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Out of the Box: Caught In Her Clutch

May 7, 2007

- Edited by Becky Ebenkamp

YOU can't judge a chick by her pocketbook's Louis Vuitton-logoed cover, one researcher found out when women handed over their handbags for scientific study. Along with weapons and prison mail, she found these caddies contained contradictions.

To conduct In Your Purse: Archeology of the American Handbag, consumer strategist Kelley Styring spent 100 hours talking to 100 women ages 18-64 and cataloging 100 purses and their contents: that's 45,000 cubic inches filled with 6,670 items weighing 340 lbs. Not one woman refused to empty her bag.

(No, you're not losing your mind: The March 26 "Out of the Box" featured Tanya Krim's essay/qualitative study on women's attitudes about purses, but we couldn't resist a follow-up piece when Insight Farm, Newberg, Ore., dangled information on the bizarre items women were carting around inside them (see box, below).

Along with money, ID, cosmetics and phones, the study saw that women tote tons of trash that does not always start out as such. "Things might be sold in boxes, but individual items like lozenges and tampons fall apart," Styring said. "People pack them to be prepared, but in the moment of truth, they can't use them."

While not as compelling as the purse-as-prison-penpal-porter trend noted in the study, bags were found to have multiple identities as a mobile makeup vanity, financial HQ, identity kit, communications center and safe-deposit-box-cum-curio-cabinet. As girls transition into womanhood, they adopt small bags to tote tampons, cash and keys. Their bags get bigger as they have kids and more responsibility, then smaller purses resurface as they grow older. The average woman owns 10 purses, but uses only two or three. About 95% of women carry a purse, which they use to transport 67 items (3.4 lbs.) on average.

Purses often fail women because valued contents need findability and durability, said Styring, who offered sketches of nifty inventions such as a receipt compactor (one subject was toting around a sales slip from 2001) and sensors that beep when a woman is too far from her bag.

In a novel approach for a consumer study, a recap of the research was filmed for viewing on YouTube, and the findings will be released in book form this summer ("I'm trying to breathe some life into market research," Styring said.

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