Completely Gratuitous: The Bagnistas



When I look at fashionable women, (not women who have enough money to buy anything they want. But truly fashionable women who just know how to put it all together), I notice one constant: nice bags. nice shoes. Always.

I may not be able to pinpoint if the outfit comes from Bergdorf Goodman or Target. But I can always peep the bag and shoe game.

In my quest to be more pulled-together, I promised myself that I would buy myself a real bag.

My history with bags is sad.

As a writer with a bunch of electronics and accessories, I’ve normally gravitated to bags like this…


Totally functional. And these bags are amazingly durable. But… Well, it’s just not cute. It’s not fly.

I think I had a fly bag. Once.

Back in ’94, I graduated from college and received a Coach bag as a gift. I loved that bag. It was small but super cute. The leather was rich and soft and it wasn’t so fancy that I felt like a fraud. It fit me.

I rocked that bag for a long time.

And then, I helped a friend paint her apartment. When I left, my bag rubbed against a wet wall. Yikes! The bag was ruined.

I rocked it anyway. For years. I’m talking YEARS.

Here’s me, with my paint-stained Coach bag. This is like 2002. Damn near ten years after the paint-splattering incident. Trifling.

That's TG standing next to me. Back when she was shorter than me. Sigh.

That's TG standing next to me. Back when she was still little. Sigh.

Last year, after I sold my first book, I said that’s it. I’m buying a real bag. Something that will complete my look even when I’m not dressed up. Something that I will carry every single day. A bag I’ll be proud to be seen carrying. I’m worth it! Dammit!

I went to the Short Hills Mall and began wandering around. My first stop was Louis Vuitton. Isn’t that a “real” bag? I checked out The Speedy.


Could it fit all my stuff? Probably not. But as I looked over the larger sizes, the monogram of the LV bags really bothered me. It seemed to be screaming out I AM AN EXPENSIVE BAG! And when I picked it up and looked in the mirror, I felt like a poser. Like I was dressing up in someone else’s clothes. Plus, I didn’t see anything in my price range that was big enough for all my stuff.

I walked down the hall to Gucci.


Same issue. I realized that I just don’t like logos. They’re not me at all.

I gave up on the bag search for a few weeks. I kept my eyes open. But I was very intimidated by the whole process. I knew I wanted a bag with a wow factor. But it had to feel like me.

In the meantime, I bought a laptop bag from…Target. I’m not posting a picture. I’m too embarrassed. Let’s make this clear. I’m not mad at Tar-jay. But the stitching started coming apart within weeks. And now TG uses it as her bookbag. I don’t want to rock a bag that is also appropriate for a sixth grader to use as a book bag.

Before I moved into my office, I often worked out of a spot called Cafe Eclectic on Bloomfield Avenue in Montclair. One afternoon, I took a quick walk to stretch my legs and ended up in a spot called Ruby Slippers on Church Street. It’s an offshoot of a store called Ruby that I love and it had just opened up–nothing but shoes and bags.

I did a double take at a bag positioned in a corner of the store.


My heartbeat started to quicken. The bag was huge. I could see my planner, laptop and all accessories fitting inside. I checked out the label stitched inside. It was a brand named Bulga. Never heard of it. Which was fine by me. It was weighty, well crafted and had no logos.

How much, I asked the sales associate.

XYZ, she said.

I gulped. And got on the Blackberry to hit up TH:

I found it. It costs xyz. this is the bag I want. no logos. not a “name” bag. Just an oversized brown leather bag for my laptop and stuff. more of a work bag than a pocketbook. I feel weird about it. I really like it. But for some reason, I don’t want to buy it til you see it. that’s silly, right?

He hit me back right away:

If you really–REALLY–like it. You should buy and buy it now. -TH

I was at the register within minutes. And I’ve never looked back.

I wear my bag every single day. And I have to say, it does make me feel like I have it together a bit more. Even on the weekends, it works well because I can throw Tog’s snacks, diapers and wipes in there AND still have room for my planner and wallet and even a book.

My search for my first “real” bag made me wonder a few things. How do truly fashionable women choose their bags? Is their process similar to mine? Do they go for style over substance? I’m toting the same semi-fly bag every single day. How often are they switching up their bag game?

I hit up my fashionable friends to see what they’re rocking.

Let’s talk to my girl Naima.


Love this haircut...

Me: Naima, you work for Coach. So I know what your everyday bag is!

Naima: Yes. I carry a Coach bag to work Monday to Friday. I have about 50 Coach bags, maybe more.  I actually took some home to my mother’s house because I didn’t have room for all of them.  So on a day to day basis, I carry whatever suits my fancy…right now it’s the Coach Ergo bag.


Me: I love this! It’s so roomy! What about on the weekends?

Naima: My current go-to bag for the weekend is my Louis Vuitton Speedy bag


I bought it for myself for my birthday about 5 yrs ago.  The Speedy bag is a classic and will never go out of style! But the Speedy is only a weekend bag because it isn’t big enough to carry all my stuff during the week.  My bag must be able to carry my personal notebook, my inspiration folder, my magazines, my book, ipod and the regular handbag stuff like makeup bag, wallet, keys, mirror, altoids, etc.

Me: I couldn’t do the Speedy, Nai. The monogram intimidates me.

Naima: It’s classic and it’s doesn’t scream fashionable per se.  You can dress it up or dress it down…Don’t think i won’t carry my LV bag with a sweat suit on.

Me: So what’s your dream bag? If money is no object.

Naima: I can’t stop salivating over this Gucci bag. It converts into a shoulder bag, backpack and crossbody bag.



Me: I love it!

Naima: But it’s four thousand dollars.

Me: Ouch!

I see Naima’s style: classic, modern and functional. I could definitely rock that Coach Ergo bag, especially on the days when I’m not carrying my laptop and a whole bunch of other crap.

Then I reached out to my girl Retha:


I want to get my hair cut like this right now!

Me and Retha go way back. Retha was one of the most fashionable chicks on the campus of Rutgers University. She rocked a TWA (teeny weeny Afro) like nobody’s business. I remember seeing her wearing overalls with a bandeau top underneath long before Aaliyah rocked the sexy tomboy look.  And when I added Retha as a friend on Facebook I saw that she was still holding down her It factor. Especially in the bag game.

Me: What do you wear for your everyday bag?

Retha: This simple black Botkier.


Me: That bag is a work of art. And this is your everyday bag? Damn. What else do you rock for everyday?

Retha: My second everyday bag is this hardy brown Tumi:


Me: This bag makes me feel all tingly inside. I can’t breathe! The warm brown leather…

Retha: I use this one for lugging into NYC, holds laptop and all. Not so much for fabuliciousness but more for utility.

Me: Looks fabulous to me. What’s your dream bag?

Retha: I have a few.  The first is from Chloe and the second is from Gucci…


2,150 dollars. Gulp.


2,550 dollars. It's a re-cess-ion!

Whoa. I see why these are dream bags.

I see Retha’s style is very similar to mine. The Botkier bag is too small for me. But I love the construction. That Tumi bag has my name written all over it…

And of course, I had to reach out to my girl Tai.  My dear readers who have been here since the early days will remember this lovely young woman.

Hey stranger...

Hey stranger...

Tai’s always runway ready. When I see her in my neighborhood Starbucks, she strolls in like it’s the catwalk. And her flyness is effortless. She never looks like she’s trying.

Me: Tai, what bag are you wearing everyday right now?

Tai: I’m an oversized-bag (toting) lady. I carry a clutch or a sensible-sized shoulder bag only when attending a black-tie event. And even then before heading out of the door in a gown, I try at least one oversized-bag on for size. Big bags, in most cases, translate into big style. And it doesn’t hurt that I can fit a lot of my life: laptop, blackberries, cosmetic bag, photo album, Little Black Book, nail polish remover pads, etc. in it.  Friends have mistaken my day bags for luggage. Needless to say, I love them.

Here’s what I have in heavy rotation right now…


Yves Saint Laurent Tribute bag.

It’s quite pricey but beautiful. It transitions well…from jeans during the day to heels and a simple dress at night.

Me: Wowzers.What else are you carrying for everyday?

Tai: I bought this amazing bag as a birthday gift to myself for under $200! (there was a day when extra savings were taken off an already reasonable sale price) Yes!


Cole Haan has long been known for its leather…but about three years ago, their upped their style ante to match the quality. I own 5 of their totes! And the ones from 2006 look just as stylish in 2009.

Me: And what’s your dream bag?

Tai: Right now, I love the “idea” of this Chanel bag.


In a recession, I won’t be buying it. But my grandmother passed down my first Vuitton monogrammed canvas bag when I was 15 years old. I love the idea of passing a Chanel handbag (like this one) on to my daughter (that I don’t yet have. Ha!). It’s classic but modern.

I see Tai’s style: ultra luxe and fab-u-lous with a capital F.

Well, now the floodgates have been opened. And I’m ready to start looking for my next bag. I’ve got my eye on this one. It’s from a company called Hayden-Harnett and they’re based in Brooklyn.


Yes, I know it’s a recession! I know this is not the time for gratuituous leather-coveting.

And yes, I know leather is cruel to animals! Hell, I went vegan for three months last year. (I actually bought a bag I loved from a leather-like company called Matt and Nat. Beautiful vegan-friendly bags.)

I’m conflicted about both of those things..

But I’m coveting anyway. And some of you are too. Don’t deny it!

Dear readers: What kind of bag do you carry? Are you a bagnista? Are you intimidated by pricey logos? Fellas, what kind of bag are YOU carrying? And can you tell when a woman is carrying a fly bag? Do you know Gucci from LV?

I’d love to hear from you…


TG is thisclose to being taller than me. Damn!

23 Responses to “Completely Gratuitous: The Bagnistas”

  1. Naima Says:

    Love the bag you got!!!! I would totally rock it! Also, you are looking really cute in the last picture :-) Now don’t you feel all grown up???!!!

  2. clove Says:

    I love your bag. I used to be a crazy bag lady because I worked at Filene’s Basement in high school and college and basically went nuts with the bag buying. Right now, I carry a medium sized black medicine bag daily, from H&M! I love it. But I also have a louis piano bag (the damier, not the monogram. I really studied this stuff, smh) that I carry on occasion. I’d been pining after it for awhile, bought it with one of my first freelance checks ($1300) but it still looks like it’s brand new after like 5 years! I think it’s okay to have one standard expensive bag in your wardrobe. And for me, being able to hold your laptop, magazines and notepad and still look chic is crucial

  3. Ms 20 Somn Says:

    I looooooooooooooove bags. It’s only because I am a broke student that I don’t have a show room full. I got bags in the basic colours first; black and brown for everyday functionality. Then I started inserting other colours for if I want to zest things up.

    Bags can do no wrong!

  4. Heather Says:

    Confession: For the past month or so, I’ve been straight pulling a Kanye West — backpacking. I know, I’m a 25 year old, professional woman, yet I walk down the streets of Philly with my tan American Eagle backpack (only on work days).
    I’ve never consistently carried a purse. Always been a tomboy. But now that I’m older and finding the need to carry all my junk in something a little cutter, I’ve started exploring some bag options. I’m glad you asked these “experts” what to look for when shopping for a bag. Not big on labels either. Just need something functional, fly and robber-proof.
    I’m with you Clove…gotta have by macbook, mags, and notebooks at all times. Maybe I’ll scope out H&M

  5. la negrita Says:

    I’m a “functional” bag girl. I usually always pick a black one because it “goes with everything.” I’m just too lazy to change bags to coordinate with each look. Not to mention, I rarely dress nice because my jobs are casual. I always want to branch out and get a wild bag but I think: Am I really going to wear this?? Usually the answer is no.

  6. Katura Says:

    This post is right on time for me. I’m looking for a bag that’s functional and fly, and has plenty of compartments so it doesn’t take me hours to find my lip gloss, which I seem to apply every 15 minutes. My stupid everyday bag (Anne Klein) looks like an attache case. Sooo not fly. I planned to hit up the little side street stores in Montclair this week to find something new. Thanks for reminding me Aliya. I’m going tomorrow.

  7. Luvvie Says:

    I try to find a mix between fashionable and functional. My everyday bag is a big tote that is checkered print (brown and chocolate) and it fits EVERYTHING. Folks mistake it for a Louis Vuitton bag often (b/c of the checkered) but its a nice bag that I got in a store in Houston for super cheap. Plus its sturdy.

    Otherwise, I have about 20 other purses or clutches that I rock on weekends depending on my outfit.

  8. Tanisha Says:

    I was just grinning reading this…I would love to be a fancy bag lady. I didnt even carry a pocket book until I was around 19 because there wasn’t much I couldn’t fit in my pockets back then. My first bag was bought on Main St. in Orange by my first serious boyfriend at an African shop. Remember seeing those African leather bags with wild animals on the orange tinted leather? That was me. I loved that bag. It was big enough for my walkman, tapes, books, and magazines. I carried that bag, and every bag since then, until they broke! I would repair them to get a little more wear out of them, but I wouldn’t quit until they were unfixable.

    I have a nice H&M bag that I have been carrying for a minute. I would love an alternative bag to carry so I don’t have to wear it out but I can never justify spending the money. Books or purse? Books! Music or purse? Music! Ticket to NC to see Mom or purse? Mom!

    One day I’m going to be impulsive and get a nice bag. And one that isn’t black either.

  9. Aliya S. King Says:

    @naima: thank you Nai honey! I’ve got my eye on that Ergo!

    @clove: damier. yes, that print doesn’t intimidate me as much…i could take another look at those. but are they leather? I’m a would-be vegan who is unfortunately swayed to the other side by leather bags. and turkey chili.

    @ms20somm: I have one bag. this brown joint. and that’s IT. Sad. I need black at least!

    @heather: robber proof! no such thing. I don’t think.

    @la negrita: I’m with you. I’m in jeans and t-shirts or sweats 90% of the time.

    @katura:yes! go to Ruby Slippers. Also check out Culture Couture on the corner. Super cute stuff. I got some ballet slipper flats last weekend on sale.

    @luvvie: did you say 20 purses? What is wrong with me? Why am I pushing 40 with one bag? Why?

    @tanisha: The African leather bag! Hell yes I remember. I think I might still have mine! They would often have a drawstring at the top with a leather thread. I went through a few of those. (And the bag made out of a gourd with the African print fabric on top..)

  10. Lashonda Says:

    I love bags….almost as much as I love shoes….I am lusting after that Ergo bag now. My current bag is a House of Dereon, I have had it a few years now.( I think only Dereon carries bags now)

    Wishing for a Kate Spade London sawyer and a Juicy Couture Leather Bowler bag. I have stopped spending until I wear the bags that still have tags on them. If I could get my hands on the hysteria bag by Gucci I would be set.

  11. yes Says:

    I can’t even imagine needing a bag of such enormous proportions! I guess you really do need them, especially if you need you’re laptop you wouldn’t want a whole nother bag for that and backpacks just aren’t as stylish. I like little hobos. My largest is a medium coach tote bag.

  12. Claire Says:

    I carry a Marc by Marc Jacobs black tote *everywhere*. It’s not a Marc Jacobs proper (which would run be $1200), but I still spent a pretty penny on it at Barney’s Coop. I love it, but it’s looking a bit ragged after a year. I cosign with Tai on the Cole Haan Bags. I bought several CH’s as my first ‘grown woman’ totes as a professional woman…they run about $300 or so a pop, so not too expensive, but always very droolworthy (leather–amazing. Colors–hot!). My mother is now a Cole Haan convert. I think a Louis V Speedy is indeed a classic bag and I’m hoping to find some deliciously discounted one here in Paris. A Chanel is on my list (I wore one recently for Fashion Week care of Bag Borrow or Steal!). Great brands for leather bags include Botkier, Foley & Corinna (try the Jetsetter), and Kooba. Oh and my first bag ever was a Coach as well! I was carrying one around in Junior High. They were super hot in the 80’s and my mom thought it was like the best gift ever…it was.

  13. SoSoulfull Says:

    O yeah, I’m such a handbag luva! My very first handbang was a hand me down Gucci doc bag from my older sister. We’re five yrs a part so I grew up watching her covet the latest ‘IT’ bag, so I could get a hold of the older ones. As I came into my own, I really had a thing for Coach! Sickening! I had over 40 pieces or so from them. Now I’m pretty much selling the bulk of the items on eBay. For me, Coach represents youth and fun, so I still rock items here and there. I’m starting to cycle back around to Gucci though. Last year, I bought my own, by myself! I was proud, but yet so indecisive and nervous. You should’ve seen me in the Gucci store in Orlando. Asking so many questions and mulling over fabrics, cuts, and even zippers. The salesman was just laughing at me, shoot, you would’ve thought I was buying a car instead of a purse. It took me an hour and a half to finally say those words – I want THAT one! Funny thing though, the bag pretty much stays in the closet since I fear getting it messed up. So on the regular I alternate between this one Kenneth Cole supa large leather bag that I have in 4 different colors (black, red, tan, and dark brown). Here’s the kicker though, the retail price was $398 each, but I got them on sale for $129! Man, I heart a good sale and being able to carry my kitten-kaboodle of writing items, in style, was just icing on the cake! Ahh, that’s one of my fondest handbag memories. :sigh: Anyhow, great topic Aliya! Keep’em coming… ;)

  14. Elise Says:

    Girl! I can relate! I felt like you for such a long time! I would go to work events and have a raggedy or well-worn bag. Last summer, I was in LA and went to Gucci flagship store on Rodeo (they have great sales!) and bought a brand new style they had just gotten in that week -large Pelham with studs – didn’t want something that was a knock-off mainstay..ya know? Soooo, two weeks later, i’m back in NY, leaving the train station, walking with confidence carrying my new bag and I hear a woman behind me calling “miss…miss?” I figure she’s a tourist or talking to someone else and i keep it moving. After 3 attempts to get my attention she has followed me out of the station and is now aggressively tapping on my arm….”miss…miss?” I finally turn to look at her and the sister asks…”where did you get your bag?” I answer, “Gucci” and she looks confused,…screws her face up, frowns and says…”Whaaa…..where??” I repeat…”At the Gucci store.” She turns to her friend, rolls her eyes at me and walks away!! lol!

    next obsession: new jackie large leather shoulder bag by gucci…looove it, gotta have it

  15. Aliya S. King Says:

    @elise: you didn’t smack that girl?

  16. Retha Says:

    So intriguing your blogs are. I love your Bulga!!! Wanted to add, I’m now a fan of Tory Burch. Got a big canvas tote this past summer and now I’m in love. Also, for the ladies who switch bags often, I’m thinking of getting a “purseket”, its like a liner for your bags and has compartments for all your stuff, check it out

  17. Alexandra Marshall Says:

    back when i USED to have some money i did bags. i don’t have much anymore, so all the bags i bought have had to last. there are a few that have made it and are now basically the only ones i carry:

    two pierre hardy bags. if you’re going to spend some money, pierre is your man. cheaper than the LVs and the GGs, and fashion insider cred for days. no logos, no metal even. they last and last and last. i have this one
    in navy blue suede with black leather trim. it may be the best 1200 euros (gulp) i ever spent. sometimes they go on sale. check barneys.

    my trusty old YSL mombasa. when tom ford first took over, he cooked up this bag.
    it became victimy fast. i got one on sale that had a better look: taupe suede and a flap that folds over the top so it looks more like a hunting bag. the suede has gotten dirty and great. now that the world has moved on, this bag has mini-retro coolness.

    a hot giant-sized eggshell python clutch by rickard shah.
    it was a sample, and they’re friends so they kicked it to me for free for helping them clean out their office before they moved to their new place. it’s my dress-up bag. goes with everything, and always gets huge compliments.

    lastly a balenciaga job i picked up on sale for $350. it was the blueprint for other B designs to come (spare, but with some curved and top-stitched trim shapes, no metal) and was most importantly NOT that annoying motorcycle bag. soft tan leather that somehow never gets dirty. i remember barneys had it in baby pink and white, all marked down to that very friendly price. i should have bought them all.

    love the one you bought, aliya. cute and of the moment but not at all victimy. the point with bags is: durability, in all senses of the word. no one ever looked bad for carrying something understated while those busy bags of the moment just look tired now.

    you should come to france. no one here has the money to play the bag game. they’re too practical and think flashy trendy bags are “vulgaire.” the perfect place for me to be working my back stock.

  18. Aliya S. King Says:

    @alexandra: yeah, right! I know those Frenchwomen have a wicked bag game. I just know it. It’s more subtle, I’m sure. Not much in the way of logos. But I know they know how to put it down…just like YOU do.

  19. Yolonda Says:

    PS. A lil “unknown” secret. You can contact the Coach folks and they will tell you how to clean it or they will replace it. I also have the same bag in black. Makes me want to bring mine out too.

    Its funny that you are writing this blog. One of my good friends went to Paris last week and she and I had the same conversation. I used to refuse to spend anything more than $200 on ANY bag. At the time, I could not justify buying an expensive bag when I change them so often. Bags and shoes are my nemisis…I truly battle this every weekend while in the mall. In my mature years, I have decided that I need one really good, diverse use, expensive bag. I want it because it says something about having an expensive bag, however, it wears for years. I have a bag that my grandma used for many years before she died and it is still looks good today and is “so of the moment”…vintage bags (vintage anything) are so fashionable right now.

    My “ideal” bag is something that doesn’t have any logos, however, I want another fashionista and/or everyday chic to be able to recognize my purchase…sounds shovanistic (sorry for sp) but why are we buying them REALLY? When the Gucci hobo came out, I loved it but could never win one on ebay. My newest “obsession” is Chanel. I haven’t found one that I truly love but a few that I are emerging to the top. Given that my friend couldn’t make it to the store, I have a few more months to decide on that favorite bag…she is going back in May.

    I am a huge fan of LV…I need them to create some new styles, however, the “old” styles are timeless. D&B’s patent leather line is HOT, however, D&B and Coach have become so everyday to most folks. I want something that is a bit unique.

    So I am in a bit of a pickle, I want a GREAT bag but haven’t found that one that would give my right arm for just yet.

    Good luck on your search.

  20. Michelle Says:

    I too, love a great looking bag, within reason, money-wise.

    Have you ever checked out

  21. Ashley Cooper Says:

    cute bags

  22. chanel j. Says:

    im trying to buy the speedy bag online but im not sure which size is the one basically everyone has
    i dont want to get the one thats tooo small so would anyone know what size that would be?!?!

  23. julia Says:

    Im in LoVe with Louis Vuitton! i had looked up these pics of it and fell in love with the speedy 30 witn monogram.i got jealous wen a friend i kno got a louis at a garage sale for 20.00 and i currently had that much in my wallet! she also got the belt,wallet,and matching hat!she didnt like it in the first least she lets me call it my nephew lol.i typically look at size because right now i carry an aero tote that is huge and full of crap.but unfortunately im the type to want designer over size.

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