Handbags and purses are among the most functional, hard-working accessories in our closet. They hold all of our day-to-day items, shielding our valuables and not-so valuables from inclement weather, damage and theft — and, in most cases, they help complete our polished looks.
But, now more than ever we are overwhelmed with so many choices — between styles and prices — there seems like an endless amount of options. But we’re here to help. Here’s our guide to the only handbags you’ll ever need, with low- and high-priced options.
And one editor’s note before we begin, the prices listed were accurate as of the date of publication, so please check with the seller for the most up to date cost when budgeting.
THE LEATHER DAY SATCHEL
This is the essential workhorse handbag. A medium to large top handle bag that can hold almost everything like your paperback book or tablet (and your pouch for makeup touch-ups). Try to choose one in a neutral-color leather like black or medium to dark brown so that scuffs and stains won’t be noticeable, because who else has spilled their morning coffee on their bag? Also try to steer clear from bags with lots of hardware or logos — those can date your bag.
THE DAY CLUTCH
A neat, tailored daytime clutch is a fantastic option if you can deal with editing what goes in and what stays out. Smaller pouches are cute and light, but you usually can’t get more than a lipstick and a smartphone in there. Try to pick one that has multiple pockets and a bit of dimension so you can carry your essentials. This is one of those bags you can have fun with — you don’t have to spend a lot on this style, so try playing with different materials and colors.
THE CROSSBODY PURSE
As we all know, this bag gives you great freedom of movement while keeping your things close — and it looks much chicer than a backpack. A good crossbody bag will have a sturdy strap that’s adjustable with a front flap that’s easy to maneuver. It shouldn’t be too heavy and should be a medium size — go too small and it’s not going to be very functional, too big and it can overwhelm you.
THE EVENING CLUTCH
Most of us will need a evening clutch at some point, so why wait until the night before a big, fancy event to run out and buy one? The most timeless (and versatile) style you can own is a simple black satin or metallic clutch in gold or silver. This is one bag that should be as seasonless as possible, because you want to be able to hold onto it for years and use it for any event. If you want a little bit of sparkle, try to pick one with a jewel on the clasp. This has a more classic, lasting appeal and goes effortlessly with everything.
THE STRAW BASKET
The straw basket can be your go-to bag in the warmer months. It’s an ideal summer carry-all and can and should be a little more playful than your other handbags (cue colorful pom-poms). Pack it up with snacks and a towel for a beach day with your friends or with your everyday items as you commute to work.
"Style icon Jane Birkin made the straw basket famous in the ‘70s when she made it her signature handbag, long before Hermes made a bag in her honor, The Birkin."
THE MEDIUM-SIZED SHOULDER BAG
Shoulder bags have a sleek and sophisticated yet sporty appeal — and are another perfect daily go-to. Rich leather or textured suede are ideal, but even a neat canvas fabric in the summer can be perfect for a lightweight, weather-appropriate look. The options for this type range drastically, so a lot of what’s worth it is also determined by your own personal style, taste level and budget.
THE CHIC TOTE
Every woman needs a tote, and not just a big bag to haul stuff around in but one that can also look polished and professional. If you carry a laptop back and forth from the office then this is definitely the bag for you. But if you’re not carrying much beyond your wallet, a phone and a small makeup bag, you can still use a tote, just opt for a lightweight one — like in a canvas material.
THE CASUAL DAY BAG
This is your wildcard, and it allows you to show off your personal style. There are plenty of options that won’t break the bank, from a striped hobo to a sporty messenger to a croc patent clutch. On those days when you can have a little more fun with your look, switch things up and work this bag into your 9-to-5 routine. It’s a great way to kick up — and show off — your style.
THE ICONIC BAG
OK, no one really needs a designer bag — but if you’re looking to invest in something truly luxurious, you’ll want to make sure it can last you for years to come. Enter the classic iconic bag, à la a Birkin bag or the highly coveted classic Chanel bag.
These bags can stand on their own — perpetually making a statement and outlasting any trend. For example, the Chanel Classic Handbag is one of the most iconic handbags ever designed. It is the LBD of handbags (albeit an expensive one). Luckily, alternate options exist for those who don’t have $5,000 to drop on this beauty.
THE COLOR BAG
Yes, black is always the new black (unless orange is), but sometimes you’ve just got to give in to the joy of color (especially when it can so greatly affect your mood). A great way to use a color handbag is not to match it to your clothes, but to pick a shade that’s on the opposite spectrum of colors you wear to create a contrast.
If you wear a lot of camels and taupes, try a yellow or red handbag. If you wear red often, then try a bag in a light shade of blue. It sounds counterintuitive but it works. And, of course, you can always use color to break up solid black, navy and white.