Fashion & Beauty

Need-to-Have Handbags: An Update

April 3, 2018


TRY THIS little experiment: Haul out your handbags and lay them on a queen-size bed (see above). Do they take up the whole bed or most of it? If so, it’s time for some spring pruning.

But first a short primer on the handbag styles you should have in your wardrobe—if you don’t already —or if you want to refresh the stock you own.

Take a look at our picks for adding to your handbag arsenal or updating it.

—Janet Kelly

Totes are an essential. They’re the ones I use every day to carry my yellow pads, small note pads and pens, as well as some personal items and makeup, which I stash in smaller inside bags. Totes come in slightly structured styles in leather, such as Aquatalia’s cognac carryall or in more informal fabrics like canvas or raffia. Unlike a top-handle bag, which frequently only has one or two short handles and is closed across the top, totes have two handles and are easy to get into and out of.

Left: Lanvin’s Mini Cabas Bag comes in “lipstick” and fuchsia at Lanvin (reduced to $725)  and in this gorgeous blue lambskin at Farfetch, reduced to $1,015). It comes with a shoulder strap should you decide to use it as a crossbody bag. The hardware on the bottom of the tote protects your investment.
Right: Madewell’s sturdy Canvas Transport Tote with leather handles ($58, Nordstrom) and interior zip pocket can take the abuse your daily adventures will give it. Shown in British Surplus, it also comes in Acorn and Black Sea.


This pebbled leather Medium Carryall with magnetic closure (and a zipper) from Aquatalia ($695) comes in a lovely cognac color. The protective tabs on the bottom of the bag offer some buffer from wear and tear.


Crossbodies: Saddle bags, messenger bags, shoulder bags can all be considered cross-body if they have a long adjustable strap. When you don’t have much to carry and need to be hands-free (like walking the dog), a small cross-body fills the bill. It’s ideal for running errands, plus a small cross-body makes for the perfect going-out bag in the evening; it keeps your wallet and phone safely stashed, and you don’t have to put it down anywhere if you prefer not to.

Left: Mansur Gavriel’s olive -green Mini Flap Leather Crossbody Bag, with beige canvas interior, looks like a wardrobe work horse. There are a few left at Neiman Marcus for $525. Bergdorf Goodman also has it in black for $495.

Right: Head to the party with Diane von Furstenberg’s Fringe Soirée suede convertible crossbody trimmed in swingy fringe ($398, Nordstrom). The compact cut offers enough room for essentials.

Backpacks:  Well-Being Editor Mary Carpenter swears by backpacks. They’re not for everyone, but in their favor, says Carpenter, “wearing a bag on one side, especially on the occasions when it gets heavy (when traveling), throws off my balance . . . and for my back, because of a little ‘adult onset scoliosis,’ I don’t want anything affecting one side of my body differently than the other. They are slightly inconvenient for getting things out of if there’s no place to rest the bag like next to a cash register—or going through a ticket line to board an airplane…. It’s easier to get whatever I need out before I’m standing there fishing around awkwardly. I also like having a front pocket that has just essentials—money and credit cards, so I know where they are. That saves some fishing around! Also, best to avoid leather because it makes everything heavier.”  If you’re in the market, new compact styles look downright chic.

MZ Wallace’s Metro Backpack ($245, MZ Wallace) checks all the boxes for a traveling companion with lots of compartments, zippered pockets and room for a water bottle on each side. The quilting gives the nylon fabric some interest and the straps are padded and comfy. The Metro comes in almost a dozen colors.

Left: Far from your everyday backpack, Manu Atelier’s backpack in suede ($465, is petite. The side-zipped pockets look convenient for stashing the stuff you need to get your hands on in a hurry. Right: I’m not a fan of Longchamp nylon bags, but this backpack ($495, nordstrom) appeals in part because it’s leather and also because it’s small—for those times when you don’t want or need to carry a lot but still prefer hands-free.

Belt bags: According to an eBay report on cultural milestones, popular pieces from the ‘80s and ‘90s (Adidas Superstars, Champion sweatshirts and fanny packs) are having a renaissance. In particular, the fanny pack showed a strong presence on spring 2018 runways. They’re such a far cry in style from the original ’90s version, you may just want to try one on. Not only have they improved exponentially in appearance, think of the practical value. Even when you’re going from room to room in your own home, if you kept your cell phone in a belt around your waist, you wouldn’t have to waste time looking all over for it.

Above: Snap Wandler’s Anna belt bag (now $500 in pale color-block variations at Netaporter) on your waist and be the coolest kid in the class. Barneys also has it in poppy red for $500. Below: Fanny packs have never looked as good. For fall, Boyy’s Devon Belt Bag comes in black or purple leather with a suede interior ($595, modaoperandi) and will stow your lipstick, cards or cell in the front pocket.

Clutches: The antithesis of hands-free, clutches are not the most practical for daily use. Although I’m quite fond of how sleek an oversized style looks tucked under an arm. Clutches provide more capacity and are shaped more like an envelope than a minaudière or box clutch. A minaudière is an accessory to evening wear in which you’re lucky to fit a lipstick and keys. Think Judith Leiber’s jeweled beauties.

Left: Slip your hand through the jeweled embellishment on Sophia Webster’s clutch (only one left at $346, Farfetch) and still have use of your fingers to pick up a cocktail or use the wrist strap to dangle the clutch from your hand.
Right: Clare V.’s clutch in black suede, decorated with dozens of tiny gold stars, folds over to make it more compact and easy to carry, with enough space for cell phone, cardholder and keys. Now $164.50 at Netaporter.
Below: Judith Leiber Couture’s eyeglasses-shaped minaudière, beaded with Austrian crystals, in champagne or silver color (now $3,746 at Neiman Marcus).


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One thought on “Need-to-Have Handbags: An Update

  1. Carol says:

    May have to try a beltbag! I was already thinking about what to do when the warm weather comes and I no longer wear a vest or hoodie around the house with a pocket for my phone!!! never liked the clutch bags as too impractical!

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