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Strapping Men

Guys have stuff too. And some have decided that carrying a purse is better than having bulging pockets.

June 21, 2002|ADAM TSCHORN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

I'm a typical 21st century male. The pockets of my chinos burst at the seams, jammed to capacity with a Palm Pilot, cell phone, keys, wallet and sunglasses. Problem is, due to my unique body shape, every time I sit down I launch the contents of my pockets like tiny missiles into the air.

I use a cavernous Gap messenger bag to lug my work to and from the office, but it doesn't help if I'm going to the movies or out on the town. For that I need a purse--specifically the vast, wide-open real estate of my fiancee's handbags.

Sure, it would be easier if I had my own purse, a simple little number with some zipper pockets and a shoulder strap. But I'm a red-blooded American male--a guy's guy. I was paying attention when Jerry Seinfeld spent an episode defending his "European carryall." I took notice when evangelist Jerry Falwell called Tinky Winky's sexuality into question because the purple Teletubby carried a purse.

I thought about trying Dockers' new Mobile Pant, which internalizes extra pockets by moving them down the thigh. Stylish in the store, yes, but once the pockets are actually filled, all but the super-svelte look like Barney the dinosaur. Not to mention, you have to reach three-quarters of the way down your leg to answer your cell phone.

I found another solution on the Internet. The e-Holster, which bills itself as "the real man's purse ... a little 'edgy,' a little 'gangsta,' a lot functional," eliminates pockets altogether. Unfortunately, it also makes you look like you're packing heat on an FBI stakeout. I imagined the chaos I could cause the next time I quickly reached for my wallet at an airport or on the freeway. No, the e-Holster would have to stay on the e-shelf.

During a recent Saturday shopping trip with my fiancee-- who had declared her latest Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche African-inspired Mombasa purse strictly off-limits--I took an informal poll to see how other guys cope and carry.

"I got mine when I moved to Manhattan for three years," said Greg Little, 36, of the small olive green nylon Manhattan Portage bag slung diagonally across his chest. "Everybody there has them, because they don't have cars to put anything in." Little, an L.A. resident who works in the film industry, does catch some grief. "But I get away with it a little bit," he said, "because all the messengers in New York use them."

Eric Stewart, 34, carries his wallet, sunglasses, keys and phone in a small black Diesel bag, not much bigger than a ham sandwich. "I carry it all the time. I don't like stuff in my pockets. And smaller is better because I'm tired of all those bulges," said the L.A. resident, who works in retail. But it was John Crowley, 31, visiting from Austin, Texas, who won the purse prize. When asked about the olive green nylon Parcel bag slung over his shoulder, he pointed to his friend Karen Mann and said, "It's hers. I've got my sunglasses, sweater and cell phone in here, and she didn't want to carry it."

A purse makes practical sense. But how do I transition? Do I just show up at work one day like the guy who goes from bald to a full head of hair in one weekend, forcing my co-workers to stare and snigger behind my back?

I could just piggyback on another life change--having kids. Lizzie Shaw, spokesman for L.A. designer Sarah Shaw, notes that the company's mid-size black leather Metropolitan bag has found double duty as a diaper bag. "Women tell me their husbands don't feel like freaks carrying them around like they would with some wild floral print thing."

Adding a baby to the mix seems excessive. But Shaw makes a good point: As long as the bag doesn't look too girlie, I could carry it with my head held high.

So where does one find a masculine-looking satchel? I turned to my fiancee's extensive purse collection for a clue. One name stood out--Kate Spade. Isn't she married to Jack Spade? And didn't I read somewhere that he had a store full of man sacks?

Apparently there is no real Jack Spade. "I borrowed a little Jack Welch and some Jack Kerouac, who is an everyman. Jack Spade is anyone and everyone," said designer Andy Spade (who is, in fact, married to Kate).

The Jack line has a more masculine look than the Kate line because it uses heavier fabrics such as Waxwear, canvas and a wool-nylon blend, he said. And the bags are designed from the inside out with men in mind. "Men are more organized in terms of their bags. They demand a lot of compartmentalization for pens and floppies," said Spade. "I even added a ticket pocket."

Maybe there is hope that I can evolve into a bag-wielding creature, able to stow the various implements of my daily life neatly into a gender-appropriate, just-the-right-size bag with the right heft and feel in the right earth tone. But I still harbor a deep fear that one day I'll pass a stranger on the street and hear those two dreaded words--"man purse."

Then it hit me. Scottish men aren't embarrassed about wearing skirts--they simply call them kilts. And if the traditional fur sporran worn with a Scottish kilt isn't a man purse, I don't know what is. Sean Connery's a Scotsman, and he was James Bond.

You can't be more of a guy's guy than that. Guy Ritchie wore a kilt and a sporran at his wedding to Madonna, and I don't hear Falwell making hay with that. Maybe the best thing I can do is take up the bagpipes and apply for dual citizenship.

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