Handbags are so much more than just vessels for your essentials—the right one can pull your entire look together and make a strong style statement. (Case in point: Lizzo on the red carpet with that oh-so-tiny Valentino.)
Most people have at least a couple of different handbags in their arsenal. And like shoes, each serves its own purpose, dresses an outfit up or down, and speaks to the wearer's individual style. So what's the secret to finding the right bag?
Read on for our guide to the nine different types of purses that are must-haves for any wardrobe.
This mainstay gets its name from the way it's worn: slung over one shoulder. It varies in size, but is generally large enough to hold all your essentials and then some, making it one of the most functional—and popular—types of handbags. Shoulder bags are ideal for everyday casual and professional situations, so it's a good idea to get one in a neutral color, probably in a genuine or faux leather that can be adapted to different outfits and settings.
This single-strap style is also named for the way it's worn. Typically smaller than a shoulder bag, the crossbody still allows you to go hands-free. It's perfect for running errands, social events, travel, and any scenario where you want to keep your essentials on you without being weighed down. Considering it can be worn day or night, this is a great style to stock up on in different shapes, colors, and textiles.
These medium-size handbags are usually carried via two short handles, though sometimes they have a long shoulder strap for easier toting. Handsome and sturdy, they resemble a soft-sided briefcase that's usually large enough to stash books, magazines, and laptops. Wear one to elevate your on-campus look or keep a corporate outfit chic but practical (think smooth, high-quality leather).
Consider this the answer to your everyday haul. A large, single-compartment bag that usually has no closure, a tote makes it easy to throw items in or take them out while on the move. Though often constructed from a hardy, casual fabric such as canvas or nylon, totes come in many materials and can even be a sophisticated option for the office in structured, high-quality textiles like leather.
These glamorous handhelds are generally evening accessories, though the formality can range from moderate to very upscale. A sequined or beaded clutch is worthy of an extravagant ball or even a wedding, while a low-key design could be carried to happy hour or date night. This smaller style can pack a lot of versatility—some have removable shoulder straps and others even double as wallets.
Not just for students, this utilitarian style is a polished version of the campus classic, allowing you to live your best adult life without the hassle of handling a handbag. Backpacks vary in size—some are dramatically small—but many are large enough to carry tablets and laptops. This casual style is best for traveling, weekend errands, and casual coffee dates with friends.
Woven basket bag
This style has breezed in and out of fashion over the years since it was first popularized by Jane Birkin back in the '60s. It's still a go-to for boho wardrobes thanks to organic fabrications like rattan, straw, wicker, or raffia. The sandy-beige hue and flair like beads, fringe, and seashells are perfect for vacation, even if the bag's not part of your everyday rotation (though it does pair well with everything from maxi dresses to jeans).
The minimalist's best friend. It's small, discreet, and the perfect size for carrying a debit card, ID, lipstick, keys, and some cash. Some styles are even designed to encase specific smartphones. Loop one 'round your wrist when you don't want to be bogged down with non-necessities, such as an evening hopping from one location to the next, a weekend festival, or a quick walk or errand.
This large, slouchy, crescent-shaped standby is more glamorous than its name implies. It's a timeless, fashion-forward option for many scenarios, including casual weekends, travel, or an evening out with friends. It feels stylish, but never try-hard, and that's the beauty of this handbag. Note that some designs are more structured in nature—maintaining that soft crescent shape with minimal fabric—should you want to tap into the aesthetic without committing completely.
A note about quality
No matter which handbags you decide to invest in, quality matters. This ensures your pieces have longevity and serve you well in the months and years to come. When shopping, be mindful of these details:
- Stitching should be symmetrical and consistent both inside and outside of the bag. This demonstrates that it's been thoughtfully constructed and won't fall apart even in vulnerable, wear-prone areas.
- Hardware—which includes clasps, zippers, feet, decorative pieces, and parts of the handle—is important. Clasps should be hassle-free, zippers should glide with ease, feet and decorative pieces should feel secure, and the metal itself should be free of chipping or tarnish.
- Comfort is key. This speaks to the thought that went into the design and also means you'll want to reach for the purse over and over again.