Fashion Guide: Women’s Handbags

Fashion Guide: Women’s Handbags

Welcome to a new series: Fashion Guide. In each installment we will be exploring the foundation of looking stylish, the basics of various apparel, what works, what doesn’t, and some of today’s most ubiquitous and influential labels. In this article, we will be diving into that most essential lady’s companion, her true best friend…the hand bag, of course.

The Lady’s handbag has served as her ultimate accessory for well over two centuries now. Starting in the 1950’s Feminine icons like Grace Kelly and Jackie Kennedy adorned the covers of Life Magazine posing with their favorite offerings from some of the Great Fashion Houses. Hermes, Channel, and Louis Vuitton, were all the rage amongst the social elite, and Hollywood’s A-list. As the decade’s progressed new comers, now established dynasty’s in their own right explored innovative new design concepts. From the practical, to the outrageous, labels such as Prada, Dior, and Fendi, pushed the boundaries of what constitutes a hand bag.

Now, with the 21st century well upon us, the amount of choice when it comes to picking the right handbag can be simply overwhelming. With so many styles, labels, and finishes to choose from, and can be difficult to even find where to begin. Well, let’s start with the basics: the various styles. First, some general definitions; a handbag, is any sized bag, with some sort of handle designed to be carried at the handle. A shoulder bag, is any sized bag, with a long shoulder strap, designed to be carried either at the shoulder, or across the chest. An evening bag, is usually a smaller sized bag, either without handles, or with a short strap, made specifically for formal occasions. Now of course there are endless hybrids and variations on just these three themes alone, as you will see, but this is a good starting point. Now to go a little deeper.

The Satchel: This style of handbag is defined by a flat wide bottom and a structured body, coming together with two short handles. The bag usually employs a zipper for a closing mechanism, but clasps have been known as well. These come in a variety of sizes, but are generally over-sized, which makes them ideal for travel. Due to the extreme variety of offerings of this type of bag, what to wear with it really depends on the color, material, size, and, style employed. A few general guidelines; try not to clash color or materials. For instance, if you are wearing some form of leather that day, do not bring a leather bag. If you’re wearing a red dress, don’t match it with a red bag. You get the point.Satchels can be fun, or formal, use your best discretion when choosing the right accessory for the occasion.

The Hobo: This shoulder bag, is typically a half moon shape with a mid-length shoulder strap. Medium to over-sized, this bag is made from soft materials such as leather, suede or micro fiber to allow the bag to slouch, and fold on to itself. This bag is both practical, and stylish. It possesses a unique look, and a fair bit of real estate for transporting all the essentials. Being able to carry this at the shoulder, makes it a great everyday bag. Use it to transport all of your essentials. To wear, again, like the Satchel this style of bag comes in a wide variety of offerings, try choosing one that’s fun and different. That way, whatever you choose to wear that day, your trusty Hobo will do the speaking for you.

The Tote: Also referred to as the shopper. Probably the most practical of all hand bags. This super over-sized bag is ideal for shopping trips, going to the beach, picnics, and any casual occasion where a high volume bag may be required. These are usually made of cloth, or some other soft material, which allow the bag to stretch according to what’s in it. Although these are usually quite plain in appearance, some designers have employed these as a canvas for socially conscious messages. And by simply using one of these to transport groceries, you too can bring on environmental awareness. To wear, I would suggest really casual attire. Boyfriend jeans and a tank top. A fun summer dress with flip flops also looks great.

The Messenger: This shoulder bag, is a sort of cross between a purse, and a backpack. A student’s favorite, this bag is structured enough to transport laptops, papers, and textbooks. This one is designed to be worn across the chest, which makes it extremely functional and mobile. This could serve as an office bag for the young professional or as an errand bag for the busy mom who needs both hands free. Manhattan Portage helped popularize this style of bag back in the 90’s, and they have been in high demand ever since.

The Clutch: This evening bag is a hand held purse, designed to literally be clutched throughout the occasion. This is the quintessential accessory for formal gatherings. The right clutch will flawlessly complement a sophisticated evening dress. Perfect for storing lipstick, eye liner, and perfume, this little number can also be tucked inside a larger bag such as a satchel during the day, to be used as a wallet. Clutches can range from a modest functional item, to a diamond encrusted extravaganza. The trick to choosing the right one is to pick something that will not just compliment your outfit, but will also draw attention to itself.

The Wristlet: Well, this is very similar to a clutch in many regards. But the idea behind it is so simple and neat, that we felt it deserved a special mention of its own. Like the clutch, this is a compact hand held purse which can come in any variety of fabrics and finishes. Most are rather small, just big enough for the bare essentials. Where this style really shines, is in its utility. The small wristlet strap that defines this little bag can be worn around the wrist as the name suggests. This gives you a little more flexibility and maneuverability. Plus a gorgeous purse dangling from the wrist of a woman in a beautiful evening dress, just looks sexy. You can also attach the wristlet to the strap of a larger everyday bag. That way you never have to spend too long digging through all the clutter that inevitably finds its way into your everyday bag.

Well, that’s all for this installment. We hoped you enjoyed our look into the fascinating world of handbags. Every day, designers are pushing the boundaries of traditional concepts and silhouettes. Be brave, try out something outrageous. A super large Satchel. A chain mail finished clutch. You’ll definitely be scoring style points. I think Gucci Creative Director Tom Ford put it best, “If a bag is attractive, it makes you feel good by default. It’s all about proportion, shape, line, finish, fabric, balance. If all of that is pleasing, it will sell. More than that, it’s like you’ve got to have it or you’ll die.”

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