Bag Ladies and the Arena Conundrum

Spectacles, testicles, wallet, watch.

It used to be that everything the average person needed to carry with them out into the world could fit in a few pockets. Well… sort of. Bespoke tailors regularly add extra pockets to custom-made suits for well-to-do clients. In a recent conversation my husband had with friends about how people used Crown Royal bags once the booze was gone, someone admitted that his grandfather would have the elegant pouches sewn into coats and jackets as extra pockets.

It seems we all have more to carry than we think.

Women, of course, didn’t even have the relative convenience of a couple of pockets. Before handbags became common in late Victorian times, they literally wore a small sack attached to a ribbon around their waist, accessed through a slit in their skirt seams. Housekeepers carried a small version of their tool kit around via a chatelaine; a large brooch that was pinned to the waist and which might include a pen, thimble, scissors or other items attached by small chains so as not to be lost or misplaced.

Times have changed, and we now carry a lot more stuff with us pretty much everywhere, to the point where bag-related neck and shoulder issues are common, especially for women. Clothes for the gym; the ubiquitous water bottle or reusable coffee cup; a phone at minimum, but probably also a tablet, e-reader or laptop; cosmetics; a wallet; probably a lot more if you have a kid, or any kind of health issue.

Do we need to carry all of this stuff all the time? Given the number of people now working from home, there’s probably a lot less carrying, or the need for large bags to put stuff in, than there ever was. I joked recently, one of my first times out in the world in ages, that I had forgotten how to use my purse. But can we manage with smaller bags or no bags at all?

Men likely can. Spectacles, testicles, wallet, watch… Women likely still have trouble, depending on where they’re going and what they’re doing. This is partly because women’s clothes still don’t have pockets (or enough pockets of a decent size; or if someone thought to put pockets in a dress, they didn’t think through the fabric choice so the pockets sag and bounce around once there’s anything in them. I’ve taken pockets out of dresses because they were so badly designed.).

The reason I’m on about pockets and bags is that in the wake of Covid, many live event venues and stadiums have begun instituting bag polices that significantly reduce the size of acceptable bags permitted into the performance space.

Begun in the US last year as stadiums re-opened, most places disallow bags larger than 4.5 x 6.5 inches. That’s not much bigger than the average ladies (unfolded) wallet. For anybody that needs a bigger bag, clear bags of up to 12 x 12 x 6 inches are permitted — in some places, but not all. These measurements vary slightly by venue, but the point is to keep out all large bags of any kind.

On one hand, I don’t necessarily disagree with this; in olde tymes, most women seemed to manage going to dinner and a show reasonably well with an “evening bag” which accommodated a lipstick, compact, keys, and a bit of cash for a taxi home if their date turned out to be a cad. But in olde tymes, most women didn’t go out for the evening directly from work.

After leaving a weeknight show at the Phoenix a couple of years back, we exited the venue to find literally hundreds of plastic food containers, water bottles and reusable coffee mugs stacked on the ground near the main door. Outside food and drink, as well as empty containers, are no longer permitted inside most live venues. So everyone who had come straight from work and didn’t think to leave their containers at the office had them confiscated.

Additionally, we’ve all been to shows where some bonehead insists on wearing a loaded backpack into the crowd, whacking everyone around them every time they move. A few years back, just a couple of weeks after the Manchester concert bombing, I attended a show at Massey Hall where the man seated in front of me abandoned his massive backpack in the row by his seat to rush the front of the stage. The venue hadn’t done a bag check when I entered, so I spent most of the show wondering if the back of his empty seat would be the thing that protected me or killed me if his bag happened to have a bomb in it.

Venues are using the excuse of Covid sanitation to enforce new bag rules. And that’s also fair — I don’t want the door person sticking their hands inside my purse after they’ve had their hands in twenty other bags potentially full of used tissues or who knows what. Smaller bags make for faster security checks. They’re also harder to hide a flask in, which has always been an issue at live events. So in that respect, they’re better. In theory, most of us should be able to manage with the stuff we can fit into a small purse or bag.

But what about the people who can’t?

People with dental work might need to carry a toothbrush with them if they’re going out to dinner. Medication can perhaps be fit into a small pill box, but sometimes not, depending on what it is… an Epipen for allergies can take up almost a quarter of the carrying capacity of a small purse. With a phone and wallet, there’s your small bag already crammed full, plus some.

The large clear tote bag rule would seem to be a solution to that, but is it really? 12 x 12 inches isn’t really that big. And while a clear bag can be fun and stylish in some contexts, it doesn’t allow for any privacy if what you need to carry with you is, well… private.

For people with certain disabilities or health issues, there may be a necessity to carry a change of clothing. Sanitary pads (both for incontinence issues as well as menstrual) are often bulky and obvious. These items won’t fit in the typical evening bag or a pocket, and a clear tote bag leaves everyone knowing about your personal health issues.

And we’ve not even touched on people attending events with small children. Sure, children are unlikely to be attending nightclubs, but they might go to sporting events or some types of concerts. It doesn’t seem as if anybody has thought ahead on how to deal with this situation.

I can fit my evening out stuff into a small bag if necessary (and on a personal level, I’m not a fan of massive purses at all), but more and more, I’ve started questioning whether the event is worth the effort. With prices of everything going up, a concert or show is really going to have to return good value for money, and the inconvenience of not being able to bring my life’s necessities with me is likely going to be part of the decision-making process when it comes to where we’ll be spending our entertainment budget. A cheap ticket at a small venue to see an independent band (where I can carry whatever size purse I like) has far more appeal than an expensive ticket to see a show at a venue where the audience are treated like criminals simply because they might have a health issue that requires them to carry more stuff than is typical.

Sadly, not everyone has that option, but for people who need to carry personal health-related items, or diaper bags (also no longer allowed in many venues, or subject to a search including X-rays), they might need to find a way to sew some Crown Royal bags onto their pants and coats, because most venues have no posted restriction on the number of pockets a person may use.

Management staff of arenas and concert venues obviously aren’t responsible for making women’s fashion more user-friendly, but these elitist, sexist, ageist, and ablest policies seem to be the new standard. Maybe these places just don’t want women there at all?