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Bag of Regrets

Photograph by Bryanne Salazar

It was Black Friday 2009 when I bought my first designer purse. I still remember how the bag glimmered from the counter. It was a muted gold, with a patchwork design of white and tan squares, and a thick sturdy strap.

If coveting is a sin, I sinned all over that bag.

I’m going to be brutally honest here, I didn’t just like that purse because it was pretty (it really was) but I loved what it represented. I can’t believe I just wrote that.

It was more about pure, unadulterated social-climbing. Holla’ at a poser. (Me!)

For the past year, my husband Alvaro, an active-duty enlisted Marine, and I had been invited to numerous parties hosted by his higher-ranking co-workers. Their wives were tanned, highlighted, draped in designer duds and toted major-label purses on their well-defined arms.

Naturally, I compared myself to these women, and when I tallied the score, I came up short. (Physically, I blame my Mayan ancestors for my lack of stature, but emotionally, I only have myself to blame.)

My solution wasn’t to analyze my lack of self esteem; rather, it was to invest our sparse income in beauty and fashion. Para mi, y nadie más. ¿Cómo se dice egoísta?

I cut and colored my hair, opened a department store credit card, and spent long hours bathing my skin in the sun. All that was missing was a fancy bag that separated me from the dime-a-dozen purses I once favored.

The story I told myself — the line I reiterated to justify my shallow, materialistic behavior — was something like this:
I need to fit in with these women, since they are the spouses of my husband’s co-workers. I don’t want to be different, so it’s worth the expense.
Photograph by Bryanne Salazar

The story I told myself — the line I reiterated to justify my shallow, materialistic behavior — was something like this:

I need to fit in with these women, since they are the spouses of my husband’s co-workers. I don’t want to be different, so it’s worth the expense.

I bought that purse, then wrapped it up, and labeled it to myself — from Santa. Then, a week before Christmas, I opened the present in order to wear the bag to my husband’s annual office holiday party. I don’t know what I thought, exactly – but I’m sure there was some expectation of praise, of adoration, and inclusion from the group of wives of which I pined to be a part. For the record: none of that happened.

Instead, I had a bill to pay, and learned the following important lessons. Here’s my PSA:

1. Expensive purses are remarkably like inexpensive ones. They have a bag section, usually a few zippers, a liner, and a strap. It’s strange – but it’s almost as if they are more similar than they are different.

2. Designer purses get dirty, too. It’s true. Although the price tag alone would make some believe these bags have super-repellent powers, they don’t. They stain and depreciate like the rest.

3. One is never enough. These “investment-pieces” look great, until you realize you can’t wear them every day, with every outfit. Soon you’ll realize you need a pastel bag for spring, a large bag for summer, a clutch for evening wear, a dark bag, a white one, a glittery one….

4. If no one liked you before the purse, it’s guaranteed no one will like you after, either. Sorry – I know that’s a little harsh, but my list of friends proves this. I gained absolutely zero new friends from that expensive bag, and probably lost a little bit of my soul. It turns out that our individuality is far more attractive than any overpriced wallet-and-makeup holder.

5. When you pay for the label, you make someone who already has a lot of money more wealthy. Alternatively, you are also making yourself poorer. Think about that for a minute. You could use your money to buy unique, handmade purses from across the world that empower impoverished women and artisans from places such as Ten Thousand Villages, or Global Girlfriend, or even Buy the Change. (Did you see this beautiful bag from Guatemala? I bet none of your friends have that one.)

In short, I bought an expensive purse, and gained nothing in return, except a few quality life-lessons. My husband didn’t get promoted. I didn’t get invited to lunches and shopping dates with the wives I admired, and my social standing didn’t budge an inch. What did change was my credit score. It dropped, because my debt-to-income ratio had shifted.

If that isn’t a reason to shop smart and not get sucked in by designer labels, I don’t know what is.

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