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Lynnfield lady a clutch performer

LYNNFIELD – Forget about Dior, Coach, or Louis Vuitton. This self-proclaimed “bag lady” could care less about sporting one of today’s high-price handbags. She’d rather spend her money on something a little less mainstream and a lot more affordable.Amateur pocketbook historian and collector, Jill Topper, has always had a special love for bags. Like most women, her interest began when she was a young girl with her very own purse. By the time she reached high school, her interest had grown into a hobby, one that’s continued for 45 years.Topper currently has in her possession over 100 handbags ranging in value from $50-$150. She uses some on a regular basis, while others are for nothing more than decoration and conversation. Her favorites hang on the walls throughout her house.”I like more unusual bags,” said Topper after giving a presentation at the Lynnfield Senior Center. “I’m not into Coach. They’re very nice purses and are made well, but not what I’m into.”Topper’s more of wooden/aluminum purse kind of gal. In fact, her favorite is far from functional, but quite interesting. It’s a bag made of several different “logs” of wood, each about 10 inches long. A metal clasp keeps the bag closed. The shallow and narrow insides look large enough to hold not much more than a very thin wallet and perhaps some pieces of chewing gum.”It’s not very practical,” said Topper about the circa 1960s bag. “That’s probably why it’s in such good condition. You couldn’t really use it, but I love it.”Many purses today aren’t particularly practical, but they are highly fashionable, said Topper. However, that wasn’t always the case.According to history, Topper said that men, not women, originally wore handbags to store weapons, food, and other personal possessions. Women weren’t allowed to have their own personal belongings, let alone carry them with them, and hence lacked the need for a purse. However, some women did create pockets on the insides of their clothing or small drawstring bags to hold their sewing equipment.”(Pocketbooks) really didn’t come into fashion until the turn of the century,” said Topper, noting the change in clothing. Women began wearing slimmer, sleeker dresses and bulging pockets just didn’t work with that look, so over the shoulder purses became fashionably necessary.As women became more independent, having a handbag to contain their accumulating possessions became essential. Handbags today now try to balance both fashion and utilitarian purposes.Topper has been giving lectures on the history of pocketbooks for just over two years now. Her presentation uses 26 examples, including an Italian leather purse from the 1700s, sweater-inspired bags from Central America, bags made from aluminum candy wrappers, wristlets, clutches, and even a purse-inspired lamp.Much of her time is spent at elderly care facilities, as she knows first hand what a purse can mean to them.”When someone loses their purse, they lose their mind,” said Topper, who works as a social work consultant at a local Continuing Care Retirement Center. She said that for some, it’s not about losing the actual bag, per say, it’s about losing their belongings and their privacy.”They’re an identity thing,” said Topper. “They give this sense of power, pride, possession.”For those with a passion for collectible purses, Topper suggests shopping at thrift stores, auctions and church sales. She recommends scanning the racks at stores like Marshalls, TJ Maxx, and even Building 19 for newer designs, or boutiques in Brookline and Boston for pricier items.

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