When I was four years old, I received, as a gift, my very first handbag. I remember it was chunky white, and I lost it the same day, while shopping at the mall with my mother. I wasn’t the most girliest of girls, always needing the help of my exasperated mother’s hand in smoothing down skirt hems that had folded up, before I dashed out of the house. The white handbag, a foreign accessory to my person, was last seen laying comfortably on a stool in the women’s shoe department.

Since then, I’ve not owned any handbags, preferring instead the utilitarianism of a backpack – terribly unfashionable, I know. Oh, I went through phases with light shoulder bags slung across my torso, and these were suitable when I lived in Los Angeles and owned a car – much more stuff could be stored in the backseat rather than needing to be on your person. You can put a dozen full Trader Joe’s grocery bags in the trunk. Throw in a jacket or shoes, if need be. A yoga mat and my swimming gear perpetually inhabited the back seat foot rests. At one point, my car stored a skateboard and sleeping bag (both were subsequently stolen). The Kleenex tissue box was a permanent back window feature. Some friends appeared to live in their cars, which were densely packed with their belongings.

However, since relocating, London’s fickle weather, and pedestrian city life force me into more personal preparedness. My zippered shoulder bag, once cute, doesn’t suffice, and in turn, twists and pulls at my back. There is no more mother’s hand to recall items before leaving the house, so I now felt required to carry my things for the day, just in case.

Items in my backpack:

· Wallet

· Keys

· iPod w/ headphones

· Oyster travelcard

· Mobile phone

· Diary calendar

· Hand mirror

· Lipstick

· Digital watch: for timing massage home visit treatments

· Pads/tampons: you never know

· Pen & pencil, yellow highlighter

· Business card holder

· Lighter: not a smoker, but useful for lighting incense or candles

· Sunglasses: used occasionally due to weak English sun, but more of a hassle when travelling underground

· Blank UK Customs entry cards: flight attendants sometimes forgot to pass these out, and I never enjoy waiting in a queue, so I fill mine out inflight

· Book light: in retrospect, why did I need to carry one of these around? Was I prepared to be stuck in a dark place and needing to read?

· Library book (optional)

· London A-Z guide, tagged with client home addresses (optional)

· Massage client health survey sheets, on clipboard (optional)

· Receipt book for massage payments (optional)

· Portable iPod speakers, w/ plug (optional)

· Outer layer/sweater

· Umbrella (optional)

· Scarf

· Hat

· Gloves (optional)

· Energy bar

· Food/lunch (optional)

· Grocery shopping (optional)


As you may ascertain, my backpack grew a bit heavy. I was keenly aware of how unfashionable it was too, having bought it as part of a larger rucksack combo for trekking around the world. As resistant as I was to the ugliness, my practical nature won over my desire to dress up cute. I simply could not reconcile fashion with functionality. And time and again, London’s weather, and my long days out made it necessary for me to bulk up.

My wardrobe also reflected the city change. Gone were the short shorts, the flouncy, silk skirts, and strappy sandals. Instead, my shoes are pretty much all waterproof, and rugged. I wear more wool and long underwear. Half my closet is crowded with long, or heavy coats. I wasn’t used to colder climates, having grown up in tropical weather, so needed compensation. Meanwhile, my inner fashionista chafed.

A couple of weeks ago, I returned to visit Los Angeles. A friend took me to Target, and there sat a black leather handbag that had a hidden LED light built inside for perusing its inner contents with ease. She urged me to buy it, herself sold on the LED light. The handbag “lay well” upon my person, my friend remarked. I wasn’t especially looking for a handbag, but I was open to change, having been fed up with the backpack. Would it slip off my shoulder and make me lopsided? How would I fit things? The fashion-conscious me, the me that just wanted to feel like a reckless girl again came out and paid for the bag. So I bought it, as a test. At Shoe Pavilion, I picked up a slim pair of ballet-style leather flats, which signalled a departure from my usual grip-soled mountain trail shoes.

Items in my handbag:

· Wallet

· Oyster travelcard

· Mobile phone

· Diary calendar

· Keys

· Lipstick

· Hand mirror

· Hat

· iPod with headphones

I’ve learned to downsize significantly, which pleases me. If need be, I supplement my new look with a tote bag for other sundry items. After 3+ years in London, my body seems to have acclimatised, which astonishes me to no end (I even forgo the umbrella these days, so unfazed am I to the rain). There may never be days where I’ll step out in teeny shorts, but layering in Fall fashion is something I’m comfortable with, being equal parts feminine and hardy. The tomboy grew up.

 Erica, 34, London UK

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