There is a running joke that women’s pants often have tiny or no pockets only because designers want to sell us bags. Even if that was true, it’s not like we’re complaining, because we love our bags as much as we do other accessories like shoes and jewellery. Not only are handbags capable of being the statement pieces that put finishing touches on our outfits, they’re also functional, which explains why some have achieved investment-piece status on par with watches.
But like all the other accessories sold for women, there is such an astounding variety of designs available that it gets confusing. Is it a satchel or a top handle? Do I really need a beach bag or will a tote bag suffice? When you consider that some bags cost as much as a month’s pay, we understand that you want to be sure exactly what you’re splurging on, which is why we’ve come up with the definitive guide to all styles of bags, and which occasion they’re best suited for.
Definition: A purse that is long and narrow with a shape similar to the French bread loaf. This style of bag was first designed by Fendi in 1997 and made popular by its exposure on television. Baguette bags usually feature a shorter strap that allows you to wear it over your shoulder, ending around your ribcage.
Best worn: This style of bag is feminine and elegant, and because it is so narrow, doesn’t have much carrying capacity so we recommend using it for dinners, parties and special occasions. These days, you’ll find them in all sorts of styles to suit different occasions, so the only thing you’d have to consider would be budget.
Description: Structured with curved edges and rounded appearance, bowling bags were originally designed to carry around bowling balls, but have since become a fashion mainstay due to its quirky but functional appearance.
Best worn: Think of it a fun alternative to rectangular or oblong-shaped handbags. Juxtapose your structured bowling bag with a breezy linen outfit (such as these twelve summer picks here) or sundress, or go for broke and pair with jeans and a blazer for a more polished look.
Description: A long-time staple of the style set, the top handle bag is synonymous with a ladylike elegance (think Grace Kelly and Hermès). Top handle bags are exactly as their name suggests, a bag that comes with just 2 handles located at the top of the bag, and sometimes with longer strap.
Best worn: We love top handle bags for their polished, #girlboss vibes and naturally, makes them perfect for days that are packed with power lunches and meetings. This style of bag can easily take you all the way from day to dinner, as it complements anything from floral dresses to power suits to even casual, athleisure looks.
Description: A clutch-shaped bag that comes with an attached leather or bracelet-looking strap that allows you to hold your bag freely by securing it on your wrist. Think of it as the clutch’s more functional cousin, and designs can range from casual to ultra-elegant.
Best worn: We love wristlets for festivals, club nights or basically any event where you’ll be dancing and holding drinks in hands! They basically allow you the mobility of a shoulder bag but with the elegance of a clutch, which makes wristlets a night out staple.
Description: A u-shaped, slouchy bag that hangs from your shoulder. Hobo bags are usually large and are a cross between tote bags and shoulder bags.
Best worn: Nothing beats the hobo bag when it comes to travel. It is large enough to hold your toiletry purse, tablet and even travel pillow, but packs away easily as it is usually made from a softer material. Tip: opt for a hobo bag that has pockets located at the sides for easy access to items like your passport or mobile phone.
Definition: Sometimes called a shopper, the tote bag is usually a medium to large rectangular bag with two straps. The trusty tote is the bag we turn to when we need to carry more stuff than usual, and many of us have more than just 1 style of tote!
Best worn: Depending on the material, tote bags can be heavy and if yours is made of leather and leans more to the heavy side, opt for one with wider straps to prevent them from digging painfully into your shoulder. Canvas works best for weekends and casual days (and can double as your grocery bag) while leather is always appropriate for the office! We love our tote bags for travel too, but ensure that yours can be zipped closed to prevent theft.
Definition: Basically any style of handbag with straps long enough to allow you to wear them on your shoulders. This style of handbag is extremely popular given the mobility it allows its wearer, and you’ll find different variants just from the same designer!
Best worn: Consider this as another staple for your wardrobe. We like rich leather and suede for more formal occasions (think meetings, interviews and business lunches or dinners) and lighter fabrics like canvas for weekends.
Definition: Hitting the sweet spot between an everyday handbag and a laptop bag, the satchel is a must have in your handbag rotation. It’s typically a structured handbag that features double handles and a wide, flat bottom. Satchel can come in various sizes.
Best worn: A neutral-coloured satchel is our go-to for the working week where you might have to carry a laptop, files, notebooks and your lunch box! We prefer ours in darker colours like black or dark brown as this would be the bag that gets the most wear and tear, and darker colours hide it better. Ensure that your satchel isn’t too large or too small for your frame, and isn’t too heavy since you’ll be toting it around a lot.
Definition: Bigger isn’t always better, and in the case of mini bags, we concur! Basically just really small bags, they are available in all sorts of styles, from backpacks to cross body. Equal parts elegant and adorable, we love them for those days we don’t need much more than our wallets and phones.
Best worn: The best thing about mini bags is that they work for both day and night occasions! While they might be a tad too small for work, we love mini bags for concerts and festivals as they leave our hands free for drinks, but are small enough not to get in the way. For less formal evening occasions like drinks with the girls or dinner, opt for a more embellished mini bag.
Definition: A small evening bag usually encrusted with stones, gems or pearls that simply oozes elegance and grandeur. They are usually made from a hard case, and feature a top opening. Some designs come with a thin chain that can be tucked back into the bag, allowing you to carry it as a clutch or wear it over your shoulder.
Best worn: These are fancy, so leave them for appropriate events like a cocktail party, wedding or formal evening dinner that requires you to seriously dress up. Nothing quite makes a statement like an elaborate minaudiere, and we like styling our elaborate ones with simple (but elegant) evening wear.
Definition: Who would have thought that this style of bag, usually associated with tourists, would make it to the runways? The fanny pack, or belt bag as it is called these days, are worn around the waist and secured by either a traditional belt closure or Velcro fastening.
Best worn: This style is definitely more casual, so leave it for your weekend shopping jaunts (bonus: your hands are left free to carry more shopping bags) or when you’re running errands. Just be sure to pick one that has more ‘design’ to it, and ideally made of a luxe material like leather to avoid looking like a 90’s tourist.
Definition: Also called a sling bag (although hardly anyone ever uses that term anymore), the crossbody bag gets its name from the way it is worn: over one shoulder and across the body with a long strap. The bag itself can be any shape, from round to rectangular to bucket, and are available in all sizes from tiny to oversized.
Best worn: We love tiny to small cross body bags (the kind that can only fit a lipstick, credit card and phone) for nights out where we want both hands free and not have to deal with a clutch, and larger ones for everyday use. When shopping for a crossbody, ensure that the strap can be adjusted – your bag should sit at hip height so that it doesn’t throw off your proportions.
Definition: The clutch bag has no straps and is carried by clutching it, hence its name. It was originally designed as a small bag meant for evenings but these days, you’ll easily find large to oversized versions that are appropriate even for day.
Best worn: As a general rule of thumb, the smaller and more embellished (think semi precious stones to intricate embroidery) your clutch is, the later the hours they’re meant for. Clutches made of materials like velvet, leather and animal skin have a more luxurious appearance, making them more appropriate for the evening. However, if your clutch is larger and made of lighter fabrics like straw or canvas, then we love using them to dress up an otherwise casual outfit for brunch and day parties.
Definition: The bucket bag is a rounded bag that is shaped like a bucket, with a wider base than an opening. The name is attributed mainly to its shape, so depending on the designer, can come with a top handle, shoulder strap or both. Drawstring closures are most common, although you’ll find zippered versions too.
Best worn: Depending on the design of your bucket bag, it can easily by taken from day to night, and we love it as an everyday bag! Opt for one made of a more structured leather for more formal situations (like work), and softer fabrics like suede or even crochet for after-hours and weekends.
Definition: A must for sun worshippers (or anyone who enjoys that #beachlife), the beach bag is a large tote typically made of straw or durable canvas meant for days out by the shore. They are usually waterproof, and these days, you can even find beach bags made of a special material that won’t trap sand.
Best worn: Its name says it all. Alternatively, if yours is made of straw and isn’t too oversized, you can channel that French Riveria vibe and style with a polished linen outfit and heeled espadrilles.
Definition: Also called a rucksack, the backpack needs no introduction. Worn on the back and supported by the shoulders with two straps, the backpack is no longer just for school. It has seen highly fashionable redesigns on the runways over the recent years, and are available in fabrics like leather and suede.
Best worn: Even high-end luxe variants (we like to call them luxepacks) like Saint Laurent or Anya Hindmarch are best left for more casual occasions like weekend brunch, or for travel.
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