The Man-Purse

A French friend asked me recently, “David, do I look gay?”

Le Man Purse

Without a second of hesitation, I replied, “Yes, absolutely.”

“Why?” he said.

“Well, for one thing,” I told him, “You’re French—which makes you suspect. Another is that you’re wearing a pink polo shirt. You also answer your emails quickly and you spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about your hair.”

“And you have a nice butt,” I added for good measure, perhaps because he’s a rugby player.

So how does one tell the difference between a man who’s European or one who’s gay?

It’s difficult, let me tell you.
There’s even an online test so you can see how well you can spot the difference, as well as one for women too. (I failed miserably at both. I can’t help it: unless you’re a water polo player, short hair on women just screams Rosie.)

But for men, makes it especially hard to tell the difference in Paris is the Man-Purse.

Few men in America would be caught dead tossing a pint-size, gay-like bag over their shoulder. But here in Paris, you see them all the time, draped over everyone’s arm—from dapper gents to wanna-be home ‘boyz’ (and the real ones too) with baggy jeans slunk somewhere mid-thigh, caps twisted sideways and weird facial hair patterns that they’ll wince at the memory of once they’re older. (Like those hopefully long-lost photos of me wearing dark brown corduroy elephant bell-bottoms and oversized Foster Grants. What was I thinking?)

But also the government practically forces men here to look gay.


In France, one must always keep their Carte d’Identité on them, and for some reason is much too large to fit in a billfold which would fit in your back pocket of your pants or inside pocket of your jacket. So you need to find some other way to carry it around.

Another part of the problem is pickpockets. While the problem exists everywhere, on crowded métros and elsewhere, a slippery wallet in your back pocket makes you an easy target.

So to many, the Man-Purse is almost a necessity of life.

I don’t have one. And would feel funny about putting one of those little sissy bags over my shoulder and strutting down the street.

But when I go out, I do need to bring along a small messenger bag to hold my goodies, which include my wallet, sunglasses, a chapstick, my Moleskine, my guide des arrondissements, keys, business cards, a back-up chapstick, my Laguiole knife, another chapstick (just in case), the omnipresent zippered trousse of pens that are de rigeur in France, and Carmex.

Maybe because I lived so many years in San Francisco, where things were much cleared, I’m happy to live somewhere where it’s hard to tell. It keeps me on my toes.

It’s nice living somewhere where it’s unclear since it makes every meeting a guessing-game. Even the men with their wives and girlfriends in tow—although usually not at the same time—have a little lilt in their step, if you ask me.

So I’m going to keep resisting wearing a Man-Purse for as long as possible. And if you do ever come across me in Paris, and you see I’m wearing one, please bitch-slap me until I take it off.

Either that, or I’m going to start sporting pink polo shirts, will work more diligently on improving my French accent, and spend considerably more time on what’s remains of my hair than I do now.

I’ll also need to find a rugby club to join.
Once I’m done with all that, maybe I’ll feel comfortable slinging a little bag over my shoulder. And when and if that happens, you can be sure I’ll be marching with Man-Purse Pride around the streets of Paris.

(But don’t hold your breath.)

Never miss a post!


  • September 27, 2007 9:48am

    Hysterical :D My 78 year old father is very fond of his man-purse :D

  • September 27, 2007 9:57am

    so funny! My husband relies on his laptop-like case (he doesn’t carry a laptop, but a slim version of that kind of case is useful for bringing files back and forth, along with lunch, etc.) As of his birthday, he’s also now got a trim cool Diesel messenger bag, carefully chosen by our daughter — this was after he started using one of the freebie messenger bags he got as a gift from some conference or other–not cool at all! So we’re ready for walking around Paris again next spring. . .

  • yoshi
    September 27, 2007 10:30am

    its simple – European men (in general – there are exceptions) have a higher level of confidence in themselves than american men. So they don’t get freaked out if someone hits on them or considers them gay. Many take it as a compliment.

    And speaking as a gay man – no man (american, european, straight or gay, or whatever) should ever been seen wearing pink polo shirts. Ever. Evvvveer.

  • Alisa
    September 27, 2007 10:54am

    ahhhh David, David, David ;)

  • Sarie
    September 27, 2007 11:02am

    as a straight woman generally attracted to burly, husky men, i actually enjoy the occasional pink polo…perhaps even with a flipped collar…and maybe a faux-hawk. i know, weird.

  • Brian
    September 27, 2007 11:09am

    David, I hope you enjoy one of my favorite little Interweb games.


  • flavia
    September 27, 2007 11:10am

    I actually love those pink Lacoste polo shirts… But I had serious problems with those red jeans in Italy a few years back… And, please, please, fight the urge to wear those man-purse as long as humanly possible!!!!! It is like the plague : once you are caught in it, it is hard to get rid of it… (or so I hear…) :)

  • Brian
    September 27, 2007 11:12am

    Dammit… oops. Didn’t see that you already posted the test. That probably says something about reading to the bottom before posting things. I’ll just be going to look for my Ritalin now.

  • September 27, 2007 11:12am

    If I were ever lucky enough to meet you on the streets of Paris, I would definitely not bitch-slap you–Man Purse or not! But maybe I would point and laugh;)

  • September 27, 2007 11:33am

    ahahahahah…I bought a man-purse for my (Italian) husband when I was in Paris!! :) He loves it, of course. And now he doesn’t ask me to carry things anymore. I like a man-bag, honestly.

    I love that about Italians…though I’m verifying that with other European men as well…they will not only wear a man-bag, they will carry our purses as well, without a blink! American men need to lighten up and get more confident as a previous commenter said.

  • September 27, 2007 11:42am

    I failed miserably at the “Spot the Lesbian” test and I AM gay, but then I’ve always had trouble spotting other lesbians. Part of the problem is that I don’t fit any of the stereotypes myself, so I don’t automatically expect other girls to either.

    Another part of it is what you’ve touched on, that often people make fashion choices out of practicality than out of trying to make a sexuality statement. I wear skirts a lot because they’re cheaper than pants and a hell of a lot more confortable than having my legs encased in material, and some straight women have short haircuts because they just don’t want to deal with long hair. This explains why a lot of women, especially American women, look more masculine and butch as they get older, regardless of their sexuality– they’ve just become more practical.

    I’ve always thought that, visually speaking, there’s a greater disitinction between gay and straight men than between gay and straight women because it’s more acceptable for a straight girl to be a tomboy than for a straight man to be girly. So you see a lot of girls that straddle the line but most men make it clear what their orientation is. This doesn’t seem to apply as much to Europeans, though.

  • September 27, 2007 11:46am

    I love this post, especially because it’s something I tease my European boyfriend about all the time. His man-purse, his insistence on not wearing scruffy t-shirts and jeans, his always clean-shaven face… I must say it’s sort of fun when people are left guessing. :)

    I also think that shoes are a good indicator of gayness/Europeanness versus American male. I never see Euro or gay guys wearing crusty and beat-up trainers for anything but exercise, do you?

  • September 27, 2007 12:18pm

    It sure would be easy in Iran…

    I hear that there are just no gays to be found. It is a direct quote from their President, so it must be true…

    Funny thing is, I can see the Iranian President wearing a pink polo shirt…too funny David!

  • good enough cook
    September 27, 2007 12:38pm

    At some point my husband got a man-purse-equivalent which he insisted on calling his “field bag” until the ridicule he received became too much to bear. (And now that he’s usually schlepping his laptop around everywhere, he’s got a big padded messenger bag to hold his other incidentals…)

    But I wonder: how many men are turning their wives into beasts of burden in order to maintain the heteromasculine and bagless image? “Oh honey, could you just throw this in your purse…?” and there go the sunglasses, cellphone, addressbook, tissues, hand sanitizer, you name it…”

    I think it’s time we started judging men by the size of their manbags. The man with a bag is prepared for anything and prepared to carry his own weight.

  • September 27, 2007 1:07pm

    I have a pair of Swedish friends, both male, that my American friends ask, gay or European. They both dress nicely and have lovely hair. Personally I like a well groomed guy!

    But David, I have something very serious to ask you about…Kouign Amann. I had it while visiting in Brittany, a local friend told me that is available only in the area and I immediately became obsessed. My first attempt resulted in the sugar, not caramelizing but becoming more of a hard candy coating on top and chunky bits below. And because I have such good friends they eat it anyway (and liked it!)even after I told them not to. My second attempt resulted in carmelizing on top, good, yes, but below was still a bit chunky! I read you directions Kouign Amann and thought I followed them pretty well but still not the deliciousness I had in France.

    Can you tell me, after the first chill, you roll again, at that point has the butter worked its way into the dough or is it still chunky. My butter was in chunky bits as it went into the pan and I think that may be the problem. Any thoughts? (using butter from Brittany BTW). I am thinking of just creaming the butter and sugar and experimenting a bit! What could it hurt?

  • Krizia
    September 27, 2007 1:52pm

    I can’t believe David Lebovitz actually wrote a post almost entirely dedicated to the “murse” :D This has been an object of recent talk between me and my girlfriends. Shamefully, we do tend to ridicule it, but it’s nice to see why it is a necessity dans l’Europe!

  • September 27, 2007 2:34pm

    This does seem like an alternative to the Chevreuil look, bulging wallet in the front pocket, making my man look slightly like a minotaur. I will consider proposing it, although I am also seduced by the idea of the field bag idea. Thank you David, for bringing these possibilities to my attention.

  • September 27, 2007 2:41pm

    The MURSE! That’s what I would call my husband’s…but then I think it actually hurt his feelings so I stopped. He just saw this Bally bag (brown, worn leather, beautiful stitching) at the Sydney Airport Duty Free and had to have it. I do think it’s gorgeous, and I’ve really come to love the way he looks with it on. He might not be gay, but he’s definitely a murse-carrying Metrosexual, which is fine by me. Better than dirty sneakers and baggy jeans….blech!

  • nan
    September 27, 2007 3:02pm

    I don’t live in Europe but it would be hard for accurately spotting gay men, true. So many cultural differences vs. the U.S.
    I went to a well-known women’s college in the U.S. where a huge percentage of the women looked (and go on looking, all their lives) gay, for some weird reason, so appearances can’t be used in any guessing games there. I’m one of those people who wishes there was an easy way to tell, but on the other hand, it makes life interesting and unpredictable.

  • September 27, 2007 3:16pm

    Your friend sounds stylish, indeed, but have you seen this site?

  • September 27, 2007 3:16pm

    Haha! I absolutely love this quote: “But also the government practically forces men here to look gay.”

    I must say I have the worst gay-dar in the world, so if I were in France, I’d be clueless.

  • dddg
    September 27, 2007 3:28pm

    I MUST take this opportunity to speak out against the polo shirt: don’t!!! It’s a t-shirt that aspires to be a button-down, a shirtcollar that can never support a tie, a sham, a scam, an absolute disgrace. At least a man-purse is functional — the polo is an insult to sensibility.

  • Lesley
    September 27, 2007 3:34pm

    Do you remember the “European Men’s Carryall” from Seinfeld years back? So funny…

    When we are in Paris my husband has an inexplicable urge to buy a man bag, wear his sweater around his shoulders and buy a pair of “man-pris”…My 2 year old boy gets away with it much better in the States!!

  • September 27, 2007 4:17pm

    Oh please, why are people hating on the pink polo shirt? I love them. And black men esp. chocolate ones like Taye Diggs look amazing in them. The shirts show off the definition in the arms and…wait let me stop and get back to work.

    I love when I’m in Itay most men do not walk around looking crazy. Then I get on the plane back to Los Angeles and I swear you can easily pick out the Europeans. I don’t get it. They are on the same flight, and yet I never see one wearing a large oversize t-shirt with some stupid saying on it, big white work out sneakers and a baseball cap.

  • September 27, 2007 5:27pm

    david, don’t you generalise!
    i only WISH men around here dressed half as well as they do on the continent (especially those latin countries) – and that their bums looked half as good. why can’t all single men be gay? (i say that from the safe position of a married woman having contributed our fair share of children to keep the civilisation and the pension system going ;-))

  • September 27, 2007 6:05pm

    The latest trend is oversized bags with small handles, I can’t imagine a straight man getting into that look right away.

  • September 27, 2007 6:36pm

    My MOST favorite post yet!

    It’s actually getting harder to tell in the US (in some cities) now too.

  • Lisa T.
    September 27, 2007 6:58pm

    This post totally reminds me of Graham Norton. He has a show on BBC (and BBC America) that is absolutely hillarious! He used to do a bit called “Gay or Euro-trash?” which was essentially showing someone on the street and having the audience guess if they were gay or Euro-trash. My favorite was when they guy answered “both”.

    David, you forgot one of the essentials I saw you carry around in your messenger bag: your wood salt cellar. Yes, David carries his own container of fleur de sel. And thank goodness! It really does make a difference. He converted me to the world of good salt. My taste buds thank you David.

  • Annie
    September 27, 2007 8:22pm

    I am not sure about this but how many men carry 4 chapsticks (3+carmex) on them, let alone one? Something to think about…haha.

  • September 27, 2007 8:59pm

    I honestly believe that North American men that won’t carry a ‘murse’ ought to get over themselves. As far back as I can remember, I’ve always carried one along with occasionally toting either a MedBag or a Brief Case. No one has ever looked askance at me nor have any friends questioned my sexuality. Albeit, some of my patients have had trouble with the concept of carrying a murse when it came to themselves. I’d have to conclude that like beauty being in the eye of the beholder – it all depends on the man that’s carrying the bag.

  • tom
    September 27, 2007 9:09pm

    I don’t know what the big deal is, but in the major cities of the US that I have lived in, men are always carrying around bags…granted, not small “man purses,” rather messenger bags, laptop bags, etc., (or the worst, backpacks; hello, if you are over thirty, not a good look!)…and they toss everything in there. Look at the stylish women’s purses now, that are as big as dufflebags…not a whole lot of difference. And in my recent four month stay in Paris, I saw precious few of these teeny tiny man purses…what the heck can you put in them anyway, that you can’t put in your pockets?
    Also, I agree with the poster that a clean polo shirt (I don’t care what color) and a decent pair of pants and shoes that you see on most men in France, Italy, Spain, etc., looks ten times better than the “uniform” that most men in the US have taken on when not wearing a suit to the office: crappy, beat up t-shirt, baggy shorts, and flip-flops…and let’s not forget the baseball cap, which is now a fashion accessory suitable for everywhere.

  • September 27, 2007 9:19pm

    Man bags: also omnipresent in japan. An article on the phenomenon:

    Men’s handbags in Tokyo

    I also love the pink shirt. Additionally, men here tend to wear beautiful flowered button-down shirts in a variety of colors – and it looks great.

    I think people who are confident enough not to be hung up on whether or not they “look gay” are attractive!

  • Erick Emmanuel
    September 27, 2007 9:20pm

    you can’t tell someone’s sexuality with those man-purses until you open one up!.. and find it lined with the rainbow flag… like mine =)~

  • Steven
    September 28, 2007 2:58am

    A few years ago I was living in Toronto and a friend of mine bought me an LV bag for Christmas, awed at his generosity I was horrified when I opened it up and there was this tiny little brown man purse staring back at me. It even had a thin leather strap with which to sling over my shoulder just in case it didn’t look quite purse-like enough. Thankfully he understood when I told him I loved it but it was simply too small to hold all the things I needed to carry about, and I was able to exchange it for a nice simple black messenger bag.

  • September 28, 2007 5:29am

    Ah, yes, the man-purse. I remember being very confused when I saw my host dad carrying one when I lived in Lyon. At first I thought he was carrying my host mom’s purse, but no, she had her own…

    In Germany people tend to wear backpacks…I like backpacks more.

  • September 28, 2007 5:32am

    Steven: Whew! That was a close one…

  • September 28, 2007 9:06am

    The problem is that you start with an inexpensive canvass murse, and then the next thing you know, you’re poking your head in Lancel, Hermes and Vuitton. It’s shameless!

  • Terrie
    September 28, 2007 10:13am

    David, you carry around a wood salt cellar in your murse? Oh, I love that! …and I bet we’d all love to get a glimpse of that Foster Grant/bell bottom photo. ;-)

  • Christy
    September 28, 2007 11:46am

    I just want to say that I love you.

    Hubby’s out of town, my daughter is vomiting and flu-like, my son has strep and impetigo. I came here for 4 minutes of respite from laundry and yet another Disney movie while they chill on the couch and I got this! Brilliant, funny and all that. Thanks!!!

    P.S. I like a guy in pink.

  • September 28, 2007 1:56pm

    David, all I can say here is, “I love you!”

    (Okay, you KNOW that I have a lot more to say about this topic but this is a respectable site)
    :) Cheers

  • izzy
    September 28, 2007 3:07pm

    I forwarded this to my best friend (hubby) because I thought he would appreciate it.

    He always carries a messenger bag, dresses well and gets lots of grief from friends and co-workers about his man purse. Fortunately, he’s not lacking in the confidence dept., so yes I agree that confidence has a lot to do with pulling it off.

    One thing did make me go “hmm…” he just called me to say that he got every question right on the quiz. He seems to think he has a “gaydar” gift??? : )

  • Laurie
    September 28, 2007 8:11pm

    Oh God! Now I can’t stop playing that game! In public no less! Next game, bear or burly man? Three top contenders — that guy from Mythbusters, Tom Colicchio, and that guy from Sell This House. Need to watch American TV if you don’t know who I’m talking about.

    You always make me laugh Dave, but this one demanded a contribution.

  • September 28, 2007 8:17pm

    You are SO right. My gaydar has become totally useless since I moved to Europe. Still, I must say that men here in Europe ARE more decorative than back home. They take so much more care of their personal appearance, work to keep their bodies fit, dress well. Its rough having to walk around surrounded by it, rather than visions of Aussie beer guts and stubbies!

  • September 29, 2007 6:58am

    Good work in your blog, it’s a nice one.

  • September 29, 2007 8:20am

    you should get bitch-slapped just for the fact ath you carry backup chapstick!! i hope you don’t wear clear nail polish on too!!


  • Claire
    September 29, 2007 9:26am

    Hah, this is so funny.
    I’ve just moved to France for a year to study and my friends and we keep having conversations along the lines of “He just seemed so gay!…Or possibly just French.”

  • Atom
    September 29, 2007 9:55am

    This post is totally offensive. “sissy bags”? Every gay stereotype is reinforced and the tone presents the issue as if there is something wrong with “looking gay”. What does “looking gay” even mean?
    Seriously- this is disturbing and sad.

  • September 29, 2007 12:17pm

    If my hubby wasn’t from Germany, I would swear he was gay. He doesn’t have a manbag yet, but does have a bright pink DKNY shirt…

  • dhyana rose
    September 29, 2007 12:56pm

    That was fun ! I’m still smiling.


  • Judy
    September 29, 2007 12:57pm

    Gay guys have better posture
    Non gays schlump around..
    I agree with Atom though

  • Julien
    September 29, 2007 12:59pm

    I’m sorry but the gay-est thing you wrote about is how you carry 2 or 3 chapsticks with you at all time. Any more than zero chapstick is suspiciously metrosexual, but 2 or 3?
    Don’t get caught in a Marais street holding your 2 sticks of lip moisturizers and wondering whether you feel like the pink strawberry or the fushia raspberry flavor.

  • September 29, 2007 7:32pm

    Thanks for the laughs.

    My gaydar was all out of wack in Europe. Guys were hugging and kissing and they appeared to be as straight as anything. I’ll have to perfect it some more when I’m in Italy next spring! LOL

  • September 30, 2007 1:07am

    That’s the thing about Europe. Metrosexuals (read: European men) send off every gaydar sensor. It pisses me off. How am I supposed to get laid when I don’t know who to hit on?

    That’s why I just carry a little nifty bungee card holder thingy (it has a name i suppose, i just dunno it).

  • September 30, 2007 3:11am

    The difference between a European man and a gay man is this:
    One man bathes regularly and the other doesn’t. Different cultures, and lifestyles. Vive la difference!

  • katydid
    September 30, 2007 2:30pm

    Short hair screams Rosie?? PLEASE! I’m a straight woman who has had short hair (often shorter than Rosie’s!) for almost 20 years simply because it’s easy. Long hair is a PAIN IN THE ASS. I have occasionally been mistaken for a lesbian, and I’m sure it’s a combination of my hair and my build (athletic); this always amuses me. I love the European metrosexual male, although I once dated a Scottish guy who was anything but well-groomed. Eek.

  • chanelle
    September 30, 2007 7:12pm

    “dark brown corduroy elephant bell-bottoms and oversized Foster Grants”????!!

    photographic evidence please.

  • Brian B.
    October 1, 2007 9:19am

    Messenger bag, eh? Someone’s in denial. Face it, you carry a murse–just a big baggy one. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

    I got my first murse this summer, and for exactly the same reason: carte de séjour needs a big wallet and the big wallet won’t fit in the little pocket. I got a small girly bag, but in super-manly roughed-up brown leather. It just holds the wallet, cell phone, keys, carte intégrale, Laguiole pocketknife, ink pen and chapstick. Manly black-label ChapStick like your dad used to carry, of course.

    I have pretty much overcome my feelings of awkwardness while wearing it around Paris. I don’t know if I’d take it out into the countryside, though. And I’m still very careful to make sure it isn’t visible in the photos I post online for my family back in the States.

    Fortunately, it will be winter again soon and I can just stuff everything back into the pockets of my jacket and forget all this foolishness.

  • Katelyn
    October 2, 2007 12:44am

    Overly well-groomed men (and women, for that matter) make me feel squirmy. I mean, take care of yourself, sure. But there’s no need to push your cuticles back every day, right? There just aren’t enough minutes in the day for such silliness.

    As for the man-purse, I’m all for it! It’s sensible! A hint for the guys too scared to carry a real murse: buy a camera case! But instead of stuffing a camera in there, use it as a murse.

    You will look manly and artistic, and if anyone finds out you are not in fact carrying a camera… well. You deserve the shame.

  • Sandra
    October 2, 2007 7:16am

    Hmmm. Man bags–aren’t they also known as messenger bags here in the US?
    But if men don’t want to lose their wallets from their back pockets, whether from the elusive French ( or American) pickpocket, they might try what Mike learned years ago from working in NYC–the front pants pocket.
    I guess men are finally also catching up with women who are now carrying purses or handbags the size of suitcases because we just have too much to carry around on a regular basis. Guilty!!
    And there is nothing better than a man who can and will wear a pink polo or other shirt–great for the complexion ( like women as well). Dad always did ( and we are memorializing him thus) and Josh wears pink dress shirts as well. How else does Ralph Lauren et al make their billions?

  • Jonathan
    October 2, 2007 8:03pm

    I had no idea there was such a thing as a man purse or “murse”. I just always grab my sunglasses, throw my Goyard Ambassade over my shoulder — books, notepads, pens, wallet, PDA and cell phone all safely ensconced inside — and head out the door to do whatever it is I’m doing that day. Haven’t received any funny looks that I know of. Well, not any more than usual, I guess.

    Perhaps if I paired it with a pink polo shirt and a little bounce in my step?

  • October 10, 2007 4:27am

    That French friend of yours sounds like me David?!!

    And guess what… I’ve cut my hair off big time!!
    I think I really look gay now.

    What do you think?!!

  • October 10, 2007 4:29am

    Oh, and by the way… in France, we call the Man-Purse un ‘baise-en-ville’…

  • Madeleine
    October 30, 2007 4:29pm

    Today I was catching up on posts I’ve missed and came across this one. Thank goodness I did because this is perhaps my favorite post ever! (Well, I should say favorite non-food post because lord knows I love drooling over all the delicious recipes you so graciously share with your loyal readers.) Vive the man bag!