You are your sports bag.
Consider Frannie Villa, a secretary for the law firm of White, Mindel, Clarke & Foard, who works out daily at the Merritt Athletic Club in Towson.
Peer into her voluminous sports bag and you'll find "a couple of those undershirts with shoulder pads and a couple of slips -- you never know when you pull an outfit out at 5:30 in the morning if it's short or long -- you have to be prepared."
And makeup of all hues, extra jewelry, socks, needles, thread, safety pins, nail polish, Band-Aids.
Never mind the sweaty aerobics class or punishing Stairmaster exercise machine; schlepping a gym bag to the club is the ultimate workout.
Once they were simple duffel affairs. Clothes, sports gear, shoes and accessories were crammed into the same open space.
Today they are high-tech monsters roughly the size of a compact car. Appointed with untold zippers, compartments, webbed pockets, fasteners and straps, they hold everything an urban survivalist would ever need -- for a trip to the club or a trip around the world.
With a sports bag, you enter the club a disheveled gym rat and exit a squeaky clean suit. Without a sports bag, you panic.
"My life is in it," Baltimore Arena PR maven Edie Brown says of her sports bag.
"I have everything under the sun in that bag," says Gale Griffin, a secretary with Americom Cellular.
Status bags with prestigious sports-gear logos or all-purpose bags made by Laura Ashley, the Gap and L. L. Bean lend cache, says Heidi Young, a personal trainer. They boast, "This is not a bag you can just get anywhere," she says.
These bags also "advertise that you work out, and I think people like that," Ms. Young says. "It shows their hard work."
For the ultra-fastidious, formed "locker bags" fit neatly into real lockers and feature a nook for shoes as well as a shampoo bottle and other "personal care accessories."
"I wouldn't be caught dead with one of those," Ms. Young says with a sniff. "It's like carrying a Gucci bag. It's too much."
Ms. Young uses "a tiny little beach bag [that holds a] water bottle, towel and weight-lifting gloves and that's it."
For Rebecca Katz, a senior account executive at Adam Sandler, her big nylon tote purchased at Oggi is a way to let loose. "It's very '60s-like, with neon green and neon pink," she says. "And it's got a pocket in the front. It's perfect for the gym -- you can throw everything in it. . . . I'm not really a neon kind of girl, [but I decided], 'I'm going to step out.' [Then] I walked into the agency and my boss said, 'Whoa, what a bag!' "
As a buyer of sports clothing for all Merritt clubs, Janis Royston knows her gym bags -- and their owners.
Men and women have a "different way of lugging their belongings around," she says. "You've got the dress-for-success bag carrier -- the girl with the good-looking bag, not too slouchy -- and the guy, his pants are dragging, his bag is hanging down to floor, it's a part of a look."
She has more to say on gender and gym bags, and it isn't pretty: Guys "don't do their laundry every day, you know. It lays around. But girls are not like that," she says. "We wash our aerobic wear every day. First thing we do when we get home, we take our clothes out. Not guys, unless [they have a wife who will] do it."
Not everyone opts for an Ektelon bag or a floral number from Laura Ashley.
At Clipper City Rock Gym, where rock climbers scale rugged mountain substitutes, backpacks are the norm. Climbers come so well-equipped, "You would think they were getting ready to climb El Capitan in Yosemite or something," says gym owner Jim Ellis.
The staff at the Center for Health and Fitness at the Bennett Institute on the campus of Children's Hospital remembers the wealthy member who habitually arrived with his gym gear stuffed into a brown paper bag.
On the whole, gyms bags at Bennett are pretty casual, running to canvas book bags, ethnic-look satchels and knapsacks. After working out at Bennett, retiree Joe Matthai shows off his unassuming nylon bag, which cost $10. "The greatest thing I bought in my whole life," he says.
Over at Lynne Brick's Women's Health and Fitness at Belvedere Square, Rita Modell leaves clutching a gold leather bag by Donna Karan, bought when "I had more money than I do now." Only the day before, she purchased a new bag at a discount store "with a lot of pockets" to replace the glitzy designer sack.
Another woman (who didn't give her name because she doesn't want friends to ask impertinent questions about her quest to lose weight) arrives at Lynne Brick's with a plastic bag containing her gym clothes. "I'm in this for the exercise, not for the look," she says.
For every nonchalant club member, there is a stickler, such as Nancy Eshmont, a stockbroker with A. G. Edwards & Sons, who reports to the Downtown Athletic Club at 5:50 a.m. daily with her "fairly large duffel-type bag."
Ms. Eshmont is famous for meticulously folding her dirty clothes and returning them to a designated pocket and keeping her stockings in the little plastic packet they came in. "It's a sickness," she says.
Of her bag she insists, "Mine's not that huge. A friend I work out with, her bag is probably twice the size. . . . She's got a huge set of hot rollers. . . . I bought a travel set of hot rollers."
But if by chance she gets dressed at home, Ms. Eshmont doesn't go to her closet, she goes to her sports bag. "I have nothing in the house, it's all in the bag."