, LOL. Plus there was the added benefit of learning a few things about what I liked and did not like. Anyway, this is what I've settled on, at least for now -- the Mini Messenger from ReignVermontcom. I thought it was some one-of-a-kind Etsy type of thing, but now come to find out that it's an actual brand and they have other styles too. I find mine just a TOUCH larger than ideal, but I can live with that at a price of something like $8.00. I can fit a Kindle, a small P&S camera, a notebook, a wallet, all the usual small miscellaneous things, and you could fit more too. It's lightweight; although I love the look and feel of leather, I don't want to carry around 5 pounds of it in addition to all my other crap. I find this bag to be not too purse-y, more of a messenger bag look. The fabric on mine is not shown here but is along similar lines -- pretty but not too girly, colorful enough to not be uber-manly. I see they have some styles that are a bit smaller than mine and look nice too. Might be worth a look if that price point is OK with you. Otherwise, yeah, you might want to check out a thrift store or two.
posted by littlecatfeet at 7:29 PM on May 15, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! I decided to buy a pouchee and Tom Bihn medium cafe bag.

Have to say, these links (eventually) led to all kinds of forums and flickr collections for what other people use for a bag and what they put in them. The only thing I like better than organizing my bag is looking in someone else's :-P
posted by DisreputableDog at 10:35 PM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

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