Saleema Nawaz: All my pretty handbags are tired of this pandemic


The agenda of a purse is to go out into the world – and preferably somewhere more exciting than the grocery store.

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Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, styles have changed. Athleisure is king, and old fashion staples are gone. High heel shoes. Underwired bras. Trousers. A lot of us may look less refined than in the days before, but at least we’re more comfortable.

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Sometimes I wistfully stare at the row of three inch pumps and boots lined up along the top shelf of my closet and wish I had a place to wear them, but my feet, at least, don’t complain. .

Handbags, on the other hand, are an accessory that I miss since I have nowhere to go. You don’t need to bring much if you’re just walking around the block.

I have a lot of beautiful handbags – some new, a lot of used, others handed down. (The actual number cannot be disclosed, in the interests of the longevity of the marriage.) Hobo Bags. Shoulder bags. Clutches. School bags. A Longchamp bag. A colorful plaid tweed bag. A felt handbag from Italy. A truly treasured set of lightweight leather handbags from Montreal company m0851 – before I refrained from attending their annual sample sale.

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Shortly before the pandemic, I bought myself a giant Madewell transport tote, suitable for a full day of laptop coffee and coffee without having to stop at home. But I was only able to use it for two weeks before it all ended. As of March 2020, my Hershel Floral Bum Bag has seen more action than any other bag I own.

It makes life easier in some ways, staying at home. It used to be a bit of a pain to transfer all of your essentials from one bag to another. But it always makes me sad to see all my beautiful handbags gathering dust. They weren’t made to stay home day in and day out. They want to go to the world, to see and be seen, to travel to new places… although it’s also possible that I am planning.

Last spring, I did one hopeful and illogical thing: I bought another handbag. An adorable little bucket bag in three shades of raspberry grained leather, with a twist lock and an expandable shoulder strap that converts from handbag to shoulder strap with a clever set of snaps. Chic and small – important since any bag I carry is invariably filled to capacity.

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“This is my deconfinement purse,” I told my family, confusing them. My idea was that this gorgeous handbag would inspire me – a working home introvert and very risk averse – to go out again after more than a year of being indoors. While I might be reluctant to expose myself, the agenda of a purse is to go places – and preferably somewhere more exciting than the grocery store.

Over the summer, my gorgeous new bucket bag has accompanied me the handful of times I’ve parked and had a drink with friends on the decks. And the stock market, I dare say it, was happy.

But on a cold night on the patio in late October, I realized I should have done more socializing in a warmer day. The cold was setting in quickly and everyone’s schedules were busier. I would have liked to be comfortable more quickly. The purse was not fully satisfied. I felt like it had only just started.

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Then I looked forward to my child’s vaccination, my threshold to relax personal restrictions. Just a few weeks ago, I was imagining that I could now go to people’s houses, or to a morning in a nearly empty movie theater, or maybe even meet someone in a bar for a drink – if I could find one that wasn’t too crowded.

I was starting to have modest vacation fantasies during spring break, like a trip to Ottawa or Quebec. And the stock market was almost beside itself with excitement. “You can do it,” he seemed to be saying. “We deserve to go somewhere nice.” Or even, “I want to watch you drink a dirty martini made by a real bartender.” As I mentioned, I may have screened.

But then, almost faster than we could process it, Omicron arrived to scare us inside – although some of us barely made it at first. The rise of the variant again looks like déjà vu: having to manage our expectations and prepare for constant disappointment. Trying to make us understand that everything could change again at any time. That schools could go online in January.

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Over the weekend, I brought the purse on what could have been my last big outing of the year – to the grocery store. Soon we may be able to place orders for contactless pickup again. Back to the loop through another dark and uncertain winter in which all the little joys and kindnesses start to count for a lot.

“Nice handbag,” said the cashier.

My eyes lit up above my mask. “Thank you,” I say.

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