|Rough & Tumble Lorna Dale hobo bag|
Poor girls with good taste who want to appear less poor must fork over a significant chunk of a paycheck now and then on accessories, particularly shoes, coats, and bags. But quality secondhand shoes and coats are easier to find at the thrift store than nice handbags and totes, especially when looking for something particular, like a slouchy canvas-and-leather hobo bag.
Other than inexpensive cotton-canvas shopping totes, I never have luck thrifting bags: everything's either too small, too dated, too dirty, or too worn. I don't put my purse down on the floor in public places—gross!—so I don't want to own a bag that has been drug over the floors of all the public toilets and restaurants in town, something most people seem to have no problem with. (Remember, I did grow up reared by a germophobe.) But even if that weren't the case, most used bags look a bit down-on-their-luck, the linings ripped and stained, the leather worn off at the corners, and hardware tarnished or missing. However, it's hard even to find any leather bags at all these days at the thrift store, even beat-up ones, what with all the trendy, fast-fashion, made-in-China goods churned out every year, dripping with cheap, unnecessary, oversized hardware and smelling like flip-flops. No, thanks.
Plus, I like to carry a bag no one else has, that doesn't say, "Look how timely I am, how well I follow trends." I saw the prettiest hipster last weekend over on NW 21st Avenue, wearing the requisite light-blue chambray button-down, snug jeans, long, straight brown hair, and brown ankle boots, with the Madewell Transport Tote—the black imported leather one with tan handles—slung over her left shoulder. It was a Sunday, and she looked good, casual, hip—very young Portland or young Brooklyn or young Denver or young Berkeley—whatever. It all starts to look the same when everyone's reading the same online magazines and blogs. She carried a nice bag. But I recognized it. Ouch.
The first thing to do when wanting a new bag is to rethink everything you already own. Do you really need a new bag or will an old one do?
For work, I've been sporting an old Japanese-designed, made-in-China bag bought at the Container Store that I've had for at least twelve years. Last spring, a shy male college student at a bus stop near PSU found the courage to ask me where I'd gotten it, calling it "a great bag." It's the Wise Walker WH-40 by Nomadic: olive-green canvas with black nylon straps and lots of pockets, including an outside pocket for one of those old candy-bar cell phones from the Dark Ages, back when Nokia ruled the cellular world. (Oh, Apple, alas, one day you, too, will fall.) I always liked the bag's masculine military color and its tomato-red lining—I love seeing touches of red in unexpected places—but it's a heavy bag even when empty.
And it's never empty. I load up my bags, pack mule that I am, with wallet, library book, planner, phone, keys, accessory bag, maybe a brush, maybe a pair of high heels, a couple canvas shopping bags, maybe my big camera, leftovers for lunch in a small canning jar, and an apple. I know what you're going to say: Go out for lunch instead, wear more sensible shoes, go digital; but I'm too poor and carless to go out for lunch, I hate sensible shoes, and I won't go all-digital—I like paper. Carrying that bag, I always look like I'm headed to the airport for a quick overnight trip.
Okay, so what else do I already own? I do have a couple nice purses I've had for years and years (because they aren't trendy), but one's too dressy and both are too small for everyday hauling. Most of the time the last couple years I've just been using beige cotton-canvas totes as a purse, but though they're a big improvement over plastic shopping bags—and they're lightweight—they look like I'm using canvas shopping bags as a purse. It ruins the effect of whatever else I have going on in the ensemble.
|Luisa Cevese Riedizioni fishnet tote via eBay|
Before I returned to the khaki-green carry-on, I often carried a Luisa Cevese Riedizioni tote found secondhand on eBay and made in Italy from upcycled garment-industry textile remnants (in this case, over-dyed fishnet from Sicily) encased in some kind of pale plastic. Everyone used to compliment it. A former friend once cackled that the bag would outlast me—only it didn't. I overstuffed it too many times and one of the handles ripped in two. This winter, when I finally took it to the local luggage repair shop recommended by my cobbler, the owner of Finks said he couldn't or wouldn't fix the bag because it would keep ripping. So, RIP Italian statement tote.
Then there are the two vintage jute Kenyan bags hanging like decoration on hooks in the walk-in closet. While I love their look and texture, they aren't suitable for Portland's rain and the rough jute is hard on my clothes, pilling the left sides of all my summer shirts and jackets. No, no, no.
Those were the bag options on hand, knocked down one-by-one. So last weekend, I took myself shopping on Etsy. First I looked at vintage bags. But nothing would do for all the reasons stated above about secondhand bags. So then I browsed through the handmade bags. One seller stood out above all the rest in terms of design, photography, construction, presentation, and national reputation: Natasha Durham's brand called Rough & Tumble, made in Maine, USA. If one must buy new, buy the real thing. And Durham's the real thing, a former chef-restaurateur turned bag designer selling since 2008 on Etsy, with her own Web site and a storefront in Norway, Maine. Robert Redford's Sundance catalog has even carried some of her bags.
|Rough & Tumble Lorna Dale hobo tote|
I fell hard for Durham's Lorna Dale hobo bag in oak waxed canvas with dark-brown leather straps and red-zipper pocket detail. (She sold me on that red zipper.) I had been looking for a multi-season, slouchy cream-canvas hobo bag with dark-brown leather straps running from bottom to top. But this Lorna Dale bag will work even better than the one in my head since a) it's real and b) the khaki-brown color won't show dirt. If I'd had $300 lying around, I might have sprung for an all-leather version, but I do love this mixed-media, canvas-and-leather design, which was waiting for me on the doorstep after work on Wednesday. The order was placed late Sunday night and shipped off on Monday for free, arriving all the way across the country by Priority Mail in just two days.
|Rough & Tumble packing materials|
Everything about the transaction—product, marketing, and service—was tasteful and highly professional. The receipts appeared in my inbox immediately. The minimal packaging was simple, impeccable: a handful of tissue paper stuffed inside the bag, the bag slipped into a plastic sleeve along with the brand's business card, all tucked into USPS's slim packing box. The materials and stitching are flawless. The bag design is unusual but classic, rugged, a little androgynous—the perfect slouchy, casual, multi-season tote to last decades and well worth $138 for a quality, U.S.-made product. (Note that the price this week since my purchase on Sunday has gone up to $148—must be a popular item.) And all this is said by someone who rarely ever buys anything brand-new. Bravo.
|Rough & Tumble Lorna Dale bag in Oak Waxed Canvas, side view|
|Lorna Dale hobo bag, interior|
I took the tote to work for the first time yesterday and felt like I'd just stepped up my game. The olive-brown is so dark I could even wear it with a mix of brown and black (a combination I love).
|Lorna Dale hobo bag, handle detail|
Durham's a designer I want more of. If she would also pursue recycled, upcycled leather materials, transforming those sad, dinged-up, dated leather purses and jackets lying in thrift stores around the country into something new—which would mean offering more one-of-a-kind pieces for Rough & Tumble—I'd be even happier.