We’ve all heard it before – be it by a well-meaning family member, boyfriend or spouse. The question all women dread:
“Just how many handbags do you NEED??”
Answer: A lot.
I hang my head a bit as I admit this, but there was a time when I didn’t believe I needed more than one handbag. (I know, I know). Where walking past the handbag section of store elicited no pull. Where I was somehow immune to the smell of new leather, the frission of joy as you slipped a new satchel over your shoulder, and the million colors and patterns somehow didn’t call to me.
But, like all things, that fell apart when I spotted a bag I simply had to have. And then I saw another one. And in a flurry of shoulder straps and kiss-lock clasps, I was a goner.
Thanks to our wardrobe organization app Dressed, I now have a full catalogue of the handbags I’ve collected over the years – vintage, patent leather, lucite, buttery suede. From a gal who once didn’t feel she needed more than one all the way to the present, with over 50, let’s just say I’ve made up for lost time.
People often ask me where I get my handbags and for advice on what to look for when you’re shopping for one. It can be difficult to know what gaps exist in your wardrobe, and many people often find they keep buying the same things over and over (come on, we’ve all done it. I have about 12 million variants of cherry red lipstick. I just. Can’t. Help. It). Regardless of whether or not you feel drawn to the same kind of thing, what you want to avoid is feeling stuck without an option should a certain occasion arise – from work, to a picnic in the park, to a first date, to the opera.
So, to help navigate the waters, I’ve reviewed my current handbag collection. Although most of my beauties are currently on a large ship, States-bound, I’ve realized that my swath of bags are distributed across three main categories: Staple, Statement, and Soiree….
A “staple” bag can mean different things to different people. Personally, I don’t like to carry the world around on my shoulder, so my perfect staple is in a neutral color and medium to small sized, enough to carry my full wallet, keys, phone, and small bag of essential toiletries.
By definition, a “staple” is the handbag that goes with just about everything. Most people find the majority of their bags fall into this category – they’re often black, white, or brown (though not always!) and reached for on a daily basis. It’s a good idea to have a few of these on hand – not only will they always match whatever you’re wearing, but they’re so darned functional. I tend to grab a staple bag when I have a lot of things to do that day and need a handbag that can keep up.
You might be surprised what becomes a staple bag – for me, my mustard and blue handbags are the ones I reach for most often. I’m not sure anyone else in the world would classify them as a neutral, but they go with about 80% of what’s in my wardrobe. Remember that ‘neutral’ doesn’t have to mean boring – think outside of the box! I have used hatboxes as handbags, vintage vanity cases, jewelry boxes, and baskets as handbags.
Staples are ideal when you want the rest of your outfit to be the star – if the dress is some amazing novelty print or you have a lot of errands to run and therefore require function over form. When looking for good staple bag, I also tend to keep an eye on quality over any other type of bag. Buy one in a good quality material and don’t be afraid to invest. These are the bags that will have the most wear and tear, and you’ll want it to last. Investing in a high quality piece that lasts you for years is much better than prioritizing cute (ohhhh though how we love the cute!) but having it fall apart with continual use.
I probably have more statement bags than anything else, because I simply can’t resist the quirk. The whimsy. The challenge. To me, a statement bag can be anything from a bright pop color, with a unique print or pattern, to an amazing novelty bag. They are not always the most functional size or a color that would go with everything, and are thus not for the faint of heart, but they will fill up a room with their presence. For these bags, I rarely have had an outfit in mind when I’ve bought them – because these bags MAKE the outfit.
The best mantra to start chanting when it comes to statement bags (and I mean this): Buy it anyway. We’ve all had those moments – where we see something we love (from a pair of shoes to a dress to a handbag shaped like a taco), and something tugs at our heartstrings. We’re enthralled by it, but find ourselves muttering, “But what would I wear that with?” And we walk away shaking our heads. The next time this happens to you: Buy it anyway. You’ll be surprised by the outfit you will create around it. Like a unique pair of heels, start with the statement bag and see where it leads you in your styling.
Now, a statement bag doesn’t mean you only get one outfit out of it – You’d be amazed once you start styling around the bag how many different looks you can create. If the bag has a bold print, wear it with a solid color dress. If it’s a bright, vibrant color – play with neutrals in the rest of your look. Or use it to play off a subtle color in your dress to bring that hue to the forefront.
The key with styling a statement handbag is to let the bag speak for itself.
This is the category where all bets are off. These are my glitziest bags. The vintage lucite. The rhinestone encrusted. The “why yes I AM that fabulous” bag. For me, I like to start with the basics – silver and gold. These metallics go with everything and are easier to find (I love this one and this one for a modern bag, and this one and this one for vintage).
Though not always intuitive – metallics like gold, silver, and bronze are simply another neutral (think like if your staple handbags threw on their cutest cocktail dress and showed no fear about baring their best bling). Therefore, you can pair them with pretty much every evening look in your wardrobe, from colors to black and white to prints.
From there, you can start to branch out into brighter colors or more unique shapes. The one common feature in my evening bags is a feeling of luxury. A feeling that, simply by virtue of taking it down off of the shelf, you’ve instantly created a special occasion for yourself.
For most bags that fall into this category, they tend to be smaller clutch bags and wristlets. To adjust for this, I have a special small wallet for my evening bags (it’s actually a vintage cigarette older similar to this one, which fits 2-3 cards and some cash). That way, I can grab a lipstick, my phone and mini wallet and I’m good to go for the night.
I will say this with 100% sincerity – I have never in my life bought an evening bag when I was looking for one. Murphy’s Law states that when you have the perfect bag in your mind, you’ll never find it. But, if you just happen upon the perfect bag in your daily wanderings, buy it, because chances are the event will strike shortly thereafter…
Seriously, what is it about handbags? From a functional perspective, you simply need something to carry your wallet, keys and phone around in. But, from a fashion perspective, the options are limitless. They can be wearable art. They can be your pop color. They can simply be beautiful. And much like a good pair of shoes, they will always fit.
As you all know, I am bag-less (well, bag-limited) for the next 8 weeks. When it came to the bags that made it into my suitcase, true to form, I have one staple, one statement, and one soiree bag. And a fourth bag that was a surprise ‘see you soon’ gift from my girls before I left Perth, which amazingly seems to be all three at once. So, despite my limited options, my current selection covers all eventualities.
What handbag categories do your fall into? Do you have one you absolutely cannot live without?