The Busty Bag Lady: Issues of Function and Proportion

What constitutes a “good bag”? I’ve been thinking about this since my friend told me I needed one back in July and I added it to my fall shopping list.

Is it price? I’ve fallen in love with quite a few $1000+ handbags since beginning my search, especially this one from Tom Ford for $3028.50, the last one available on Bluefly as of this writing. (If you ever want to feel like you belong to an elite class of shoppers, click on a few high-priced handbags and be courted through the banner ads of some of the most expensive stores out there.)

If price translates to quality and value, it could be a factor, and I’m sure this Italian handbag is exquisitely crafted. However, I’m also sure I can find something more affordable that meets my quality standards, and although the value of a few handbags increases over time, it’s not an investment risk I’m willing to take.  Besides, there are a lot of extremely expensive bags in unique designs that could be considered playful, edgy or on trend that I wouldn’t consider “good” for my purposes.

I believe that “good for my purposes” is a more important factor than price. What functions must my good bag serve? It must

  1. help me look pulled together at networking events and other appointments where I want to be taken seriously and
  2. carry a lot of stuff (makeup bag, camera, notebook, phone, phone backup charger, wallet, receipts file, calendar, etc.).

The bag must also work in a variety of settings because I rarely change bags, and it must fit easily over my shoulders. I adore the bags that women carry by hand or drape over their forearms, but I need my hands free. I was seriously considering trying to change this about me until I read Kat’s thoughts on the subject on Corporette recently: “in my mind, this is not an insignificant question — whether a woman can change her long-established purse habits in order to carry a great bag.” I have too many other habits to change to worry about this one.

Until recently, function has trumped everything else for me, and it’s still my highest priority. However, I’ve also begun to consider proportion, prompted by this recent comment on last year’s cross-body curve cam post:

 I have been one of the cross-body-bag rule breakers for over 20 years. I fell in love with the Coach Station Bag, and I’m now about to buy my third – with daily use and a train commute, even Coach bags are beyond use at some point. I have a theory why they work for some of us.

I’m short (just under 5’2″?) and very buxom- I’m in a Panache 32G right now, which is a US 32I. However, I have really narrow size 6 hips. The Station bag is only about 9x9x3?, so it really doesn’t add much widthwise. When I lived in Chicago, I wore a coat 3/4 of the year, but even here in the South I find that not carrying a bag at my bust height (yikes!) or in front of my waist is more flattering than worrying about a strap cutting across my cleavage.

I won’t be wearing a cross-body bag anytime soon, but her point about bust height made me nervous. Have I been adding width to my bust all this time without even realizing it? And what is the largest size bag I can get away with?

Continuing my transition to brown as my main neutral,  and looking for a bag with a little more structure than any I currently own, I arrived at the following shortlist.

From L to R: 1. Brahmin Anywhere Tote; 2. Calvin Klein tote; 3. Lauren Bexley Heath Shopper; 4. Lauren Newbury Satchel.

How did we ever shop for purses before digital cameras? I thought each of these bags looked great on me in the store. After photographing them, however, I have a clear favorite that I reveal at the very end of this post.

Lessons learned:1. First, thanks to my insistence on a strap length that slides easily over my shoulder, none of these bags add bulk to my bust because:

  • from the front, their widest parts fall well below my bustline; and
  • from the side, the bags only begin at the base of my bust (for the first three). If they began any higher, I’d look like my torso was as wide as the point where my bust and bag met.

2. Length is as important as width. I’m 5’3″, and the satchel is far too long for me, even after shortening the strap. It looks like carry-on luggage! (I did try this one as a cross-body bag and post a pic at the very end of this post.) I’m probably reading too much into it, but despite leaving plenty of room to see my waist and torso and drawing the eye to the bag, I think the satchel has a “dragging down” effect that makes me look less energetic.

3. Structure is a good idea. Each bag contains the exact contents of the others, but the Brahmin tote and Lauren shopper retain their shape. The Calvin Klein tote gets wider, causing me to look less polished. I already have big soft boobs. I don’t need to compound this look with a big soft bag.  (The satchel is so enormous that it’s practically empty inside, so it has no problems retaining its shape at this point.)

4. With the added bulk of a winter coat, we can get away with almost any bag, including, as I’ve mentioned before, a cross-body bag. The other factors come into play when we shed our coats, making the top two rows of photographs most relevant to the “look pulled together” function that I need my bag to perform.

5. Boob size is not the single deciding factor for bag size. If it were, the satchel might be right for me. Instead, my overall look is “medium”, so a medium bag is best for me. Other women with large boobs may have an overall “small” look, and still others a “large” look. Carla Mathis develops the concept of your body’s “apparent size” in her book, The Triumph of Individual Style. Here’s what she has to say about purses:

Apparent size also determines the overall size of your “everyday” purse. Consider a purse like adding another “room” or space next to your body’s apparent size. Together, they must be relatively the same scale: small scale body, small scale purse; medium scale body, medium scale purse; large scale body, large scale purse. Remember, this is just the overall size. The details on the purse, such as stitching, strap width, and/or decorative ornamentation such as a buckle, again, depend on the scale of your bone structure and facial features. For instance, you may have a large purse to match an apparent body size that is large, but the construction and decorative details are medium to small scale to match your medium bone structure at the wrist and your small facial features.

There’s obviously a lot more to discover about what bags are best for us and how our large boobs enter into the equation. I would love for some of you to provide a similar pictorial as I have so that we can all learn more about this accessory.

Which of these bags will I ask my husband to give me for my birthday? The Brahmin tote. I like the deeper color (not even a factor that I discussed above), and even though it’s not a big difference, I think I look slightly larger against the shopper than I do against the tote. Plus, the tote fits everything and has an attached key fob and a special place for my pens. And a two-year guarantee. If I could find a tag inside that says “Made in America”, I would be over the moon. (Curiously, I can’t find a tag anywhere, which makes me very suspicious.)

Finally, here’s what the satchel looked like across my body.

Since the dress is already gathered where the strap cuts across my cleavage, it’s actually not that bad, is it? Even if it were bad, the gigantic size of the bag pretty much overshadows all else.

P.S. I’m wearing my Fantasie 4520 in 36G in these pics. I feel an uplift comparison coming with my 34G Prima Donna Deauville that I recently purchased.

P.P.S. After writing this, I placed the Brahmin next to the statchel and discovered that the Brahmin is only about 1 inch less in width, length and depth. So the satchel isn’t as big as I go on about above, but for some reason it seems giant. It may be the different construction and the unflattering point where it hits my hip.

Comments

  1. 1) I totally agree with the quote about the Coach station bag.
    2) I really like the Lauren shopper. I think you look very put together wearing it.

  2. I’m horrible about hand bags. I wear them until they’re falling apart. That being said I’ve learned a few things (at least for myself):
    1. they have to be large enough to carry a laptop
    2. I prefer softer sided ones. I have a beautiful one now that is very hard and it’s extremely hard to maneuver around others (especially with the extra belly and boobs at the moment!). Mostly I keep knocking things down behind me. :(
    3. I need to avoid black, otherwise everything in my wardrobe ends up being black.
    4. The purse needs a zipper on top and to sit pretty high due to safety reasons here

    Personally, I prefer a cross-over satchel (my husband hates those on me and I know they emphasize my breasts but I find the weight distribution significantly more comfortable and it’s also more hands free).

  3. Oooh, love the pictoral comparison! I might do one and email it to you!

    I agree with Astrid! Although the Brahman tote is a close second, I think the Lauren shopper gives you the most pulled-together look! I particularly like how the shopper is high enough to allow us to see the curve of your waist – it’s very flattering. But perhaps I am a bit biased towards small(er) bags! I like minimal and neatly organized accessories.

  4. I actually like the first bag the best, close contender the third bag. Those seem to “pull you up” the most. The satchel from the side makes you bigger than you are. I do that all the time and seeing these pics just woke me up!

  5. Jame (@jameane) says:
    • Darlene C. says:

      This reply is so late you probably won’t even see it, but thanks for these suggestions, Jame. I’ve been admiring the Hamiltons, but I’ve assumed they won’t look good over my shoulder. I think I’d better try one just to see.

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