Handbags are among the most functional, hard-working accessories in our closet. They hold all our day-to-day items, shielding our valuables and not-so valuables from inclement weather, damage and theft — and, in most cases, they help complete our polished look.
But now more than ever before there are so many choices, at so many price points and in every fabrication and color known to womankind, it’s almost overwhelming to understand what is — and isn’t — worth the money. Here’s a guide to the only 10 types of handbags you’ll ever need, with low- and high-priced options.
The Leather Day Satchel
This is the essential workhorse handbag. A medium to large top handle bag that can hold almost everything. Choose one in a neutral color leather like black or medium to dark brown (stay away from white and light beige, which reveal scuffs and stains more clearly). And steer clear from those with lots of hardware or logos. Those details can date your bag.
This may seem intuitive, but make sure you pick the correct bag for your size. It’s easy to fall in love with a bag without thinking about how it will look on you, until you take it out for the first time. If you’re tall, a diminutive handbag can get lost. (Or it might look like you’re carrying your daughter’s purse.) If you’re on the petite side, choose a bag that doesn’t look like you could get in it.
Skimp: H&M Handbag in Black, $25
Splurge: Kate Spade Saturday Large A Satchel in Camel, $350.00
The Day Clutch
A neat, tailored daytime clutch is a fantastic option if you can deal with editing what goes in and what stays out. Smaller pouches are cute but you can’t get more than a lipstick in there usually. Try to select one that has multiple pockets and a bit of dimension so you can carry your essentials. This is one of those bags you can have fun with — you don’t have to spend a lot on this style, so try playing with different materials and colors.
If you need a bigger day bag for the office but love the idea of carrying a trim clutch for a work lunch or event, just pop the clutch into your larger bag and pack it with your necessities.
Skimp: French Connection Big Stuff Oversize Clutch in Black, $68.00
Splurge: Ela Large Milck Clutch Stud in Blue Crush, $498.00
This bag affords you great freedom of movement while keeping your necessities close, and it looks much chicer than a backpack. A good cross-body bag will have a sturdy strap that’s adjustable with a front flap that’s easy to maneuver. It shouldn’t be too heavy and should be a medium size — go too small and it’s not going to be very functional, too big and it can overwhelm you (not to mention, throw off your balance).
Skimp: Aldo Minturno Cross-Body Bag in Midnight Black, $50.00
Splurge: Loeffler Randall Rider Bag in Cool Grey, $495.00
The Evening Clutch
Chances are, if you already own one of these it’s because you ran out and bought it when you were in desperate need for it (say, right before your best friend’s wedding?). Rarely do women choose to buy a fancy evening bag before a special occasion calls for it.
But most of us will need one at some point, so why wait till we’re desperate? The most timeless (and versatile) style you can own is a simple black satin or metallic clutch in gold or silver. This is one bag that should be as seasonless as possible, because you want to be able to hold onto it for years. If you want a little bit of sparkle, try to pick one with a jewel on the clasp only. This has a more classic, lasting appeal and goes effortlessly with everything.
Skimp: Glint Crystal Topper Clutch in Black, $78.00 at Nordstrom
Splurge: Diane Von Furstenberg Elaphe Box Clutch in Black, $345.00
The Straw Basket
The straw basket can be your go-to bag in the warmer months. It’s an ideal summer carry-all and can and should be a little more playful than your other handbags. A simple basket looks chic but whimsical details that give it vintage or ethnic appeal work too. If it’s well-made, you may be surprised at how much you can carry in it.
Style icon Jane Birkin made the straw basket famous in the ‘70s when she made it her signature handbag, long before Hermes made a bag in her honor, The Birkin.
Skimp: Kelly & Katie Beaded Straw Tote in Bronze, $34.95 at DSW
Splurge: Mar Y Sol Santorini Crocheted Overlay Basket Tote in Aqua, $125.00
The Medium-sized Shoulder Bag
Shoulder bags have a sleek and sophisticated yet sporty appeal, and are another perfect daily go-to. The style allows for greater mobility than your standard satchel because you’re not holding onto it with a handle. Rich leather or textured suede are ideal, but even a neat canvas fabric in the summer can be perfect for a lightweight, weather-appropriate look. The options for this type range drastically, so a lot of what’s worth it is also determined by your own personal style, taste level and budget.
Skimp: H&M Nubuck Bag in Beige, $50
Splurge: Coach Madison Carlyle Shoulder Bag in Jacquard Fabric, $378
The Chic Tote
Every woman needs a tote, and not just a big bag to haul stuff around in but one that can also look polished and professional. The kind you buy is usually determined by what you’re carrying daily.
There’s a natural tendency to utilize every ounce of space in a bag, so if you’re not carrying much beyond your wallet, a phone and a small makeup bag, go for a lightweight tote. A sturdy canvas tote works well on weekends and casual days, and can hold heavier items, while a leather tote can work well at the office, holding
Skimp: Zara Large Perforated Shopper Bag, $79.90
Splurge: MZ Wallace Medium Metro Tote in Black, $185
The Casual Day Bag
This is your wildcard, and it allows you to show off your personal style. There are plenty of options that won’t break the bank, from a rock n’ roll studded hobo to a sporty messenger to a sleek white patent clutch. On those days when you can have a little more fun with your look, switch things up and work this bag into your 9-5 routine. It’s a great way to kick up your style.
Skimp: River Island Navy Quilted Duffle Bag in Navy Color Block, $70.00
The Iconic Bag
Okay, no one really needs a designer bag — we get that. But if you’re looking to invest in something truly luxurious, you’ll want to make sure it can last you for years to come. Enter the classic iconic bag, à la an Hermes Birkin bag or the highly coveted Chanel bag.
These bags can stand on their own — perpetually making a statement and outlasting any trend. For example, the Chanel 2.55 is one of the most iconic handbags ever designed. It is the LBD of handbags (albeit an expensive one). Luckily, options exist for those who don’t have $5,000 to drop on this beauty.
Skimp: Mango Quilted Cross-Body Bag in Black, $59.99
Splurge: Chanel 2.55 Flap Bag in Black, $5,500
The Color Bag
Yes, black is always the new black, but sometimes you’ve just got to give in to the joy of color (especially when it can so greatly affect your mood). A great way to use a color handbag is not to match it to your clothes, but to pick a shade that’s on the opposite spectrum of colors you wear to create a contrast.
If you wear a lot of camels and taupes, try a yellow or red handbag. If you wear red often, then try a bag in a light shade of blue. It sounds counter-intuitive but it works. And, of course, you can always use color to break up solid black, navy and white.
Skimp: Forever 21 Runaround Faux Leather Satchel in Red, $19.80
Splurge: Furla Candy Satchel Bag in Blue, $248.00