How to Shop for Handbags

how to shop for handbags

I’ve been a shoe gal for years. Years and years and years. And then for some more years after those years. I never thought I’d give a hoot about handbags because I never had. Before I launched the blog, I hunted down and found my perfect everyday bag and I bought it and carried it diligently every day for the next five years. But then something shifted. I have absolutely no idea why, but I took an interest in handbaggery after ages of indifference and have been slowly accumulating a nice little collection for various occasions and uses.

The accumulation has been extra slow because I am SO PICKY about my bags. I am easily irritated by handbags that don’t do exactly what I want them to, sit comfortably on my shoulder, stand up to abuse, and go with nearly everything I own. Tall orders. And because of my persnickety handbag nature, I’ve figured out some tactics that make the bag shopping process more effective.

Study your use patterns

This is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING. Before you buy a new bag, give some thought to how you use your current bag. Go to a coffee shop and order something. How do you access your bag? Is it easy? Do you have to set it down on the counter to unzip it? How long do you have to rummage around before you find your wallet? Are you annoyed? Delayed? Does any of it feel awkward?

I have determined over the past few years that my ideal bag is a large hobo with a single magnet closure and at least one, preferably more, external pockets. Zippers just scratch my skin, so magnets are a better choice, and I have an easier time accessing my phone if it’s separate from the rest of my stuff.

Understanding how you use handbags will help you purchase new ones that will work for your needs.

Bring your stuff

This may seem like a no-brainer, but I want to cover all my bag-buying bases: When shopping in person for a new purse, bring all the items you plan to tote around in it. Do not be shy about removing the wadded up tissue that is helping your potential new bag keep its shape. Get that stuff out, and put your stuff IN. Note how your belongings sit inside the bag when it is on your shoulder or in your hand. Does your stuff distend the overall shape of the bag? (One of the objections to the LV Speedy – looks great packed to the brim with tissue, kinda weird with a wallet, keys, and sunnies inside.) Does the bag sit comfortably against your body when your belongings are in it?

Obviously, you can’t run this test on a bag you’re purchasing online. So check return policies!

Wear a coat

Unless you live in a climate where coats are unnecessary, or you’re buying a bag that will be carried during the warm, coat-less months only, bring or wear a coat when you shop for bags. A bag that fits perfectly into your contours when you’re in jeans and a tee may feel totally wrong when you’ve got an extra inch of parka padding on your body. Even hand or crook-of-the-arm tote bags should be tested with a coat. Seriously.

Check the finish on the bag

Once upon a time I bought a truly gorgeous Linea Pelle bag. It was pale gray, buttery soft, and fit all of my use criteria. But it was made from such a soft leather that it marked and scuffed immediately. It marked and scuffed when I breathed on it. It marked and scuffed when I played loud music nearby. And, eventually, I gave it to a far less persnickety friend because all that marking and scuffing was giving me migraines.

Ever since then, I’ve been a stickler for finish. I’m no fan of patent, but have found that pebbled and grainy leathers are more mark-resistant than super soft ones. Many synthetics are durable and scuff-resistant, too, but not all! Check a potential new bag for marks acquired at the shop – a surefire sign that it’ll get dinged up quickly with regular use – then run your hands across the finish. Does it feel sticky or tacky at all? If so, it may scuff up. And if you’re fine with that, rock on! Some gals like a worn-in, patina-ed bag. But if it’ll make you irate – as it does me – seek out something slicker, with a slightly shiny, dry finish.

Consider color

I will go out on a limb here and say that just about every woman alive should own a black handbag. But I also see bags as a marvelous way to inject color into your looks, and an easy way to “wear” colors that might not complement your skin tone.  Shades like cognac brown, red, tan, and gray are always safe bets. And if you consider the colors you wear most often, the style and color of your coat and accessories, and how much of a statement you want to make, you might splash out on raspberry, cobalt, kelly, or citron.

If you need a fabulous black bag, then seek one out. But if you’ve covered that base, do consider color, won’t you?

Image courtesy Nordstrom

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for alreadypretty.com. See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details. Sustainable options are either used, handmade, made in the U.S., artisan made in non-sweatshop conditions, or made using sustainable/fair trade practices.

Next Post
Previous Post
  • Handbags are my splash of colour indulgence. And absolutely a fabulous way to wear a colour that clashes with my skin tone, such as yellow. I prefer bags made of rainproof techno fabric with lots of pockets and zippers (or snaps) and other whimsical details.
    My favourite designers are George, Gina and Lucy and Tosca Blu. I particularly like how all GG&L bags have a name. Just recently while casually browsing their selection, I came across a cut bag whose name is Little Toaster. How adorable is that?

  • Once upon a time, I aspired to own a handbag in every color of the rainbow; my criteria being that it fit my pen bag, my novel-of-the-moment, & make-up bag.

    Sadly, this eliminated (sp?) all small, cute bags quickly & saved me from plenty of heartache later on!

    My goal is to own & use my purses with in a variety of ways!
    Have you ever owned a pink purse? ^^

  • Kimberly

    I am a handbag fanatic, and shudder to think how many I own. Right now I’d say I have about 30 in my closet in regular rotation, and many more down in storage in the basement.

    It’s a good idea to sit and think about what your handbag needs are and the psychological component (not even including my obvious hoarding). For one thing, I absolute hate the idea of carrying one bag for everything, and switch out handbags regularly to adjust for things like the weather and special events. I don’t like to carry black leather bags in 95-degree heat, and I could never wear a dark leather bag with a sundress. I also could not carry a fabric bag – other than wool or tweed – in the winter. I have huge tote bags for work, and tiny clutches for parties, and everything in between. For conferences I always have two handbags – one big tote that’s a carry-on for the plane and useful for sessions, and one smaller bag for receptions, and I switch back and forth as needed.

    Another skill is learning how to appreciate quality without getting suckered in by ridiculous status symbol “it” bags and overinflated prices. I carry a heavy enough load that I simply can’t buy a cheap bag – I’ve had bags from Target and Wal-Mart rip in two with my stuff in them. But I also have no intention of paying $500 for a handbag just so it will stay in one piece. The trick is to find one or two luxury brands that you love and then stalk the sale racks or eBay (which sounds a bit similar to how you purchase shoes). Right now I have quite a few Latico, Kate Spade, Longchamp, and Michael Kors bags, but didn’t pay full price for any of them. The handles are never going to rip off of those, I’ll tell you that much!

    Etsy is also great for bags, especially fabric clutches and little hobos or satchels for fun events. It’s nice to have variety. And as for color, I’ve seen women carry bags in very interesting but subdued colors – olive green, burnt orange, dark yellow – that work amazingly well as neutrals. It all depends on your wardrobe colors. I wear a lot of bright colors, a lot of patterns, and a lot of black and white, so I actually need bags in all colors of the rainbow to make sure nothing clashes. On the other hand, I have a friend who wears almost nothing but mute colors – greyish pink, dark grey, smoke blue – and her olive green Harvey’s seatbelt bag looks smashing with it all.

  • Hi Sally
    Excellent post! Extremely helpful, and I love your humour!
    I’ve noticed when I buy a bag, after a few months, the cloth lining inside tends to tear, making a whole new pocket of the lining and the ecterior leather of the bag. That’s where my fave lippie and other things go into hiding until I’m driven mad and by chance realize I ahve a ‘secret’ pocket in my bag. So checking the quality and thickness of the lining inside is a must.
    Please do keep writing posts like these!

  • Great guide, thanks for posting 🙂 I have to set one counterpoint though: Black goes with anything… if you wear black or have it in your own coloring, that is! I have erased black from my wardrobe completely (save for a few old items in black that I rarely wear), and my remaining black bags are bored out of their mind, sitting in my closet. Black just looks so severe when it’s not balanced either in outfit or body 🙂

  • I can not stress enough Sal’s comment about checking return policies! I personally just got bitten in the butt by some and am having to resell some purses that are lovely (but don’t include a shoulder strap, my one absolute key requirement) because to ship them back to China in their packaging like the company wants would be almost $30!
    PS. um…check out my blog if you want a pretty purse?…puh-lease?

  • I’m a “just one bag” person, I don’t much like transferring my stuff. So I tend to have one in a fairly neutral color. Right now I have a small, shiny brown leather crossbody that I got from Cha Cha handbags, and it’s the perfect size and configuration. It also has flat metal studs on the bottom which protect it from wear/demons/whatever. I have also had shoulder bags that I like (the wee kind that hang close and tuck up right under the arm) but there’s something perfect about the hands freeness of a perfectly aligned crossbody bag.

  • Like you, I have been a shoe fanatic forever (since I was a little girl according to my Mom) but not as interested in purses. I would find one I liked and use it forever. But I do find myself buying more and switching more often these days. My basics are browns, burgundies, beiges, etc. I have a few bright colors but not many.

    Thanks for the great tips! I will keep them in mind for future purse shopping. 🙂

  • I love to have a pocket for my phone and keys…preferably on the outside!! I also look for big bags…to carry a camera and notebook for reporting and blogging…my handbag thus becomes more about my professions with a great look thrown in!!

  • I have been using the same bag for over six months (a long time for me) because I finally found one that fit my needs perfectly. It’s a cream bag I found on clearance at Target. I love that it has a long, cross-body shoulder strap as well as a shorter strap that’s great to just grab and go. It’s starting to show my abuse on it, and I’m not looking forward to moving on to another handbag.

  • lyrebirdgully

    Here’s a useful tip that I discovered quite by accident. As you said Sal, I used to think that everyone should own at least one black handbag as their “go-to” all-purpose basic bag; but I’ve since changed my tune on the colour. I now think everyone should have at least one handbag in the same colour as their HAIR. Truly! My hair is chestnut brown, but when I bought my all-purpose chestnut brown bag as backup to my black one, I didn’t give my hair a thought; I just figured a brown bag would come in handy. But as I started to use my brown bag, I was increasingly amazed at how many outfits my bag seemed to go with. No matter what colours I wore, the chestnut bag seemed to work, like no bag I had ever owned; it didn’t matter what colour footwear I had on. It took a while for the penny to drop as to why this was The Most Succesful Bag I Have Ever Owned. Now I look around me and see the same principle working for people with hair colouring to mine: Black-haired people carrying black, redheads carrying tan, auburn haired people carrying cognac, greyhaired people carrying grey, sandyhaired people carrying ochre, ashblonds carrying taupe,and other blondes carrying the appropriate shade of beige, camel, fawn or cream. This principle is an instant no-brain outfit-builder for when you can’t be bothered to swap bags – a coordination dream.
    (Are there any exceptions? To my eye, my brown bag doesn’t work with some of my pale-all-over summer outfits – it just looks too heavy and too dark. But I wouldn’t say that the reverse necessarily applies to light-haired persons with light-coloured bags.)
    Whether you like to have one handbag or lots, if you don’t already own a bag that is close in colour to your hair (Sal, I know you already have at least one), I’d suggest this can be a VERY rewarding angle to explore when it’s time to purchase a new bag.

    • Molly

      Thanks for this. I have light-ish brown hair and have found black bags to be just too heavy on me unless they’re a casual, broken-in color, and I’m not a handbag person so I haven’t known where to go from here. Now I’ll keep an eye out for bags that match my hair!

    • Caroline

      Brilliant tip! Might be exactly the clue I need to find my perfect bag, which is a tricky quest given my addiction to red coats and jackets and my utter hatred of swapping bags around.

      For summer, I was wondering, does your hair catch the sun and give golden highlights? Perhaps you could pick those up for a bag to go with your pastel-all-over outfits?

  • Sal, like you, I was ALWAYS a shoe girl. Until I got my first Hayden Harnett bag. Then I saw what high quality leather, a gorgeous shape and interesting details could do for me. Then I’ve become a bit more of a bag girl. I splurge maybe once a year on a beautiful, nice new bag.

    My ideal bag has some kind of easy access– either a zipper (that I keep open) a flap that folds over, or a magnetic closure. This way I can be in & out with one hand while the other may be full. Tons of inside pockets are a necessity– bonus points if there are hidden, sneaky outside pockets!

  • I just got a new bag… everyone said “It looks just like your old purse!” But … it doesn’t. 🙂 It’s got better storage space inside and more of it, it has more classic lines and is more tailored looking.

    My criteria is basically the smallest bag that will hold my stuff (wallet, phone, whatnot) plus my digital camera for outings. I have a bad shoulder so I don’t like much stuff in it. (I have tried non-shoulder bags, hate them).

    There is a definite psychological component to viewing handbags, more structured bags and smaller bags read a lot “tighter” than giant hobo bags. It’s a trick to find the bag that works best for your body size and needs.

    Multiple bags (other than the “we’re going to the zoo, let me put on my old purse” or “we’re going to the opera, let me find my black silk clutch”) baffle me, quite frankly. I’m a one-bag gal.

  • Diana

    I love handbags, but am super picky about them as well. My ideal bag is big enough to hold all my stuff (including my lunch, which I always bring on work days), must have a zipper closure (I commute on foot/bus, and have to consider rain and theft issues), is preferably real leather, and has to be able to sit on my shoulder or across the body. I cannot agree with you more about trying it on with a coat! And of course, once you add in aesthetic considerations, it’s often hard to find a bag that fits all my requirements!

    What I like to do (if buying in store) is to carry the bag around the store on my shoulder while I’m shopping around to make sure it’s comfy and practical. I do buy online (sometimes Amazon has great deals) but usually only from places that have free or in store returns – I’ve found that online bag measurements seem to often be really inaccurate, and have often purchased something only to receive it and realize it’s way way smaller than I thought. I usually check to see if a bag is sold on Zappos or ebags (even if I do not always order it there) because they often have videos or diagrams where you can see the size of the bag relative to a person, which is super helpful.

  • Anna

    Handbag maverick checking in here. I hardly ever carry a bag. Why else did God make pockets? All my clothes have pockets.

    Left pocket: keys, stubby pencil, folded file card (always carry writing materials), small change. Right pocket: small wallet just the right size for folded bills, credit cards, bank card, milk club card, two library cards, a couple of deposit slips. The original hands-free arrangement.

    I do have a rectangular flat black leather bag, a bit smaller than a steno pad, with a skinny strap, easy to wear cross-body with the few garments I own that don’t have pockets.

    But wait—I’m getting interested in real handbags now, especially for times when I’d rather ditch the lumpy pockets (which ordinarily work quite well in this rural area where clothing can be uber-casual and even somewhat baggy, and one doesn’t have to carry around tons of makeup and so on) in favor of something a bit sleeker. You could even say more grown-up. I like the plain leather Fossil bags I’ve seen, and there’s a Coach outlet up the road that I might drop in on. Also I’ll check out the suggestions here, which make me feel like a handbag virgin with kind friends to give advice.

    I’ll avoid, however, snap catches holding straps to bag. They make me uneasy. They seem to me to invite snatching on a crowded street. Any city dwellers care to comment on that?

    Good post—and inspiring, as you can see! Thanks, Sal.

  • Because I live in Milwaukee, it’s really important that my primary cold-weather bag can accommodate gloves/mittens, a scarf, and a hat — all at once. I find it easier and more comfortable to peel off these outer layer goodies and shove them in a purse rather than wedge them into pockets and risk having them fall out. Plus, your coat doesn’t get all lumpy.

    I also like a designated cell pocket that’s easy to reach when my phone rings. Usually this pocket is a good place for lip balm, too. The important things, people!

    Overall, I like having a sizey bag and carrying fewer items in it. That way, it’s rarely too heavy, yet there’s room for a book, camera, sweater, snacks, etc., should the need arise.

    Good post, Sal!

  • I’m definitely a big fan of colour or an interesting shape. I spent a long time using various shoulder bags but have just returned to my absolute favourite bag shape – the crossbody. You can’t beat a hands-free bag for ease of use in my book. Pockets are a must though. I hate having to shove all of my stuff into one big hole. If my bag doesn’t happen to have enough pockets i use some sort of smaller purse/organiser to solve the problem.
    I also have to second Kimberly’s suggestion of Etsy as a good place to find great bags. (And not just because i have a shop there!) There are so many different colours, shapes, fabrics and so on that it’s almost impossible not to find something you like. The other bonus is that some sellers will do a custom order so if you have a particular requirement e.g. an external pocket for your phone, then often you can ask for this to be added to a bag you already like.

  • I adore pretty leather handbags but I’m fairly rough on my purses, so they aren’t always practical. For everyday use I carry a XS Timbuk2 messenger bag, and it is perfect. Waterproof, crazy sturdy, adjustable strap, easy velcro flap that can be clipped shut, reflective tabs and lots of pockets on the inside. It suits my “comfort first” fashion philosophy as well as my lifestyle. I do have a lovely brown Fossil purse that I use for more classy occasions, but it is too fragile for everyday use.

  • i am a complete lunatic for handbags, so this post strikes home for me! i get weirdly attached to my bags- it is almost like a security blanket. i like when they get older and beat-up and soft.. i started out like you, super picky, and i carried my 1st leather bag for 3 years, then the next one for 2 years, then the next one for just 1 year. now i have about 8 or 10 bags so i rotate every couple weeks. over time i got less picky about the inner organization of the bag, but it still is important to me that the bag either be easy to get into OR have an outer pocket that is easy to access for stuff like my keys and subway card. i don’t understand messenger-style bags w/ no outer pockets- makes no sense at all! i also don’t like stiff leather. i want my bag to be soft enough to double as a pillow if need be (makes no sense, but i can’t help it!).

    but generally i know no reason when it comes to bags- i will see one, pick it up, be completely in love, and save up for a year or however long it takes, regardless of the bag’s organization, or whether the color works with my wardrobe or whatever.

  • Cel

    I actually only recently began giving handbags any sort of attention. Like you I was carrying around the same purse for yeeears. And then somewhere along the way I began getting annoyed when my one bag just didn’t not jive with outfits. And so I got another one. And another one. And another. And now I have a thing for them heh. I’m as picky as you though! There’s nothing worse than an awkward bag.

  • Good tips, Sal! I LOVE colorful handbags, and just as you’ve said, use them as an opportunity to sport colors that I can’t really wear, since they don’t compliment my skin. Most recently, I received a pale yellow purse as a birthday gift, and it goes with everything! But it’s a color that I could never wear. I’ve also had green, purple and teal purses in the past, and they all seem to coordinate with just about everything I wear.

  • Jak

    It took until I was 20 years old to even start carrying a purse, and that was only because I started to realize that my huge touch-screen phone was pocket dialing everybody in the menu as well as 411. I figured it wouldn’t be too long before the thing decided to call 911 and they would come storming in. I’m still not comfortable with keeping my wallet in my purse so it sticks around in my pocket.

    All this amounts to me still not really paying attention to my purse. It has to be big enough to carry a novel, has to have a crossbody strap and handles so that I can sling it on my shoulder as well and it has to have a pocket on the inside for my phone. I prefer them to have a light fabric on the interior, because it makes finding stuff at the bottom of my purse easier, but it’s not a deal-breaker. I actually sewed a small pocket in so I had a place to put my flashdrive in my new one (which I only got because my other purse is falling apart).

    What I like in purses is basic black, leather or faux leather, and hardware. I use purses for so long that I need them to match basically everything. Although I do need to go on a search for a small clutch-type purse for nights that dresses are required.

  • I love the concept of handbags & am often smitten with different ones & will even buy them bec. they’re so pretty or wild or whatever. But then, when it comes right down to it, I prefer to use the same bag every day. Moving all my junk from one bag to another is a huge pain! And I’m something of a Purse Survivalist — I carry everything I might possibly need to survive armageddon in my bag 😉

    That said, I find that multiple evening bags are a great way to spice up my wardrobe & indulge in my theoretical love of purses. When I go out to dinner or a movie or a party — basically, any short-term duration event where I’ll feel OK only carrying a wallet, cellphone, lipstick, & keys — I switch to a funky, wild, crazy small purse. They don’t get a lot of use, but it’s a more realistic way for me to make handbags a cool accessory instead of purely functional.

  • It’s interesting that you should post this today, because lately I’ve been on a handbag buying spree — so far this year I’ve bought 3 new handbags, which, from someone who often goes multiple years without buying a new bag, is really something. I hadn’t ever considered that like shoes, there are strategies for buying bags; hitherto I’ve just snagged the ones that really moved me, since it happens so infrequently. That means though, that I often don’t pay too much attention to important things such as how much they’ll hold, and the only preference I’ve ever bothered to consider is that I hate bags with too many pockets, because I always end up opening every damn one searching for the thing I want (and of course it’s always in the last pocket I open). Anyhow, thanks for the tips! If my spree keeps up I might end up becoming a bag gal before the year is out.

  • rb

    I’m with coffeeaddict on the splash of color. I have several black handbags, and of those, two I actually like, and I almost never use them. I wear so little color that I love having color in a bag. My bag right now is a bright tomato read. I’m otherwise wearing black, taupe and ivory today.

    I think all of your points about shopping for a bag are good ones. I DEFINITELY dump out my current bag and put it all into the bag I’m considering at the shop. No one has ever been taken aback by this.

    The point about trying a bag with your coat on is brilliant. This was my number one problem this past winter – my shoulder bag slipping off the shoulder of my coat and driving me nuts.

  • rb

    Oh – brands to recommend:
    Kate Spade – leather only – fantastic sales online
    Hayden Harnett – online, brick & mortar in Brooklyn
    Dooney and Bourke’s new line – solid colors in pebbled leather
    Johnston and Murphy (yes, the men’s shoe store!)

    I used to love Coach, but they have really gone over-logoed and downhill in quality.

  • I am intrigued by lyrebirdgully’s comment on having a handbag the same colour as one’s hair. I had never thought about it before, but when I was sorting through my accessories last week, I noticed that I own more cognac-coloured boots, belts and purses than any other colour. My hair was always dark brown, with a red sheen in the summer sun, and now I enhance that red all year round, so I guess I am instinctively drawn to that cognac colour, and yes, it really does go with virtually everything in my ‘autumn-palette’ wardrobe.
    A great post Sal, on choosing a functional handbag. I have had some less-than-functional ones in the past, but I must be getting better at it, since my most recent ones are pretty good. I have one main hobo-style day-bag, and then quite a collection of smaller, funkier, dressier bags for other occasions.

  • ks

    Because I am a highway safety consultant, I carry Harvey’s seatbelt bags. Been carrying nothing else for almost 10 years and have several. They have amazing syles and colors (I have several different black bags, red, champagne, multi color and leopard), they are tough as nails and last forever and they are always a ready conversation starter. They’ve become my signature!

  • I have limited storage space so I only keep one purse-handbag (but a couple of messenger/backpacks). For years I kept the same $13 bright red purse because it held up well and fit all my needs. My rules were that it had to zip open and closed on the top, but be able to be clamped closed with my elbow when carried. I had to not only be able to fit the strap(s) on my shoulder, but had to be able to swing it up there with one hand and no awkward arm movements. I also really like pockets, but hate those middle dividers.

    I’m currently using a $20 Tyler Rodan purse from TJMaxx (clearance yay!), but it doesn’t 100% fit the bill. It did come with a nice free umbrella though.

  • I own several handbags and each is uniquely different. Since I tend to wear basic tshirts, jeans and sweaters, I love to buy bright, cheerful and colorful handbags whenever I can.

    Currently, I own a rose-colored plaid bag with brown accents; a large, black Besso handbag with silver gromets; a gorgeous green/blue floral print bag with a thick, cognac leather strap (my current favorite) and several cheapie totes from Clinique and Bath and Body Works (great for three-day weekends and grocery shopping).

    I would like to grow my collection in the future, but for now the plaid works well in fall and winter, the Besso is great for hauling papers/books around and the floral is my spring/summer bag. I’ve found that with a limited budget, it is best to buy handbags composed of several (wardrobe-complementing) colors.

    In the future, I would love to own a turquoise bag. I’m not sure why, but something about that color and the shape of a handbag really captivates me.

  • Anat

    I am just like you used to be – I don’t give a hoot about my bag. I am using one I bought about 3 years – it has lots of zipper compartments so it’s really pratical and looks nice enough. I was planning on using it till it disintegrates, which seems to be right about now… so I have to go bag shopping again. Alas.

  • I like a big canvas bag that zips closed and can hold a fair amount of groceries (I tend to go food-shopping every day or so, so I never have a ton of stuff… yes I know how bad that is). I’m not too picky about them matching my outfit.

    You know what I HATE? When you have a purse with a long shoulder strap, and as you’re walking around the purse starts twirling around on the strap, which gets all twisted. It happens with a certain kind of purse- they might be called feedbags? Anyway, it’s annoying.

  • Amanda

    I have a handbag in pretty much any color BUT black – purple, teal, coral, gray, a light green canvas tote and a purple, green, and teal patterned LeSportsac.

    I think my main problem is being unable to resist a deal when it comes to a bag. My gray bag is one I got for $70. It’s usually $225, so on the surface? Awesome deal. But the problem is I feel matronly carrying it, so in reality I’ve carried it one season and I doubt I’ll carry it next winter.

  • Eleanorjane

    I’ve started buying one reasonably expensive bag on sale after Christmas and using it all year. This year’s model is squishy rasberry pink with brass fittings. I wear it with absolutely everything – it either clashes or goes, but either way I’m happy. 🙂

    (Also, I work in an office so I only carry it to and from work and in the weekends.)

  • Oh my gosh, this is such an awesome post. After working in retail selling handbags for a summer, I can totally relate to all these things. The most important thing to me are the straps — not just their durability, but their length and material. I saw so many expensive bags get returned because their straps were too short, uncomfortable, or cheaply made. My perfect bag is a crossbody mid-size with a long leather strap.

  • Lydia

    Great post — I wear my handbags until they are basically destroyed – the issue is that I get so attached, and have a visual memory, so I can instantly dive into the bag and find anything — a new bag means new hidden pockets and quirks, so I have to spend ages finding stuff in the new bag. I was really attached to bags that have outer pockets (hand cleaner, phone, gum, pens), and many inner pockets.

    When I use a current favorite bag, and just cannot switch it out for any other, until I basically break the strap. This year, I bought a more expensive leather purse in a bright colour, and have already damaged the colour a bit, but I still love it. I have a smallish collection of about 6 vintage bags, some from my Grandmother, and few vintage finds, which I use for special occasions. Like another commenter, I would love to ‘grow’ my everyday bag collection (have the special occasion one covered) — to more everyday purses that I can rotate every few months, or have a neutral and bright everday purse for various occasions.

  • Lex

    I have five handbags only and like you, Sally, I’m persnickety about them. I only replace when they wear out. One light-coloured for summer (currently camel), one for winter (chocolate brown), one messenger (red), two clutches (gold, turquoise).

    Oh, and NO BLACK! I don’t have any black in my wardrobe whatsoever (truly), so the winter bag is always chocolate brown or dark dark grey.

  • I used to be a total pocket girl and never used purses. I went to a lot of concerts/shows and didn’t want to worry about a purse when I wanted to dance or mosh. They get in the way or you have to make a friend hold it or find somewhere to hide it and worry about it getting stolen. I had a pocket system all figured out and found the tiniest camera ever that fit really nicely in my back pocket.

    I started like purses more, I think, when I started wearing more dresses and skirts. I stole a really old, beat up, tiny, brown Coach cross-body bag from my mom and wore it all the time one summer. It was perfect. Since then, I’ve found a lot of great bags at thrift stores.

    I only really like leather or fabric bags. I can’t stand fake leather, it always feels weird and cheap to me. I like a variety of sizes, since sometimes I like to carry my entire life and other times I want something tiny I don’t have to think about. Something about a bag that perfectly fits the essentials and no more makes me happy and I like puzzling out what I can fit in my smaller bags. But other times I like a huge slouchy bag, so I don’t know. Bags are awesome!

  • Me

    This may be a dumb question, but are women supposed to match their shoes and belt or bag and shoes? Is it OK to wear black leather shoes, a brown leather bag and cognac coloured belt? Or do one of the three items have to match? I’m asking because I’ve read somewhere that men need to match their shoes to their belt.

    • Sal

      Not dumb at all! And the answer is: It depends who you’re asking. Most style experts these days will say that you SHOULDN’T match shoes/belt/bag and that picking complementary colors is the more stylish option. But personally, I like to match. I might not do bag, belt, and shoes all together: Three is a lot. But belt and shoes quite often. I’m more apt to pick a bag that “goes” instead of “matches.”

  • It’s actually quite funny how diametrically opposed you and I are on the bag/shoe front. To start with, though I love shoes, I am so fussy with them that I barely ever manage to buy a pair, so I just gaze lovingly at other peoples’ feet which can cope with all the styles that my feet rebel against. Bags always fit! Secondly, my first investment bag was a bright purple leather one that sparked off a love over the years covering all colours of the rainbow (my currently favourite is a goldy/yellow). Thirdly, I only got round to buying a black handbag yesterday.

  • I have a hard time finding good bags because I have to carry so much stuff with me every day. I walk to work and need to carry my lunch, a book, usually shoes (because I need to wear sneakers or other comfy shoes while walking), and sometimes a cardigan. That’s a lot! Right now I have a bag from Courierware that I’ve been using for a while, but I’ve also been carrying a separate Built lunch bag. Sometimes that’s not enough and I grab a flowered tote I bought at the Metropolitan Museum of Art of NY and put my lunch in that instead with whatever else won’t fit. I’ve been keeping my eye out for something new that will hold more stuff, but I’m starting to think I just need a sherpa.

  • Maggie May

    I love love love handbags…..and don’t own a black one! The vast majority of mine are cross body and that is where similarities end. I have one that looks like a typewriter, thank you Kate Spade, and many from Hayden Harnett. My chesnut one from JCrew has proved THE most versatile which is unusual for me in that it a) is not cross body and b) does not have zipper closure. But the color is so so classic. So now I want another such classic. Sometimes all the fun and colors are…..tiring. I definitely save up for quality leather but not for brand names per se. Tumbled leather (like many JCrew bags, which I do not consider a “brand” for purses) and smooth leather seem to do very well in weather. And I treat all my bags with leather conditioner before wearing them everywhere. I am happier with my handbag obsession than with my shoe obsession because sometimes I buy beautiful shoes which hurt my feet but I have never bought a beautiful handbag which hurt me!

  • Having read lyrebird’s comment, I’ve realised why my new camel-beige Banana Republic hobo bag seems to go with all my outfits – it’s the same colour as my hair!

    I love bags, but I’m so fussy about size/shape/colour/interior pocket arrangement/lining colour that it takes a while to find one I like …

  • Molly

    A few years ago I found the purse of my dreams (POMD) – a cross-body sort of hobo but not exactly. It’s biggish, but flat, and holds a lot of stuff without looking like I have a box on my hip. It comes in about 14 colors. I got the orange one. Love it love it love it. JP Ourse Park Avenue. After 3 years it’s a bit scuffed. I’m considering getting another.

    Love it!

  • summerkitten

    came across this post on google and I have to agree: Great post! I myself am a handbag fanatic because I tend to use them to add a pop of color. BUT, I also have my brown/gold accents work bag, my big black bag with cool metal accents, a small black bag with gold accents, a small black bag with silver accents, a small brown bag with gold accents, a bunch of blue totes and satchels, a lime green tote, a patent leather grey satchel, clutches and evening bags in every color…you get the idea 🙂 I love bags that do double duty: they’re interesting enough to add flavor to an outfit, but they don’t bug me if I don’t have time to switch bags before heading out to work.

    I do have one tip I learned from my mother: all of your essentials (the lip gloss, the nail file, the absolutely MUST HAVE hand cream), keep them in a little pouch, like an oversized coin purse if they’ll fit. Not only will having most of this stuff in a separate little container help protect the inside lining of your bags, it’s SO MUCH EASIER to switch bags without forgetting the small essentials! just grab and go!

  • Olivia

    Such great tips. Had I thought of these things before I might have saved quite a bit of money on terrible bags. The hardest bag buying challenge I’ve encountered is finding one that works well as my everyday take to work bag, and a diaper bag on the weekends. I tried switching between two bags and hated it, so I ended up buying 4 or 5 bags in my quest to find the perfect one. I still haven’t found the perfect one.