Have you found that, while it's all too easy to buy lots of handbags, it's not always simple to buy ones you'll want to use often? If so, then this buying guide is for you. Use our Visual Guide to Handbags to identify the bags that are your style, and then read about how to buy bags that will fit your lifestyle.
Tote bags and shoppers: When you need to bring along many of your belongings, tote bags and shoppers are the best bags for you, as they often have a larger capacity than other handbags and a heavy-duty design. Tote bags and shoppers are available in several types of materials, often in canvas twill and leather, and usually have a square or rectangular shape. Some are open, while others have handy storage compartments for keys, cell phones, water bottles, and anything else you may need. They always have some sort of handle, and occasionally, the handles are long enough to use as a shoulder strap.
Hobo bags: The slouchy shape that distinguishes hobo bags makes them perfect weekend bags. A hobo bag has a bohemian feeling that is youthful and casual. The strap is long enough to wear over your shoulder, and the loose shape is body-hugging and flattering. Hobos are usually large enough to use as your day-to-day bag, and you can look for one made of high-quality leather if you want it to look less casual.
Clutches and evening bags: Evening bags and clutches are the bags you'll want for a special night out. With lovely details like beads and sequins and fine fabrics like metallics and satins, evening bags will complement your formal wear perfectly. Evening bags are clutches when they have no strap and you hold -- or "clutch" -- them in your hand, and they are wristlets when they have a strap just long enough to hang over your wrist. If your evening bag has a handle, you can tuck it inside to transform it into a clutch bag; clutch bags can also be used as wallets inside larger bags during the day. Choose between soft leather handbags or handbags with structured metal frames, depending on how formal your eveningwear is.
Crossbody bags: A strap that is long enough to let you wear this bag across your body is the main factor distinguishing crossbody bags from other bags. Beyond the strap, the style can vary from petite and elegant to oversized and functional. Look for a chain strap if you want something dressy.
Shoulder bags: Perfect for everyday use, shoulder bags are the workhorses of a handbag wardrobe because they have straps long enough to go over your shoulder, thus freeing up your hands. Shoulder bags are often adjustable and can be worn against your hips or waist; many also have outside pockets and interior slots for organization. Shoulder bags are available in many different styles, from functional leather bags to luxurious designer handbags. With a variety of sizes, shapes, colors, closures, and designs, there's sure to be a shoulder bag that you'll love to bring with you.
Satchels: With their wide, flat interiors and double handles, satchels have a classic, ladylike look that's a bit reminiscent of a doctor's bag. They have handles that are short enough to hold it in your hands, but they often come with a shoulder strap, too. Use these structured purses to carry day-to-day necessities. When you need a hand, satchel bags easily rest in the crook of your arm; if you pull the short straps over your shoulder, your satchel tucks into your underarm.
Bucket bags: With an unstructured, casual look, bucket bags are a good addition to your handbag wardrobe if you need something for weekends and summer vacations. The simple bucket shape and the drawstring top makes it's a simple look that's never fussy. Bucket bags come in a variety of sizes, and some even have backpack straps, while most have a shoulder strap. Fabric bucket bags are relaxed to the max, while a leather bucket bag with a leather cord takes the look up a notch.
Published April 28, 2010
Updated February 17, 2015