choosing a handbag

ndwc_fall 2016 handbags

reader request

A client recently asked me to write a post on handbags. She said, “How do you choose a handbag? Write a post on that! I never know what is the best thing to carry.” That’s because there are so. many. choices. And you have to find the one that is right for you.

Handbags, like accessories, are very personal choices. You can follow trends, but what works for one person may be disastrous for another. When choosing a handbag, think carefully about both style and function.

Here are some guidelines to help you select something you will love.

match your activities

What kind of handbag you carry says a lot about who you are. Back in my college days, I prided myself in not being a “purse girl.” I had a leather book satchel that I loved, and if I wasn’t going to class, I grabbed my wallet and headed out. If my college self could see me now…

There are so many choices for handbags. Being intentional about what you carry not only meets your needs, but also expresses your personal style, which feels great.

I have a 2-3 different handbags for the warm season and for the cold season. I also have a couple of small dressy handbags, one a deep purple and one black, for the rare occasion that I really dress up, and one formal clutch. Each of these are classic in design so that they won’t go out of style, since I use them so infrequently.

For the everyday handbags, I like to have slightly different sizes for different needs. As I said, I tend to fill up my handbags – I like to be prepared for whatever might come up, like weather (small umbrella and sunglasses), stopping for groceries (fold-up reusable bag), minor injuries (I once was without Bandaids when my then 3-year old daughter had a major crash and required many of them – I’ve carried a little first aid kit ever since! Mom guilt.). I have to be careful not to get a handbag that is too large, or I will fill it up and be lugging around too much weight all the time!

I like multiple pockets on the inside and outside of the bag, so I can put my phone and keys in a handy place, zip my wallet into a safe place, store my sundries without them making a mess. Pockets are a high priority for me, so I make sure any bag I select has them. I hate rootling around in the bottom of the bag to find something.

I’m currently looking for a high quality crossbody bag that isn’t too sporty or too small to use when I’m working with clients. During personal shopping sessions, carrying a handbag along with the clothing we collect for try-ons can become cumbersome.

Different bags serve different needs – embrace your lifestyle and find something that fits it well.

When choosing your own handbag, really think about what its purpose will be. Is it something you’d like to use as a work satchel/tote? A larger, structured leather tote is a great choice for you. Something to throw on while you’re out and about with the kids? A crossbody or hobo-style shoulder bag could work well. Something for traveling frequently? Again a crossbody or a large tote with a smaller handbag for once you arrive. Or something to make a bold style statement? The sky’s the limit!

Different bags serve different needs – embrace your lifestyle and find something that fits it well. Otherwise, you will feel frustrated. Choose a color or pattern that appeals to you (it does not have to be black or brown!) and make sure it feels comfortable to carry it. I’ve had purses that constantly slid off my shoulder – talk about feeling frustrated! I rarely choose shoulder bags because of this.

Sources: Image 1, Image 2, Image 3

pay attention to size

In terms of function, make sure the bag is large enough to hold everything you must carry, but not too large. A bag that is over- or under-filled can look wonky. If it is a crossbody or shoulder bag, make sure the strap or handles are the right length to fit your body comfortably.

If you are a petite person, you want to select a bag that does not overpower you. Choosing a smaller bag will look more balanced and be easier on your back.

invest in quality

It is worth it to spend more on a handbag that will last. I can be kind of hard on my handbags. I take care of them, but I’m always accidentally banging them into things, I tend to carry a lot in them, and they get regular use. I don’t like to change bags with every outfit, so I tend to use the same one for weeks at a time, which can lead to faster wear and tear. Higher quality construction holds up better to my clumsiness and to regular use.

don’t be afraid to have fun

Black and brown are very functional colors, but don’t be afraid to branch out! Handbags do not need to match your shoes, and a statement color can add polish to your outfit. Red is a gorgeous statement color that goes with almost everything. Burgundy and rich jewel tones are great for fall, and summer brights add a lot of fun to outfits in the warm seasons. There are also so many beautiful shapes, prints, patchwork, appliqués, embroidery or embellishments that make handbags true works of art. Choose something that speaks to you, and carry it with confidence.

shop new-to-you

I buy all of my handbags new-to-you. That way I can buy higher quality without blowing my budget as well as know I am practicing sustainable consumerism. I find amazing handbags at consignment stores – there is always a great selection, varying from mall brands to high-end designers, that are barely used – if at all.

New-to-you online shopping venues thredUP and the RealReal have a great selection of good quality handbags. Both websites provide photos, dimensions, and item specifics and are very accurate in reporting the level of wear of their products. Handbags are final sale on both sites.

In the Twin Cities, Fashion Avenue is a great place to find high-end designer bags at ~1/3 their original cost. Think Kate Spade and Coach on up to Chanel, Prada, and more. A personal shopping client recently found a gorgeous burgundy (a fall trend color) Longchamp shoulder clutch there.

Elite Repeat (St. Paul) and Nu Look (Minneapolis) consistently have lovely designer handbags, and Turn Style (multiple locations) has a wide range of more affordable to designer bags.

how to: jumpstart spring with silk scarves

Silk scarves – think Hermès and classic French style – continue to be on trend and are a perfect, easy way to help an outfit feel fresh and bright for Spring. Silk (or well-made faux-silk) instantly bumps up polish and style in a casual outfit and adds an element of dressy fun and interest to workwear.

And they are easy to come by. Most of us have vintage scarves from our grandmothers, mothers, and even ourselves hanging out in our dressers. You can also easily find them new-to-you at very affordable prices.

“How do I wear them without looking like an old lady?” you say.

First, don’t wear it this way. The Queen is allowed, but we aren’t, unless we are riding in a vintage convertible and channeling Grace Kelly.

The key is to make the scarf the statement piece and to go for simple, clean lines with the rest of the outfit. The French look fabulous with their scarves because they pair them with classic pieces like a blue blazer, a crisp white or striped collared shirt, or a simple shift dress. Going otherwise monochromatic with the outfit is a great contemporary way to wear them. Navy, black, white, and gray are good colors for highlighting the print of a silk scarf.

The scarf print is entirely up to you – I’m drawn to bold floral and geometric prints. You can go classic with paisley or more traditional florals or embrace signature designer styles. Do choose scarves that have saturated colors – you want it to pop, not wash out your complexion.

Check out these super simple ties and have fun!

the classic knot

Use a small square scarf folded in a triangle and then rolled with the points tucked inside. Take care to make a tidy knot, and wear it in front or off to the side. I’m wearing it with a boatneck tee here, and you can also pair it with a collared shirt or jacket.

the choker tie

choker tie

If you feel too much like a 1970s stewardess wearing the classic knot (you aren’t!), you can push the knot to the back for a choker tie. A collar or your hair can cover the knot, or you can sweep your hair up in a bun or ponytail to highlight the knot.

the French twist

french twist tie

This tie works best with a long, skinny scarf like the one I’m wearing, or you can triangle-fold and roll a large square. Start from the front of your neck and wrap the scarf around once or twice, depending on how long you want the tails of the scarf to be. Make a tidy knot off to the side.

the loose tie

loose knot

Triangle-fold and roll a large square and make a low, loose knot. This goes particularly well with a blazer or over a fitted, collared shirt. Aim for the knot hitting just above the bustline for balanced lines, and plump the scarf a little above the knot for a soft look.

the wrist tie

wrist tie

This is a colorful alternative to a bracelet and has oodles of style. I tied this one ALL BY MYSELF using the method in this tutorial with one tweak: I did the slipknot on the outside of my wrist and tied the final knot on the inside so I could use both hands to tie it and then slid it around. You can use a long skinny scarf as demonstrated in the tutorial, or a small square triangle-folded and rolled like I did.

the purse tie

purse tie

So easy. And so fun! Tie a small square in a classic knot around one purse handle. Fabulous. (Hint: No other scarves when one is on your purse – overkill.)

where to buy

My favorite places to buy new-to-you scarves in the Twin Cities are Second Debut in St. Louis Park and St. Paul, Elite Repeat in St. Paul, and Fashion Avenue in Edina.

Second Debut is owned by Goodwill and pulls designer and high quality items from their donations to sell there. They consistently have gorgeous vintage silk scarves – I purchased the skinny black and blue floral, the neutral circle print, and the orange and pink geometric print scarves there.

The long multi-colored swirl print scarf is from Elite Repeat, and I have found several other scarves there as well, including a long skinny silk Coach scarf in winter colors.

If you have a yen for designer scarves, Hermès included, Fashion Avenue is the place to go. I purchased a gorgeous textured plum winter scarf by Armani Collezioni for a fraction of its original price there last month. Their stock is just lovely.

your turn

What silk scarves do you have hiding in your wardrobe? Pull them out and give them a whirl for Spring! Often they have memories of loved ones attached to them as well – post a picture of your favorite and share a memory in the comments below.