13 Classic Handbags to Add to Your Wardrobe
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Yes, you need more than one bag in your wardrobe
While the best classic bags are certainly versatile, there’s no one-size-fits-every-occasion purse out there, which is why top stylists suggest building a small collection of core bags that offer timeless style. After all, the bag you use when you’re running errands or heading to a business casual meeting is just not the same one you’ll be carrying at your friend’s black-tie wedding.
The bottom line? Bags are a smart investment, and if you choose wisely, you will have them for years to come. “You will never look back at a classic bag and think, I shouldn’t have spent the money on a quality bag,” explains Bernadett Vajda, an internationally acclaimed fashion model and a professional image and style consultant. “With a classic bag, the maintenance is low to none.” Plus, having the right bag is one of the simple fashion upgrades that can make you look expensive. From a roomy yet stylish everyday tote to the perfect nighttime clutch, here’s what you should have in your closet.
Note: Prices listed were accurate as of press time; pricing fluctuations may occur.
The work-friendly top-handle bag
The structure and practicality of a top-handle bag make it a classic choice for an everyday purse. Find one in a neutral color (black and nude are always safe) in a size that’s big enough to hold your essentials, and keep your hands free by purchasing a style that comes with a removable shoulder strap. “Investing in a classic black medium-size bag with or without a logo will be worth every penny. Just think of the cost per wear (CPW),” says Vajda. “The theory behind CPW is the cost of the item plus the cost of maintenance divided by the number of times you will wear it. With a classic bag, the maintenance is low to none, leaving you with a day bag you can wear with every outfit and for generations to come.”
Try this Radley London Southwark Remastered bag for a roomy play on a timeless design. The classic construction with handle options and a detachable crossbody strap will make it your go-to wardrobe staple for years to come. If you want more options, here are the best work bags for women. Don’t miss these style secrets of women who always look put together.
A relaxing weekend trip deserves a quality bag to match, and weekender styles double as perfect carry-on bags. Try a small duffel in a neutral shade, or the forever-favorite black that Vajda suggests to her clients. Pro tip: Don’t be afraid to venture into the men’s department for this one—the overnight bags there tend to be sturdier than the ones in the women’s department.
This Lulu Dharma Weekender bag is an affordable way to spruce up your love of neutral colors and bring all your favorite essentials on an overnight trip.
The evening crossbody bag
This is your go-to bag for a night on the town. The bag should be large enough to hold your wallet, keys, and a bit of makeup, but not so large that it becomes a nuisance. “Everyone loves a crossbody bag with removable straps,” says Victoria Sanchez-Lincoln, a former fashion director at major glossy magazines including Real Simple and Latina. “This way, it can be used as a clutch and also as a smaller bag inside a larger tote. Go for a soft leather that can expand so you can stuff in more things.”
This Makeda Crossbody from Parker Clay is the perfect example of versatility, supple leather, and quality that can be worn from day to night. What else should you have in your closet? These 14 classic dresses that every woman should own.
The everyday tote
“Consider the tote for all four seasons, and size matters,” quips Vajda. “Keep it proportional to your frame—make sure it’s not too big and doesn’t cover half your body. For the tote to work all four seasons, stay away from logos and keep it a solid color. There are great leather and vegan options to keep the cost down and you won’t worry if it gets scuffed or dirty.”
Try this Leatherology Aleena Tote in buttery-soft leather for a polished casual look that will stand the test of time. Check out the 15 fashion rules you should know by the time you’re 40.
A sensible luggage set
Not only will quality luggage get you through airport security in style, but it’s also more likely to hold up to the wear and tear of travel. Look for one in a standout color you’ll be able to identify on the luggage carousel. While we’re on the subject, here are another 16 travel tips for smooth flying.
Try this eBags Moonlight 2-Piece Spinner Set, which comes with two versatile sizes of protective luggage. It’s perfect for a long journey for one, or easily shared with a loved one.
The daytime crossbody bag
Don’t be afraid to choose a bag in a color that makes a statement. A cherry red, bold blue, or bright green works perfectly in all four seasons. If that’s not you, look for one in a nude tone with an interesting design or a neutral brown with textural elements.
You’ll fall in love with this high-quality Loeffler Randall Mackenzie Crossbody in an always-fashionable cognac-brown shade. The croc-embossed leather bag will be your go-to for running errands, meeting up with friends, and milling about. Of course, there’s a lot more to your look than just your bag. Find out the 51 fashion secrets personal stylists won’t tell you for free.
A trendy mini backpack
This type of bag is always handy—and not just because it frees up your actual hands. Mini backpacks are a trendy way to incorporate bolder colors, fabrics, and hardware finishes into your everyday look, and they’re typically affordable. They’re also a great way to evenly distribute weight.
Try this Solar Eclipse Shell Beach Backpack in eye-catching rosé pearl or byron blue, and wear it year after year with different outfits to keep the look on trend. Using a mini backpack is also a good way to make sure your backpack isn’t too heavy.
A versatile diaper bag
Whether you’re currently a mom or planning to be one in the future, a timeless diaper bag is one of the essential bags you’ll rely on for years at a time—especially if you plan on having more than one child. “A diaper bag has to be both functional and stylish,” explains Sanchez-Lincoln. “Plus, it should have compartments, offer easy access, and be machine-washable.”
Thankfully, carrying a diaper bag doesn’t mean you have to look like you’re carrying a load of potentially gross gear. The right bag will have the style of a purse you’d wear without kids and the function of one you couldn’t survive a day at the playground without. Try this 7AM Enfant BK718 Backpack for a city-chic approach to parenting. Before you check out, you might also want to buy some of these under-$50 finds at Target that only look expensive.
One really good designer bag
Yes, it’s expensive, but it’s worth it. “Everyone needs one of these,” says Levine. “We all drool over and obsess over a certain bag or a certain designer. This type of bag is usually something you save up for and you keep for years. Sometimes you even pass it down in the family.”
Think of it this way: A good designer bag can elevate your typical jeans and tees, little black dresses, or other looks, so you’ll be getting a lot of bang for your buck. You can also get one at a discount if you know where to look. Head to stores like Marshalls, T.J. Maxx, and Nordstrom Rack to find name brands for a lot less than at major department stores. This gorgeous Salvatore Ferragamo bag, for instance, is marked down by more than $600 at Nordstrom Rack.
An easily packed clutch
A clutch bag is like the little black dress of accessories, readily lending itself to both daytime and nighttime occasions and easily packed in luggage for vacation ensemble options. “It’s perfect for date night, but also for not carrying a huge purse,” says Levine of this wardrobe staple. “It’s easy to travel light with a clutch, add a statement, a pop of color, or play with prints and texture to an otherwise simple outfit.”
This Chico’s Camo-Print Clutch is a fun spin on classic neutrals that works all year round. Pair it with denim, khaki, or your favorite little black dress for a small statement that packs a serious punch.
A modern fanny pack
Fanny packs are back, and they’re bolder than ever, thanks to modern styling and fun punches of color. Sure, you can wear one in casual settings slung across your hips, but the most up-to-date iteration of this vintage look is to wear it more prominently on your chest, resting casually across your preferred shoulder like a sash of fashion honor.
Try this happy-hued Fjällräven High Coast Rowan Hip Pack for a sporty, easy-to-care-for take on this bold bag maneuver.
A polished hands-free belt bag
Try weaving a petite and polished leather belt bag through your denim belt loops or pencil skirt for a hands-free way to carry your most important items, like your keys, money, lip balm, and phone. It’s an upscale, elevated take on the fanny pack, and you can wear it in business-casual settings, on date night, and out with friends.
This Linea Pelle Belt Bag pairs beautifully with a tailored ensemble. Just be aware that it comes in belt sizing, so you’ll need to select the right size for a perfectly proportioned look. If this little accessory inspires you to lighten up all of your bags, check out these ways to downsize your heavy purse.
A do-it-all gym bag
Make sure you have an affordable, do-it-all gym bag that works just as hard carrying your sweatbands and water bottles as it does doubling as an extra weekend duffel in a pinch. Opt for lightweight, easy-to-clean fabrics that express your personal style, and choose a bag with enough interior real estate to pack bulky items like your sneakers, a towel, and other necessary items.
This Athleta Kinetic Gym Duffel is made of easy-to-clean, Earth-friendly recycled nylon. It also boasts specific shoe storage compartments, as well as several zippers to keep everything neatly tucked away. And you can’t beat the fun color!
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- Bernadett Vajda, an internationally acclaimed fashion model and a professional image and style consultant
- Victoria Sanchez-Lincoln, a former fashion director at major glossy magazines including Real Simple and Latina
- Ali Levine, a celebrity stylist and fashion expert