The most beautiful clutch bag I own was given to me as an 18th birthday present, by the women I worked with in my Saturday job at the local library. It was a delightful surprise. Let’s be honest, I was expecting a bookmark.
The clutch was about 20cm long, turquoise blue satin covered in a tactile mosaic of sequins, gems and stones the size of marbles. I think it was from Accessorize, because everything was back then. I received the beautiful clutch bag proudly and solemnly, as a signifier of the life I was about to embark on as a legal adult. The party invitations would, I assumed, follow soon – tumbling through my door like Harry Potter’s Hogwarts letters – and off I would go with my clutch bag, into the night, both of us glittering.
I used the clutch bag once, maybe twice. I think it ended up in a puddle on a Camden pub table and I stowed it away after that, to protect both the bag and the idea of needing the bag. It’s still there in an old hatbox, along with maybe a dozen others I’ve acquired over the years and barely used either. I have teeny, embellished pouches and sparkling vintage clasp purses on dainty gold chains; strokable velvet envelopes; the kind of Borrower-sized baguettes that, when I was at school, we called “armpit warmers”; they’re all tucked away in there like an archive for the Museum of Lost Fun.
Sometimes I imagine that one day, I’ll hear a muffled sound from inside the box, open it up and find all the clutch bags inside, giggling and dancing around themselves to the sound of a Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers megamix. It would make such a good CGI kids’ movie. “FREEZE!” one of the clutch bags will yell. “She’s rumbled us!” And I will feel hurt, betrayed and also guilty, because deep down I know it’s my fault. I drove them to it. I deprived the clutch bags of their one purpose. They’ve had to fight (I’m sorry) for their right (so sorry)... to party.
A tiny clutch bag suggests you might be the kind of woman who doesn’t need anything as crass as stuff. A woman so low-maintenance she can head out for a night of prolonged revelling with only a debit card, a lipstick and a single lite tampon
Even at 18, 19, 20, the peak Going Out years, which in my head now are just a neon-lit montage of air kissing and raucous scenes on night buses while Petula Clark sings Downtown over the top, I rarely lived up to the promise of the clutch bag. But then few of us do. Only a handful of events in the average life feel genuinely clutch-worthy. Weddings, ambassador’s balls. For a good party you might feel moved to downgrade from a giant tote to a modest satchel, maybe, but even then you still end up getting a bag for life out to carry the bottle of Taste the Difference prosecco.
A tiny clutch bag suggests you might be the kind of woman who doesn’t need anything as crass as stuff. A woman so low-maintenance she can head out for a night of prolonged revelling with only a debit card, a lipstick and a single lite tampon. She doesn’t even menstruate heavily; that’s how dainty and insouciant Clutch Woman is.
Yet we’re also kind of wary of Clutch Woman and her irrepressible chutzpah, aren’t we? After all, there is nothing that says “I am going out-out!” as brazenly and openly as a tiny clutch – you may as well turn up in a horse-drawn carriage and a tiara, asking what time Bublé will be on. In our socially confusing era, when “Christmas get-together” could mean anything from a Lidl cheeseboard and three rounds of Cards Against Humanity to a fancypants catered soiree, it feels cooler to play it safe with a daytime bag. It’s an alternative spin on the “jeans and a nice top” safety clause. If your sequinned dress says “Christmas party!!!” but your Fjällräven backpack says “socialist party”, then both bases are nicely covered.
Besides, there’s always the chance you might actually need the big-bag stuff. Your kit, your armoury. What if your evening is somehow ruined by the absence of your spare socks, your book, your headphones or your pile of miscellaneous handbag sand? You worry that the night you take a tiny bag out with you will inevitably be the night someone runs into the bar yelling, “QUICK, DOES ANYBODY HAVE A WADDED-UP PILE OF OLD RECEIPTS WITH GUM SPIT INTO THEM? A LIFE DEPENDS ON IT!”
But I’m conscious that as I get older, I only seem to need the big bags more. My armoury has expanded. My tampon purse now holds not just Lil-lets in a variety of sizes but also Nurofen, Imodium, Rennies and plasters. I need glasses now, for god’s sake, just to make out the yellow blur on the train announcement boards. My days of carefree clutching are slipping away like so much handbag sand.
So perhaps I need to stop waiting for the glittering invites that will never come, and create my own clutch bag occasions while I can. Maybe it’s time to free the sequestered clutch bags from my old hatbox and let them fulfill their true potential in the big city. Me and a flock of sparkling purses, out on the town for a Christmas adventure. Disney Pixar, you can have that idea for free.