How to Dress: The Handbag

You might have guessed from past posts that my approach to fashion is one of less is more. I like to buy things that are high quality, so they will last.

There are a few reasons for this. First, I’m a creature of habit. I’ve had my Ugg boots (yes, I own a pair ;P) resoled and dyed numerous times over the years because they are so wonderfully comfortable and I don’t want to throw them out. They are like old friends. Second, I don’t have an enormous closet. Third, if I have to chose quality over quantity (and I do, because, well, budgets!) I pick quality. I certainly understand why others don’t make that choice and I get it 🙂

Handbags are the most important items in my wardrobe. An excellent, high quality handbag is an essential for me. I use one every day. Even if I’m in yoga pants and a ponytail, I’ll look down at my bag and it will cheer me up. A quality handbag dresses up almost any ensemble.

Handbags are also a highly personal item. They can reflect your sense of self.

You can use a messenger bag (like this Kate Spade model) if you have a sporty style:


A stylish Johnny Was for that boho feeling:


A studded purse to reflect your edgy side (like this Burberry model):


A leopard print to express your wild side (shown: Dolce & Gabbana):


A Birkin bag to emphasize your ladylike manner (the iconic Hermes version):


OK, I totally am crushing on ALL of these.

I have kept and restored every handbag I’ve ever bought, except my Coach bag from the 90s. (Which is now totally back in style. GRRR!) I have a few vintage bags from the 20s-50s from family members who have passed on.

Don’t get rid of a good bag!!


I tend to treat purses as investments, and buy the best one I can afford. I buy an everyday purse every 5 years. It’s the single biggest expenditure of my wardrobe. Once I am done using one for everyday, I “retire” it, restore it, and keep it for my fashion-loving daughter.


I have an everyday purse (currently my brown Prada bag, formerly my black Chanel tote) which in my case, needs to hold a lot of stuff. I used the Chanel tote as a glorified diaper bag for years. Because the Chanel tote is so well made and black, it held up beautifully through the most undignified of incidents. You are probably shaking your head in disgust that I used it for the twins when they were babies, but I’m not one to hide “the good stuff” and never use it. Five years later, it is still in great shape, although I will be sending it to a purse spa soon for “rejuvenation.” The Prada purse I just bought I chose because it’s huge and holds a bunch of crap and looked the best of all the bags I tried. (Many, many, many.) It’s also patent leather, and doesn’t get beat up easily. I’m tall, so bigger bags generally work better for me in terms of aesthetics. It will get me through the next 5 years.

Then I have some fun bags to jazz up outfits. Those I generally get on sale, like the coral bag I scored for $29.00. (Inspired by my favorite outfit last year.) I also have smaller handbags that I used extensively, like my Kate Spade purse. It’s from the late 90s so it’s not vintage. YET. For really dressy occasions, I use the small vintage bags.

What’s your handbag philosophy? Do you have a lot of purses or just a few?


Filed under My Favorite Things, personal style

13 responses to “How to Dress: The Handbag

  1. Erk!! This is a subject near & dear to my heart. 😉 I am very picky about my purses — but when I find one that I like, I MUST have it! ; ) — I have a Rubbermaid bin full of them in the bottom of my closet. They’re not designer bags — mostly bought from The Shoe Company (a discount shoe chain here in Canada) or Danier Leather. I think the most expensive one I ever bought was leather & about $150, but on average I pay about $60-70. I did buy a black purse at Target about 10 years ago when I was visiting my uncle in the States that I absolutely adored — I paid under $20 for it and used it until I wore too many holes in the lining and had to throw it out.

    I don’t swap handbags very often, except between seasons (black in the fall/winter & white or beige in the spring/summer, although sometimes I use black year round). I tend to use one until it wears out & then take one out of the bin and start using that one. I like lots of sections & pockets. I generally need a fairly big purse to hold all my crap (umm, stuff, lol) — but it can’t be TOO big or i will overstuff it & kill my shoulders & back (I have learned from experience). .

    And I have a couple of pretty little clutch-style evening bags for special occasions like weddings, in various colours.

  2. Esperanza

    Ah purses. Reading this post makes me realize I’m not very grown up about my purse choices at all but I do appreciate a great back. I guess I’m really into sporty purses. My last three have all been LeSportSac, which for me are CRAZY expensive. But I buy one and use it for 3-4 years so I guess it’s a good deal in the end. Historically I guess I’ve kept my purses for 2-4 year stints and when I’m using one I never change to another one until the change is permanent. I save the old ones but almost NEVER go back to them and then eventually, I let them go. I do have a few going out purses but they aren’t very nice. The truth is I don’t spend that much on anything I wear/have, but I’m becoming more willing to do that as I get older and appreciate things more.

  3. Oh, I love all of those! I have a weird relationship with handbags; I love the look but I hate carrying one. I’ll walk around holding my wallet to avoid carrying a bag, and yet I made one last weekend, ha! When I do use one, I prefer tiny. Phone, keys, and ID and I’m good.

  4. I must confess, I am completely mystified by handbags. What makes a bag stylish? I have no idea. The ones that catch my eye are either distinctively vintage, or incorporate ethnic fabrics/design features. My favorite bag ever – to look at – was a leather backpack from Bolivia with hand-woven cloth sewn in all over, but it was dreadfully uncomfortable to wear on my back (not ergonomically designed at all) so I never ended up using it at all. I tend to use messenger bags even though I would never describe myself as “sporty.” I just find them to be the right size for what I need to carry around.

    • I’m a little mystified about what makes a bag stylish too other than it being by a certain brand: LV, Coach, Prada, Chanel, etc.

      • This is a fantastic question. I buy bags for the investment factor as well as the quality. What I’ve seen is the handbags that hold up in value over the decades are usually from the major design houses, like Chanel or Hermes. (Just like art that has held up is generally from the known big painters.) There are serious vintage fashion collectors, and have been for a while. That is not to say, however, that buying an unknown designer is a bad move. Buying a local, well-made bag is an excellent idea: it will last and it’s good for the economy/environment. Or buy vintage/shop flea markets/buy on vacations. In terms of being an investment, buying an unknown bag designer is like betting on a smaller up and coming painter. But, hey! You don’t have to take my investment approach 🙂 It’s admittedly weird, and probably not what most people do. In terms of newer American designers, check out Foley & Corinna (bags made in the USA!), and of course Etsy is a huge marketplace for handmade goods (and Chinese junk: make sure to verify the seller).

  5. My mother was the one who always told me to invest in a good purse, and good shoes — now — my definition is different than hers (and I abhor wearing high heels –though I like how they look) — but my grandmother had a series of alligator bags ( and golf bag — KELLY GREEN! would die for them now) — and was a believer in the Ferragamo shoe (oh the lectures on spectator pumps…) and the Coach purse — not sure why Coach — but my mother always carried them — and I was given a wonderful feed bag type for high school graduation which I still have — and I bought a heritage collection of theirs (mid-size — not super big) for my 35th birthday. I will probably carry that forever. I like the idea of a new, lovely — fashionable and good quality purse. I get all old-lady crotchety at the new styles at Coach (hate, for instance — things with flashy logos — my mother was very old-wasp about that type of thing) and would love a beautiful, understated leather purse that would make me feel fabulous.

    It is probably totally impractical with my lifestyle seeing as how my husband just went to pick up a used snowmobile today. 😉

    Just reading this post actually made me realize why I’m so uncomfortable with my new “red” hair — (it will soon go back to warm brown with blond) — there is something very old school 60’s blond wasp in my upbringing that is really hard to shake.



  6. I am not a purse person at all, but those are some gorgeous, classic bags! And…is that an actual, genuine Chanel bag? May I touch it? Please? In NC, Coach bags are popular but I’ve seen a few LV bags too (no idea if they are genuine). I personally dislike bags w/ obvious logos, and I think the most I’ve spent on a bag is maybe a little over $100.

    To me, bags are like socks in that they are a way I express myself. I bought a bag “Made in NC” by a local designer as a gift to myself for finishing grad school; it’s a decent-sized tote and cost around $100. I honestly don’t know if it looks like it should cost that much. It’s rather minimalist and modern, which is not at all my style, but I like it. I fell in love with a quirky bag in a Parisian print on Etsy that my husband bought me for Christmas. Another favorite bag is a brown herringbone w/ my initials on it. I love it except for the fact that it has tiny handles.

    I probably should become a grown up and invest in a real bag 🙂

  7. I am cracking up right now because I have NEVER been a purse girl. But I do actually really like that Birkin bag!

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