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What does your purse say about you?

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An inventory of a woman’s handbag can reveal her age, the roles she plays in her own life and, sometimes, a glimpse of her soul.

That’s the thesis of “The Contents of Her Purse,” a documentary that treads the line between wry humor and sociological treatise. The movie is the centerpiece of “The Purse Chronicles,” billed as “a performance event for women,” perhaps with one eye on the phenomenally successful play “Girls Only.”

The concept for “The Contents of Her Purse” grew from a one-act play that Denver writer and filmmaker Coleen Hubbard staged in 1987. In the play, two men find a purse and examine its contents, conjecturing about the owner.

“I have a certain attachment to my own purse, and I didn’t realize how universal that was until we started working on this,” Hubbard said.

“I can’t tell you how many women hear about the movie and say, ‘Oh my Gosh! I should tell you what’s in my purse!’ One person calls it her identity kit.”

The documentary, which Hubbard made with her husband, Larry Bograd, examines the purses carried by females ranging from toddlers to extremely senior citizens. It’s not hard to guess which end of that scale favors sparkles, cartoon characters and unicorns — although the occasional hipster totes an ironic Hello Kitty clutch.

When Hubbard and Bograd began the documentary three years ago, they imagined the handbag version of a circus clown car, with purses yielding the equivalent of an especially cluttered kitchen junk drawer.

“Initially, I thought it would be funny — getting women to empty their purses and explain all the stuff,” Bograd said.

“Then it turned out that there were all these stories.”

One woman in the film tearfully displays the elegant evening bag that belonged to her now-deceased mother.

The snap of the bag’s metal clasp immediately transports her back in time to childhood, sitting on her parents’ bed as she watches her mother put on makeup for an evening out. The sound of the purse clicking shut was the last sound she’d hear when her parents left the house.

Another woman, Shirley Washburn, shows off two coin-sized souvenirs. They date back to 1945, when her husband, fresh from military service, took her to a San Francisco arcade where they made personalized tokens.

Since then, the tokens have remained in her purse, even when it was stolen a few years ago. When someone found the handbag and returned it, Washburn was ecstatic to find the tokens still inside. The absence of her wallet and other valuables seemed a relatively minor inconvenience.

“The Contents of Her Purse” delves a little into some women’s preoccupation with designer handbags, but Hubbard and Bograd found that the women they interviewed rarely cared about their purse’s pedigree. Several brag on film about buying designer look-alikes from thrift stores.

Instead, the documentary focuses on purses as chronological reflections. Kindergartners carry Disney princess or poodle-face purses that hold bracelets and books. Middle- school girls favor backpacks over standard purses, and fill them with iPods, headphones, lip gloss and glitter eyeshadow, maybe a Red Cross babysitting card.

High-school and college women regard their purses as a ready source of entertainment — oh, look! There’s my Godiva rewards card! New mothers use diaper bags as giant purses, a habit that can extend well into a child’s school years.

“Your purse represents who you are in your life,” says one woman in the movie.

“It’s a mirror of who I am now.”

“The Contents of Her Purse” will be shown weekends through November, and the evening will include interaction with audience members willing to share stories about the things they carry.

-By Claire Martin


The Purse Chronicles

7 p.m. Oct. 15 and 16, and every Friday and Saturday through Nov. 13, Grant Avenue Theatre, 216 S. Grant St., 303-388-3833. Tickets: $20 each ($15 for groups of 8 more more), $10 for students and seniors

Mile High Mamas
Author: Mile High Mamas

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  • comment avatar Amber Johnson October 5, 2010

    Mine says I like the outdoors (I bought it at R.E.I.), I have small children (I have stashed a few small toys) and am disorganized. No explanation needed. 😉

  • comment avatar SleepSafeBaby October 5, 2010

    Mine says I have a lot going on in my life. Receipts everywhere, crumbs from my kids’ snacks, lipstick when needed, you name it, it’s probably in my purse. Gotta always be prepared for anything when you are chasing twin 2-year olds. 🙂

  • comment avatar The Lotion Queen October 5, 2010

    My purse says about me: Holy crap, girl! Have a Ritalin, for the love of God!

  • comment avatar Lori Lavender Luz October 5, 2010

    The contents of my purse ( say that:

    1. I have a thing for animal prints

    2. I have a thing for purple

    3. I hang out with people who have runny noses

    The purse chronicles sounds like a good show!

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  • comment avatar Suzanne Prochaska October 9, 2010

    This is so fascinating! My purse also says I love purple & animal print. I force myself to always carry a small purse, otherwise it ends up with everything but the kitchen sink (who me a packrat?) and it’s like trying to lug around a sack of bricks!

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