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Essential Handbag Guide for A Chic Wardrobe

medium_6412403789The perfect handbag is the one that fits your budget, your sense of style, and one you can use for many seasons to come.

And being that it’s fall, this is the time to learn more about:

  • what makes a great handbag,
  • basic types of handbags, and
  • what works best for you.

Let’s start from the beginning.  You first must understand what makes a great handbag before you dash off to the nearest sale and start buying every cute clutch in sight!  From working with many clients, from all walks of life, I’ve come up with five basic guidelines on what makes a great handbag.


1. Size


One of the first things that you notice about a handbag when you see it is it’s size.  In this case size matters!  I’ve come to find there are really two types of women: those who like large handbags (that can carry everything) and those who don’t.  Admittedly I’m the woman who carries her life in her purse so I’m always looking for a chic shopper or luxury tote at a great price.

When you’re considering size, be sure to look for handbags that have a style that’s comfortable carry.

  • Are you a tall woman with longer arms who can easily carry a tote under her arms
  • Are you a petite woman who needs lots of interior room, but prefer a sleeker style?

These are questions to keep in mind before adding a new handbag to your accessories collection.


2. Style

The Tote_EHand

Along with size, the actual style of handbag is very important in fitting the aesthetics of your wardrobe and lifestyle.  Some of the most popular styles of handbags are as follow:

  • Crossbody Handbags: These are shoulder handbags with a long strap worn across the body that distributes weight between the shoulder and back. Crossbody handbags are usually medium or large and very casual, but can be made of luxurious materials.  They feature hands-free design that keeps possessions close and secure – perfect for travelers, shoppers and commuters; also called a messenger bag.
  • Clutches: These are compact, strapless handbags carried by hand or under the arm.  Usually there’s only room for the necessary essentials and compartments to keep belongings organized.  Embellishments, crystals, sequins, metallics, and delicate materials make clutches perfect for eveningwear attire.  Clutches can also be used as wallets for everyday use.
  • Hobo: These are casual and practical crescent-shaped shoulder handbags.  The medium and large sizes in boho prints are most popular.  Hobos are made of soft, slouchy material, such as leather, suede or micro-fiber.  Small and structured hobo handbags exist, but are less common
  • Satchel: These are hand-held handbags with two short handles on top and flat bottoms.  Satchel handbags can have snap, buckle, zipper or drawstring closures
    These handbags are classic, practical and come in variety of sizes.
  • Shoulder: These are one of the most popular styles, have multiple compartments and are carried over the shoulder and hangs down to hips or as high as the natural waist.  Common materials include cotton, canvas, leather, suede or other material durable enough to withstand everyday use.  Big shoulder handbags are on-trend, but choose a size proportionate to your body.  Due to their size and function, shoulder bags aren’t appropriate for formalwear unless the strap and bag are delicate and dressy.
  • Tote: These are an open-top square or rectangle handbag with straps or handles.  They’re typically large and made of durable material, compartments optional
    Also called a shopper; Use as an airplane carry-on, shopping bag or gym bag
    Tote bags are large and can be cumbersome if you choose a size that’s too large.

To learn more about the many styles of handbags, check out Rue La La: Handbags 101 Guide.



3. Color


The Clutch_EHand

The first thing that catches your eye about a handbag is the color.  Are you seeking the season’s hottest new shade of pink or are you looking for a staple piece in timeless black? No matter what you want, you’re likely to find a color matching or very close to what you want.  The most important thing I advise clients to do is choose colors that suit their wardrobes.

Even though that new shade of green may be in every fashion magazine and twenty celebrities have been spotted wearing a handbag in said color, that doesn’t mean it’s a great choice for your wardrobe if you never wear green or anything that coordinates with it.

Since everything in your wardrobe should be wearable, take the time to really consider the colors that work best with what you have.  Here are some of the basic colors I think should be in every woman’s wardrobe:

  • black
  • navy
  • tan
  • red
  • print


4. Price & Quality

The Shoulder Bag_EHand

These two features are a tie in my book.  The reason being we all understand that the higher the price we’re willing to pay for a handbag, the better quality we expect it to be.  The key to have a fabulous handbag collection is to know which handbags to spend more money on (these are investment pieces) and which to buy at lower prices.

When building a basic handbag wardrobe, I advise a simple 5:2 rule.  The rule basically says you should have five (5) great handbags in which you have invested a bit more money and can wear for at least two seasons and two (2) cheaper handbags that are more trendy.  Now I’m not saying you have to spend  thousands of dollars on handbags (though handbags along with shoes are usually the most expensive items in a woman’s wardrobe), but I do advise spending at least $100 on higher quality handbags in timeless styles.  Yes that may seem like a lot at first, but remember you don’t have to get all of these handbags at the same time!  As with any investment, take your time and save money for them..

In terms of quality, you’ll get the most bang from your buck by choosing handbags made in leather, suede, and nylon.  Leather is usually my go to choice.


5. Other Details

The Top Handle_EHand

The last thing you need to take into account when choosing the perfect handbag are what I consider the other details.  Such details include lining, pockets, and zippers.

  • Lining:  Light colored fabrics are revered as you can find contents more easily. However many women prefer dark colored fabrics as they hide stains from leaky pens and perfumes. Signature linings where the maker’s brand name is imprinted into the weave are seen as the most elegant. Patterned linings or stripes are playful and fun-loving.
  • Pockets: Handbags with great organizational features such as interior side zip pockets, pen holders, sections for credit/store cards and i-Phone holders are most prized. Outside pockets also increase a handbag’s attractiveness as they are useful for storing keys and items you want quick access to.  However this feature makes a handbag better suited for more casual wear.
  • Zippers: Zips and fasteners help keep your handbag more secure and give you more options as to where to put things.  A lot of women like their handbag to fasten with a zip. If the handbag is accidentally dropped, embarrassing contents don’t fall out. Plus, there is an additional feeling of security when out and about.


I hope this easy guide makes it easier for you to find the perfect handbag for your collection!

Now it’s your turn to tell me…what makes a great handbag?

Comment below!

Satchels_KR Lookbook_10.4.14

photo credit: Romana Correale via photopin cc

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