After nearly three decades on this planet, I’ve come to the conclusion that I am a bag lady. More specifically, I’m a design lady with very specific tastes across many fields, which include bags, but also furnishings. A well-decorated room really gets me going, especially if its done-up in a mid-century (not-modern) style free of brass accents. But purses are where my petty opinions shine: For example, crossbody bags should be eradicated, and to me, the best handbag era arrived in the late ’90s with one brand: Dooney & Bourke.
Few people recognize the brilliance of these bags, which is why I was pumped to see Reese Witherspoon’s character Elena Richardson toting them around in virtually every scene in Little Fires Everywhere. Just look at her in all her Dooney glory.
She carries a black, doctor bag-shaped satchel with classic Dooney British tan trim when she’s doing business as a landlord (boo) and a journalist at her local paper (yay). When she’s running errands, she opts for a similarly structured purse, in white. That one, seen at the top of the post, is referred to as the Norfolk Satchel—useless knowledge I’ve carried for 20-plus years and am thrilled to have a reason to share now. Both are gloriously accurate for the time period and legitimately authentic, though the decade was flooded with knock-offs—even in the corner of the screen, I could spot that all-weather leather Duck seal (or brass fob) and dyed pebbled hide—signifying that she is a well-to-do woman of the late ’90s who loves a preppy polo and a statement purse. Whenever she picks a bag, she does so with purpose, almost as if she knew her bags would stand the test of time.
At least, that’s how I feel about mine:
Half of my Dooney & Bourke bags once belonged to my mother; the other half I found at antique stores in the South while shopping. (It is my belief that they, too, belonged to someone’s mother who unfortunately passed away. There is something very classically motherly about these bags.) They are the only proper purses I own, save for a collection of complimentary tote bags so large they should pay rent. I find Dooney purses to be timeless, as timeless as any relic from the 1990s can be, a designer good free from the pretension of other designer goods. If they were furniture, they would be a walnut dining table set purchased secondhand—reliable, durable, beautiful, and expensive but not outrageously expensive—you could, should you decide to take decent care of it, have it forever.
While Witherspoon’s Elena Richardson continuously makes questionable decisions on the show, her purse selection is something of a tiny victory for bag ladies who know the truth: ’90s Dooney was, and remains, the best.