Purse stories hold a wealth of embarrassment


Hiding a stolen $40,000 in your purse, as Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane did in the Hitchcock classic Psycho, is a rarity. But most of us who carry handbags have hidden secrets in them from time to time.

The universal unmentionable, for women over a certain age, anyway, has always been feminine hygiene products – and we’re talking basic tampons/sanitary napkins. (One can only imagine the horror of having someone find feminine hygiene spray in her purse.)

But anyone who attended a coed junior high or high school can relate to the monthly embarrassment of not just having to ask a teacher for a pass to the restroom (really, folks, is that civilized?) but having to carry her purse along with the pass – which might as well have been a big sign saying, “Hello, it’s my time of the month/I’m having my period/whatever phrase was used when you were in school.”


At least that’s how it felt at the time.

But embarrassing or funny moments of secrets spilled definitely don’t stop with the teen years, and a few brave women have been willing to spill theirs to The ESSEntial Blog.

Names have been withheld to protect the embarrassed.

One baby boomer remembers being a carefree (clueless?) college student in the 1970s, back in the days before TSA – when you could meet people at the gate when you picked them up and when Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport was still called Adams Field.

“I bopped in with my hippie-ish shoulder bag, excited to pick up my friend – just excited to be at the airport, period, when a security guard randomly decided to check my purse. The first thing he came up with, after going in for the kill, was a handful of tampons. His face turned beet red and he shoved my bag back, saying, ‘You can go on.’

“I was never so relieved to be embarrassed. His knuckles had to have brushed against a film can filled with an illegal substance that could have landed me in a heap of trouble. Can’t say it changed my behavior – that had to come with maturity – but it did make me think about what I carried where.


Another baby boomer remembers a similar experience, “only it was a sanitary napkin, and I was going into the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in the early ’80s.”

She remembers the purse as vividly as the incident.

“My bag was light-pink heavy canvas and looked like a small backpack but had a regular pocket book strap. It was made by Capezio, and I bought it at Reminiscense in New York City.  Anyway, the security guard looked in my bag, got totally flustered and said, under his breath, "press-on towel" [what the ??] and waved me through.

“I don't think a man today would be nearly that flustered.”

A Gen-X stay-at-home mother of two starts her story with the question, “Don’t all embarrassing purse moments involve tampons?”

Hers definitely does, but with an unusual twist.

“My girlfriends and I were celebrating birthdays and decided to rent a limousine and go to a nightclub for a girls’ night out. For whatever reason, one of my girlfriends and I had decided beforehand that we would show everyone how cool we were by smoking cigars.”

After entering a “dimly lit nightclub with our designer jeans and inflated egos,” finding a table and ordering cosmos, they decided to smoke their cigars.

“At the bottom of my purse, I found what I thought was my cigar and popped it into my mouth and looked up at my friend who was in hysterics she was laughing so hard. At that moment it dawned on me that I did not have a cigar in a mouth – I had a tampon in my mouth!

“Augh! There are so many morals to this story – I can't even begin to list them all, but I will always remember that funny, yet embarrassing night!”

All we can say is, hey girl, at least you didn’t light it.

Another Gen-Xer has a story that proves that almost any unexpected prop, no matter how tame, can lead to total embarrassment.

“I was running errands with a friend. On our first stop she was rummaging through her large very cute blue purse for her wallet, when she made an awful face, then pulled her purse closed, looking panicked. She had a rotten tomato in her purse and it had just exploded.

“It was really gross but also hilarious! My question is: Why would you ever put a tomato in your purse?!”

For one baby boomer, another totally innocent item loomed large and embarrassing in her fourth-grade mind and became a self-fulfilling prophecy for the poor kid.

The day started off so well.

“Our class took a bus trip from our school in Maryland to Philadelphia, to spend the day. I felt so grown up, and my mother gave me $13 (a fortune back in 1970!) to put in my purse for lunch, dinner and souvenirs. My dad had brought me the purse home from a business trip he'd taken on an airplane (a very big deal to us back then) earlier that year.”

And a special purse it was, a stewardess' purse, blue and white with the United Airlines logo on it.

[caption id="attachment_2483" align="aligncenter" width="216"]united Back when flying was fashionable, airlines offered their own lines of bags. (ESSE carries Pan Am's new offerings, by the way.)[/caption]

“It was lightweight and had a handle and a zipper top, and I imagined it really was what stewardesses put their lipsticks and spending money in when they flew. I felt like a stewardess myself, only my mode of travel was a bus.”

The only fly in the ointment of the day was that our 9-year-old heroine frequently got carsick, so her purse contained “a brown bottle of chalky white medicine that I could glug right out of the bottle if I started to feel really nauseated” – which seemed babyish and uber-embarrassing. But she managed to put her worries aside for a while.

“Soon after we arrived, I remember walking along some marble hallway at some historic site, swinging my purse insouciantly, a gal on her own and feeling worldly – until I swung a little too fast and too loose, and the light little stewardess purse with its weighty cargo flew out of my hand and hit the cold floor with a clank.

“I didn't have to look inside to know, but I peeked. Jagged brown pieces of glass and a tangle of dollar bills surrounded by minty-smelling white pus. Terrors, terrors – would someone see? I kept my cool, and at the first opportunity, I did what my fourth-grade mind thought was the most worldly and civilized thing: I tossed the stewardess purse in a trash can as we walked by.”

No more sassy purse. No money to ward off tummy grumbles or buy souvenirs. No medicine for the bus ride home, which she fortunately didn’t need.

“But I did feel a little nauseated when I got home and Mama explained to me that paper money was woven and sturdy; I could've rinsed off the bills in a restroom and they would've been just fine.

“The stewardess purse was just one of many casualties of my worrying too much about what other people think. Damn. I still love that purse; wish I still had it!”

This post is already long, but two more short stories are too juicy/naughty not to share, so hang on to your purse strap.

Two middle-aged, from-childhood best friends met in New York for shopping and lunch. Impulsively, they popped into a fancy “adult-novelty” (read “sex toy”) shop, and, of course, somebody had to buy something.

So one of the two got a semi-kinky, male-oriented novelty, which she dropped into her purse after paying – no need to advertise the fact to the world by carrying a bag from the store. Some things are better kept on the down-low.

And it was down low in her purse at the fancy restaurant they went to next, so no cause for embarrassment. Until the gals were walking out, that is, and their young waiter came running after them, novelty in extended palm, yelling, “Ma’am? Ma’am? You dropped your … you dropped this.”

Seems it came out with her wallet and landed under her chair. The embarrassed duo don’t know to this day if the waiter knew what he carried. They just know they scurried out of there.

The last baby-boomer tale took place a while back in California, where getting anywhere takes a while.

“My husband and I were going out to a big event, and at a stop along the way I realized that my panties were going to annoyingly ride up one cheek all night, so I went into the restroom, took them off, then tossed them into my purse.

“Upon arriving at the gate, they asked to do a purse check. Of course, my panties were right there on top. I was so embarrassed because the gate agent smiled when he realized I had gone commando under my skirt!”


These brave women have shared their tales of rosy-cheeked moments, albeit behind the safety of anonymity. How about you? Do you have any you’re brave enough to tell?

If so, please do. We’d love to hear. Everyone enjoys a good purse-story lesson.

Until next time …