The ESSE list: 10 essential items

When it comes to purse contents, some things never change – they just take new forms. When it comes to purse contents, some things never change – they just take new forms.

As our displays at ESSE Purse Museum emphasize, many of the items women carry in their handbags have changed through the years (though some basics are still as essential as ever). Not as many women carry mending kits today, though many of us have had fashion mishaps when we’d give anything for a safety pin nestled in the bottom of a purse.

Just as essentials change with time, they change with the age or life stage of a woman. Women in their reproductive years need certain feminine products that older gals have traded in for purse-sized fans. A mother might have an extra pacifier stuffed in a pocketbook, whereas a single woman might have an extra pair of panties.

You never know what might come in handy.

But we do have a list of 10 things we consider modern-day must-carries – things that would fit into even a small, artsy handbag.

1. A slimmed-down, light-weight wallet, loaded with, at the least, a driver’s license (or other photo ID, if you live in a mass-transit city) and debit/credit card. Cash would be good, of course, as would an insurance card for emergencies and a bit of coin in case you find yourself in front of an old-fashioned parking meter.

2. Keys – You won’t get far without them if you’re driving or need to lock your door behind you, and you certainly won’t get back in without them, unless you live in Mayberry, circa 1962. (Some car keys do double-duty as a personal alarm device, offering extra bang for the buck. Just hit the panic button and cover your ears.)

3. Smartphone – Who leaves home without at least a cell phone these days? If your phone is of the mini-computer variety, you’ve also got an address book, a notepad, a calendar, a photo album, a camera, and, via a couple of apps, a flashlight and an alarm – you can even get personal safety apps that (for a fee) send out emergency messages with GPS information should you be caught in a threatening situation or have an accident.

4. But still carry a pen, small notepad and business cards, because phone batteries die, and you never know when you might need to give someone your contact info. Mr. Right? A lucrative business contact? (And, yes, technically they're three items – but they're a set, right?)

5. Sunglasses. Not only do they protect your eyes from the sun, wind and allergens – as well as prevent wrinkles – but they’re glamorous and mysterious. Or funky and fun.

6. Lipstick/lipgloss/lip balm. If you forget it, you’ll wish you had it.

7. A nail file or emery board. You might not need one, but when you do, you really, really do.

8. Dental floss. See No. 7.

9. A small mirror, because otherwise, how will you know? (See No. 8.)

10. A small package of tissues. Noses run, movies or life make us cry, lipstick needs blotting, and every good mom knows what a little saliva and a tissue can do for a child’s messy face.

So that’s our recommended 10. Your list may be different, of course – perhaps you need reading glasses or wear contacts. Maybe you have to carry an Epi-pen, those feminine products or medicine.

Maybe we’ve missed the mark for you somehow.

If you could only carry 10 things, what would yours be? We’d love to know, and you can share below, so please fill us in on what would be in your bag.

Until next time … Contents2