Handbags at Dawn

This article was first published on http://life.hereisthecity.com/2011/02/16/handbags-at-dawn/ on 16 February 2011.

In the bygone era of my banking days, I was once hailed as the Imelda Marcos of handbags.
Today, while walking past the local Waitrose, furiously conducting an internal debate over this evening’s  dinner options (is spagbol twice in a week too much?), I glanced in the window to spot a familiar face. She was looking a tad bedraggled with a hint of the disorganised madwoman about her and she was carrying a rather limp looking nylon handbag of Le Sportsac variety. Then I realised it was me.
It strikes me that I am a long way (geographically, mentally and most evidently, sartorially) from the Birkin-toting self of yore. My footwear is a rotating cycle of Ugg boots/ FitFlop Mukluks/ trainers – a good three inches lower than the de rigeur uniform of towering heels, scaling the corporate ladder. Rosa Klebb dagger was optional but useful in disposing of the opposition especially during bonus season.
Recent years have seen my arm candy of choice reduced to the hideous Le Sportsac (which doubles as a nappy bag) and a wipe clean PVC Cath Kidston number. Suddenly I am pining for my 2.55 (aka Chanel, for the handbag heathens out there). Notwithstanding the fear of a small child defacing a bag worth more than a small car.
I practically run home, almost mowing down a couple of pensioners in the process, sprint up the stairs to the attic where, gathering dust, resides a box marked ‘handbags’. Tearing it open, I discover they are nestled alongside two other long lost friends I haven’t seen in far too long; namely, freedom and independence.
So I have vowed to sling on an impractical but beautiful bag and strap on some killer heels the next time I am not doing the nursery run/ performing a supermarket sweep/ chasing children round a playground. As for my dear friends, freedom and independence, they have been lovingly laid back to rest in the attic for another few years.
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What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is… well, mine!

I have always been of the school of thought that it pays to be independently wealthy; or at least sufficiently wealthy as to be able to be independent. As Jane Austen would attest to, even back in the day when women shared the sole goal of attaining security and comfort through the status of dependent wife, it was still a prerequisite to be wealthy, or at least with considerable dowry, in order to achieve said goal.

Having spent and squirreled away my earnings, in not always equal measure but always in whichever proportion I, and only I, deemed fit, I have now reached a juncture where the monthly joys of tearing open perforations on payslips and ranting about the heinous PAYE contributions is now just a fading memory. Our family income has fallen by 50% and our family membership has simultaneously increased by 50%. Aside from the financial freedom I have recently forfeited, comes a less tangible forfeiture – that of my emotional independence, sense of identity and self worth. My wings have officially been clipped. I am now a kept woman.  

It is by no means easy to step away from the Louboutins, give the monthly handbag habit the heave ho, and ignore the relentless beckoning of net a porter every time I logon – tantamount to an alcoholic holing up next door to an off licence. Just a click away – sigh… But, armed with the knowledge that every penny I now spend is hard earned by someone other than myself, makes me consider and consider again, before handing over the readies. Not a bad thing perhaps but when each (deeply considered) purchase is cloaked in a carrier bag of guilt, it brings a whole new meaning to the phrase guilty pleasure – in this instance the pleasure is all but dissipated by the overwhelming guilt.

Mr A is a reasonable man; not an active proponent of feminism but certainly supports the notion of equality in the household – thankfully. In recognition of my desire to hang on to my dignity (by a thread)  and fear of feeling like the big issue seller touting for charitable donations, he has kindly arranged for a monthly sum to magically materialise in my personal account. He had the sensitivity to remember my angst-ridden anecdote involving an aunt who had to ask her husband for handouts, cap in hand, and account for every penny spent (I’ve known more liberal corporate expense accounts), including precise costs associated with feminine products of the monthly requisite variety – oh the shame! What’s more, he allows me to treat him to lunch once in a while, without subjecting me to the humiliating fact that it is actually himself treating himself in a roundabout way. My deeply engrained mindset of what is his vs what is mine vs what is ours is a tough one to change.

In time I hope to accept that we have embarked on a path together as a family and that my role for the moment is primary carer of home (in which I am woefully inadequate, hence our cleaner) and child (in which I hope I am infinitely more adequate). This doesn’t brand me as a lesser person than when I was defined as a city worker; simply a different person. My contribution though less tangible is no less important.

Likewise, my priorities in life have conveniently taken a turn (for better or worse is debatable). This may just be a moment of aberration (or insanity), but for now anyway, dare I say it, I genuinely feel that one can have enough handbags and shoes. I spend most days traipsing miles round London with buggy in tow, to avoid using possibly world’s most un-baby friendly public transport system. Opportunities for fancy footwear and alluring arm candy are limited. I’m certainly aware that I may (will) not adhere to this way of thinking in the long haul and it is only a matter of time before I revert to my old ways (cf last month’s impromptu Mulberry Roxanne joining my handbag harem), but until then I’m happy for the Birkin wait list to maintain its elusive length.