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Lady Violette

The Romantic Lifestyle

Carry On In High Style! Vintage Basket Purses & Contemporary Woven Basket Totes Make Inspiring Colorful & Lightweight Spring & Summer Handbags!

April 30th, 2011 by violette

2001 Vintage Cole Haan Cheery Cherry Straw Tote

Day 1: Come sort with me. By getting all my spring and summer clothes and accessories out and putting warm weather looks together I’m trying to inspire better weather to come to Seattle where it has been colder than it is in Moscow, Russia almost every day over the last 4 weeks! This is the coldest spring on record in Seattle! I’ve been going through my closet for a couple of days trying to prepare for warmer weather. I can, at least, add spring accessories to warm clothes to start with! A scarf or colorful bag will cheer me up, but I won’t freeze to death as I will if I wear a breezy dress or mini skirt. One problem with being fashionably thin, for me at least, is that I am always cold unless it is quite warm out. I love the fashion freedom warm of weather when I can wear anything I like and still be comfortable! Now I am just dreaming about that!

I adore this cheerful market tote by Cole Haan with the cherry cluster on the front. It has a big squares pink and red designer gingham lined interior with leather compartments that can be used for a cell phone and sunglasses, zippered pockets and a strong reinforced black leather bottom as well as the black leather rim and strong leather handles that won’t break! Leather laces tie the top closed for security. It looks like a breezy casual basket, but it is actually a marketing sized tote handbag that is very sturdy and well made! It’s big enough to shop with and fill up with small purchases. Stores do not give out plastic or paper bags where I live. A city ordinance was passed which requires you to bring your own bag. I’ll carry a shopping tote and put a wrapping scarf inside in case I end up with something to carry that is too big for my tote. I have been using the traditional Korean scarf wrapping method lately. I will post information about it soon. You make a carrying bag out of a big scarf. It is both convenient and attractive.

I have had this Cherry bag and used it every summer for 10 years! I bought it new from a Cole Haan shop. Is it contemporary or vintage now? Or at that awkward in between point? That is a good question! It was new 10 years ago. I have taken good care of it. It looks vintage. It is getting older. It’s a classic and I will not ever give it up! I’m going to keep this one.

Here’s how my mind works: I love straw, I love gingham, I love  everything with cherries! I love to eat them, I love maraschino cherries in cocktails, I love cherry blossoms! Come to think of it this bag might be cute worn with a breezy romantic cherry blossom pink dress. I sometimes like to wear red and pink together, so I’m going to try it. And the black leather is a good touch as it makes this go with black clothing or accessories. The 10 year old Cole Haan Cheery Cherry Straw Tote is definitely a keeper! And the last big important question I ask myself is: If I were rich and could buy anything I wanted would I keep this bag or get rid of it and get something else? The answer is, I’d keep it! I love it! I never get anything in the first place unless I really want it!

Vintage Cole Haan ~ Straw & Leather Wildflower Tote

Next Day: I am going to be sure I’ll be ready to dash out if and when the sun appears. Unfortunately it is windy and freezing again today. It’s too awful to go out so I’ve been sorting out and photographing my collection of vintage purses and decided I should do my contemporary ones as well. How to arrange your stuff so you can find it when dressing in a hurry is always a challenge and one has to develop her own methods.I’m organizing them in logical to me groupings. One such is summer basket style handbags, totes and purses.

Recently strolling through a really grungy thrift store of all places I spied this Cole Haan Basket Purse in the back of the store hanging from a nail on the wall. Other shoppers were standing right in front of it looking at several bags on the rungs below it. I tried to act nonchalant and not look at this one, not even look up, hoping and praying that it would not catch their eye. They were discussing the pros and cons of buying up a trio of old dirty Coach bags to attempt clean up and sell on eBay for a profit. I patiently waited pretending to look at old curtains hanging nearby. And I listened. None of them had ever sold anything on eBay, but they had heard you could sell Coach on there and make a lot of money. The bags under consideration were oil stained and terrible looking. And overpriced at $34.99 and up each! Finally, after fifteen minutes, they decided to take the Coach bags, they put them in their already overflowing cart, and headed off to the checkout counter. The coast was clear and I grabbed my prize!

A brand new, never used, perfect, in mint condition, gorgeous, precious, leather, straw and cloth, wildflower embroidered  Cole Haan Basket Tote handbag! It has a leather base and bottom, straw walls, a leafy green linen interior lining with leather compartments inside, a strong leather drawstring with which to draw the top securely closed and tied, and the prettiest embroidered wildflower garden dancing around the sides! The sturdy leather bottom, interior and handles are a beautiful saddle brown summer neutral color. The multi colored wildflowers will compliment almost every solid colored summer outfit! There was however, one possible problem. There was no price tag on the bag! I went up to the front counter. I asked the price. The cashier didn’t know. She called the manager. He was busy. I waited and waited. He finally appeared. The cashier showed him the bag and asked him, “How much?” He opened it, looked inside, turned it over and over, checked out the bottom, pulled the drawstrings shut, tied them and untied them and tied them again. I waited very quietly and patiently. Finally, he said, “How does $14.99 sound?” I said, “OK.” trying to keep low key. Then he turned to the salesgirl and said, “Give it to her for $12.99 since she had to wait so long!” I said “Oh, thank you, that is nice of you. I appreciate it.” I was happy! he also gave me a 20% discount coupon to use on my next purchase! The moral of this story is: sometimes it pays to ask!

Ann Taylor Straw & Leather Beach Tote with Mother of Pearl Button, Lined in Floral Print Cotton with Matching Sarong in Mini Drawstring Bag! Adorable!

Day 3: Because I knit I stash my unused yarn in my summer tote baskets during cold weather. Why not? It is a good way to sort and store yarn and make double use of closet space. But making this shift means I have to figure out an alternative place to store the yarn when I start using the bags again. Challenging! The one good thing about the seasonal shifting process is finding everything you own again, revisiting it, reevaluating it, deciding to keep it or not, and finally figuring out new ways to wear it! I love the last part! It’s like shopping in my own closet. And I don’t have to spend any money doing it! I feel so rewarded when I come up with new ways to wear something I already have.

The next thing to come out the back of my closet is this straw and leather beach tote from Ann Taylor. It is lined in a black, red and white floral print cotton and came with a matching sarong of the same fabric in it’s own little drawstring bag! It is adorable! The big scarf can be wrapped and tied scarf style, as a sarong skirt, or as a sarong dress. Or – for an elegant resort evening look –  it can be folded in half as a triangle and worn as a shawl over your swimsuit and a long black skirt! Versatile! Theoretically you should be able to throw in a black swimsuit, a black jersey skirt, a pair of sandals, your cosmetic pouch, a bottle of sunscreen, and a hairbrush and have everything you need for a weekend trip to the Bahamas. Or, at the very least, a glamourous day at the beach. Better remember a big straw hat to keep the sun off! And a pair of sunglasses. Everything fits in this bag because it is huge. Throw everything in and button the basket closed with the attractive real mother of pearl button that fastens with a leather loop! I’m dreaming. Today it is so cold and windy out that I am completely bundled up in several thick layers of knits.

I bought this Ann Taylor Giant Beach Tote with it’s matching sarong at the Ann Taylor store in the mall at the end of summer sale a couple of years ago. I’d had my eye on it and I swooped down on it the minute it was marked down. It was 30% off. There were two. I got one!  Like most women I do love purses and handbags. I don’t have a favorite type. I enjoy variety. It keeps things different and exciting! I have a mix of vintage, contemporary, old and new, artsy and designer, inexpensive and, well, you know, expensive. But that is relative… I am very selective as far as quality is concerned. Every bag that makes it into my collection is well made and well designed. There has to be something very unique and special about it. I have to love it visually, find it comfortable to carry and practical to use. These are my general guidelines. Within these guidelines is a lot of room for me to exercise my personal taste!

Liz Claiborne Palm Tree Tote

Macy's Special

A Macy's Special ~ Generic Tote Basket Purse

Day 4: I found these last August during the sales at the local mall. I love end of summer sales! I don’t really look out for them, but I tend to wait for them to happen and somehow, instinctively, wonder into the store at the moment they are happening. I was lucky to find both of these bags at Macy’s for 50% off. The one on the left, by Liz Claiborne, is natural straw painted with palm trees and pineapples. It has wooden handles and leather trim, The inside is lined in a tropical leaf printed fabric. It comes with a handy little matching zippered  pouch to be used as a small purse or cosmetic case. The burnt orange basket purse with round bamboo handles, is also from Macy’s end of summer sale. It is a generic brand with no designer name or label. They had them in five colors and they were only $12.99 on sale! It is lined in solid red cotton. I added the scarf for extra flair. I remember now that it was very hot out and I had gone to the mall to be in some air conditioning for a while and escape the heat. We do not have air conditioning in our house. Consequently it is way too cold nine months out of the year and way too hot when summer finally hits for 3 months out of the year! C’est la vie in Seattle!

Vintage 1950's Cylindrical Basket Purse

Flowered Lid and Side View

Day 5: I can dream of warm sunny days… I am well into my week of wishful thinking! But it is still like the middle of winter here! Today there has been freezing wind, rain, icy sleet, and hail. It is only 1:30 PM and it is way too cold and blustery to go out for a leisurely stroll. They have been putting sandwich boards out on the streets to advertise summer markets opening outdoors in June! Last night we went out to a restaurant in pelting rain and the owner asked the waiter to go out and bring in the sandwich board promoting their specials because it was getting wet. Before he could get out to rescue it the wind had picked up the heavy placard and whirled it into the street where it had crashed into a heap on the pavement and broken. March is, notoriously described as coming “in like a lion and out like a lamb, ” but we are already into May! And the lion is still rumbling and prowling, raging, howling and mad!  It is so cold and wet that anything nice you might wear is blown to pieces and ruined! New and vintage fur coats get drenched by rain. Felt and fur hats are ruined the same way. Umbrellas are blown inside out and destroyed. Designer shoes and boots are damaged by the inevitable mud this frenzied climate produces. This weather is interesting and dramatic in its way but it is not conducive toward dressing up in lovely romantic outfits with delicate clothes and accessories made of precious materials! Silk flowers and feathers and lace do not hold up under such duress! If I dress up in them neither do I! Out of necessity we have to bundle up here. This afternoon I am wearing several layers inside the heated house just to stay warm enough to function! Cold drafts are blowing through the house. And it’s May! I want sunshine! I know it will eventually come, so I am continuing my preparations… I’m having fun in the sun in a way just preparing for it’s eventual arrival!

Now we are getting to the really great finds! My colorful true vintage basket purses. First, the 1950’s cylindrical basket purse above, which stands 10″ tall  and is 8.5″ wide not counting the handle. I paid $6.99 for this bag! Getting a small dog into it would be no problem but I think he would chew himself out and that would be a problem because he would ruin the purse! There is no way that is going to happen! It is in perfect shape. It is lined in hot pink cotton and has an inner pocket. The outrageous 3D hand embroidered straw flowers and leaves are shiny straw each made up of three graduated tones of each color. Black beads that look like watermelon seeds form the centers of each flower. This is one funky bag! I think somebody got it a few decades ago while on vacation. When she got it back to Seattle, in weather like this, she forgot she had it and it got lost in the back of the cupboard. So she never wore it! Another problem with things like this bag in Seattle is that the light here is cool, everything is tinged with a cool grayness which makes bright colors seem jarring to the eye. When I am in California or Mexico I instantly notice the warmth of the sunlight and the fact that bright colors look enticing and appealing in warm light. People can wear tropical colors in that kind of light more easily than they can in grey cool light. Brights are more appealing and easier to use in a warm sunny environment.

This cylindrical basket purse has no labels or country of origin tags. It looks like a tourist souvenir from some tropical resort in the 1950’s that somebody like Lucille Ball brought home with her. Luckily she took good care of it! I plan to carry it to a big summer picnic we attend every year and wear a pastel halter dress and espadrilles with it. And a great big brimmed straw hat tied with trailing long scarves in the colors of the flowers! I have three vintage chiffon scarves from the 60’s that will be perfect ~ a yellow, a coral and a blue.

Longaberger Handwoven Basket Purse, Signed by the Artist

Basket Purse From Hong Kong ~ The House of China

Day 6: Moving on! I found the miniature woven wood basket at a vintage flea market. I paid just $15 for it!  It has the name of the maker and the location on the back. When I got home I looked it up. The Longaberger Baskets are from Ohio and are handmade and highly collectable. Also very expensive – like Coach bags but way more unusual. I love it. It looks like a mini picnic basket to me. It is made of woven wood. I made the printed cloth liner for it with pockets inside. It is 10″ across x 6.5″ tall. The perfect size for a purse in my opinion. This one will be adorable with solid colored or flowery printed dresess that can co-exist with the printed lining which can also be removed or changed if it clashes too drastically.

Next is an adorable Asian style basket purse from Hong Kong ~ The House of China ~ is a vintage 1950’s bag. These were sold in Chinatown in San Francisco and in Seattle at the Shop of China and were well made attractive basket handbags ladies liked to wear with Asian inspired clothing. 9″ across x 6″ tall. I got this one at an retirement community rummage sale for $8! Isn’t the hardware great?

Golden Picnic Basket Purse with Silk Roses Decorated by Lady Violette de Courcy

The next basket purse is one I bought at a thrift store, but it didn’t look like this when I got it! It was a plain straw thing, with a plywood top and a gold buckle tab that looked weirdly fancy on plain wood. I removed the buckle tab and handles, spray painted the purse gold, made a yellow satin lining with a pocket, reattached the handles and tab, and decorated the flat wooden top with beautiful pink silk roses! I love the way it turned out! It looks like the most fru fru 50’s picnic basket imaginable, only it is a nice small purse ~ 6″ tall x 10 ” wide, plus the handles. The handles are encased in plastic tubing which is available through craft shops. You just insert a ribbon, straw, cloth, leather or paper inside so it shows through the clear plastic tube, then attach it to your bag. This makes sturdy strong handles that do not break. I had a few flimsy straw handles on basket purses give out on me so I always look for extra strong handles now or reinforce them myself. It is worth doing this because your straw bag will last years if you reenforce and strengthen the handles it comes with or add completely new ones that are of better materials. The ones to avoid or fix before you use the bag are woven straw. They are notoriously flimsy! Most straw bags and totes are made quickly for inexpensive exports or to sell to tourists. They are often really cute, but not well made, redoing the handles and adding a cloth lining will make them much stronger and lengthen their lives. If I buy or make something this charming I want to get use out of it! I also, admittedly, am sentimental about my accessories and clothes. If I love something I want to keep it, use it, have it around and enjoy it for a long time! That usually means years. So I take really good care of my stuff. I guess you could say I take the term investment clothing seriously. Even if it is a vintage purse I got for a bargain! That just makes me appreciate it even more! I put pink roses on the toes of a pair of 1950’s gold snakeskin stiletto pumps to match this purse. When I find them I’ll post them under shoes of the week photographed along with this little bag. It is a perfect combination!

Flower Basket Handbag from April Cornell 2004

Glazed Straw Flower Purse from April Cornell 2004

Day 7: Last but not least. here are two handbag size small straw basket purses bought at April Cornell on sale when they closed their shop in downtown Seattle in 2004. I miss that store! I liked the pretty printed rayon dresses and the flowery housewares they carried there. And the children’s clothes. Everything was extremely pretty and feminine, very well made, and the style and sizing was reliable. You could take a dress in your size right off the peg and buy it without trying it on and it would always fit the same way and look absolutely great. They had the most beautiful original floral prints. I miss them!

Good thing I still have several pieces. I guess, since they are no longer available, and were very charming and collectable, they are now vintage, even though they only closed in 2004. Generally vintage needs to be older than that but as April Cornell started out looking like it was made in 1920 when it was new, an exception can be made in their case! I do not have rigid definitions of vintage. I think the word can mean anything old, or of a particular era from the Victorian to the 1980’s. Even the 90’s or 2000’s in certain cases like April Cornell. To me it simply needs to be of a bygone era, look old, no longer be available, be very unusual and unique or a combination of these things. I have many vintage items that are really old. There is no question about a dress from 1930. It is definitely vintage. Or a pair of Victorian shoes. Again, definitely vintage. Things post 1980 have to be considered on a one by one basis! I know this is a touchy subject with some people. Definitions remain flexible and should! True vintage or newer, but vintage inspired, straw bags  are fun alternatives to heavy leather purses and give off a delightfully feminine and colorful artsy bohemian vibe well suited to summer weather when it finally arrives!

Straw basket purses were popular for casual wear during the summer and while on vacations during the 1930’s – 50’s. They are light weight and airy looking. They can be purchased at street stands while traveling or in department stores during the spring and summer seasons. You can often find cute old fashioned ones in vintage shops as I have demonstrated here. Contemporary designers, like Cole Haan, Ann Taylor, Kate Spade and Liz Claiborne, make better quality ones designed to last with more durable traditional handbag construction and leather bases and handles. Asian import shops often carry inexpensive new versions, and world wide markets often offer them. Baskets, like that other favorite accessory of mine, scarves, are an historically favorite international accessory that have been made and used by people of all cultures all over the world. Wherever baskets are traditionally made a basket with handles can be found and used as a market tote, luggage, a handbag, a purse or picnic basket!

I want Brie and French bread and a glass of wine now! And I want to carry it down to the park and eat it on the grass! But, alas, it is raining cats and dogs out! Today I will have to have my picnic in the kitchen, but I can spread out my checkered gingham tablecloth and enjoy looking at a basket of fruit on the dining table! And get my picnic basket out and ready to pack up on the first nice day! Hopefully it will be bright and sunny tomorrow! And, hopefully, those little pink and white daisies that I like will have popped up in the grass in spite of the fact that the state of Washington has banned planting them!

Why am I living in a city where the sun hardly ever shines and beautiful little flowers growing in the grass are banned? Not because it is my final choice! But, I am here now, and like the sun and the daisies, nothing can hold back beauty and the force of nature that it is. Somehow, like the hearty wildflower that comes back in the grass year after year, it survives and pops up to cheer us in the most unlikely times and places. When I see beauty , in any form, perhaps a sunny moment, wildflowers blooming in cracks in a sidewalk, and quirky individual artistic beauty expressed by a person of any age or style in unexpected places I am pleased and inspired to continue living and creating and carrying on. Beauty is important. It gives inspiration, joy and reason to life! So, whatever happens we must carry on!

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