I love handbags. I do not believe that a woman can own too many handbags. I am, however, surprised by how many women are carrying the wrong handbag–wrong size, wrong season, wrong material. Your bag is more than just a home for your cell phone; it’s an integral part of your wardrobe. The wrong bag can completely undermine an outfit. It’s time to ditch the wrong bag and find one that really works for you.
Think first about size, both the size of the bag and YOUR size. A good rule of thumb is this: bigger women can carry bigger bags, and vice versa. If you are petite, a very large tote can easily overwhelm you; by the same token, a teeny tiny bag can make a larger woman look even larger. If you are on the small side, stick with smaller bags; if you need a tote, chose one that is long rather than wide. If you are larger, particularly if you are big-chested, avoid little bags that tuck under your armpit; for evening, go with a beautiful hand-held bag, and for daytime chose something with a little substance.
Next, think about function. What will you be doing while you are toting this particular bag? What will you be putting inside it? For example, if you are spending most of your day with a potty training child, you probably need a bag big enough to carry a change (or two) of clothes. If you are child-free during the day, you can opt for something smaller. If you are the type of person who really CAN leave the house during the day with just a cell phone and a lipstick, go with a small bag all the time. I fall somewhere in the middle; I only rarely carry anything child-related any more, but I need my Filofax and my wallet and three pocket packs of Kleenex and a whole makeup bag of I don’t know what all.
I am partial to a medium sized tote or hobo for everyday, because I always seem to have a lot of stuff in my bag. I also prefer something with an open top, so that I can easily find my cell phone and car keys, but if you are travelling, you might want something that closes, to keep your things from falling out in the security checks. Finally, I like a bag that I can sling over my shoulder, leaving my hands free for coffee and tethering my children in parking lots.
For evening, I am all about the embellished clutch or very small shoulder bag. I really like the idea of a bag you can hold in your hand–think how stylish and sexy Carrie Bradshaw’s clutches were–but if you prefer to keep both hands free–say, to hold a drink and shake hands with Important People–look for a bag with a SHORT shoulder strap, something that tucks up in your armpit. Do not–DO NOT–chose an evening bag with a waist-length strap. Also, steer clear of bags with “rope” handles (you know what I mean); they look cheap. Instead, look for a bag with a chain strap, or a strap that matches the material of the bag itself. I have a small beaded bucket bag with a short beaded strap. Lovely.
When you shop for a bag, think about what you will be wearing when you carry it. If you are shopping for a winter bag, put a big coat on and THEN pick the bag up. A hobo that fits snugly over your t-shirt-clad shoulder may NOT go over the shoulder of your winter coat. When you are looking at tote bags, test the weight; put your existing bag inside the new bag and walk around the store. This will give you a sense of how the bag will look and feel when it’s fully loaded. Carry a clutch in your hand as you browse. Are you comfortable with it, or do you find yourself constantly tucking it up in your armpit?
Regardless of what you are carrying, don’t overload your bag; it’s bad for the bag and it’s not pretty. If you find that you are jamming a million things into your teeny bag, either get rid of some of the things or get a bigger bag.
Some of you, I know, are mommies of smaller kids, those who still need diapers and wipes and extra clothes and sippy cups and . . . . You should be extra cautious about overloading your bag. I see moms everywhere who are either carrying a diaper bag that is bursting at the seams or toting TWO separate bags, one for the baby and one for the mommy. This is just silly; for starters, you don’t have to take EVERYTHING with you every time you leave the house. When Henry was a baby, I carried my own Tylenol, everywhere, JUST IN CASE, and I never once needed it. However, it did leak all over the diaper bag on more than one occasion. Think carefully about what you really REALLY need; you can always keep spare diapers and another change of clothes in your car or tucked in the stroller basket (if you’re a walker and not a driver). Keep the stuff in the diaper bag to a minimum, just like you would with any other bag.
Then there is the whole dilemma of the diaper bag itself. You aren’t required to carry a bag that looks like a diaper bag; there are some really great bags out there, many of which don’t look at all like baby gear. Look for a bag that resembles something you would carry if you DIDN’T have a baby; Target has a nice selection of diaper bags, many of which look like cool totes (in other words, they are not embroidered with bunnies. Avoid the bunnies). Or skip the waterproof diaper bag all together and choose a tote that accomodates everything you need. I found that I never used most of the stuff that makes a diaper bag a Diaper Bag–the Attached Waterproof Pouch, for example, wasn’t big enough for Henry’s dirty clothes. I carried ziplock bags and stashed icky things in them. Whatever you do, though, don’t carry more than one bag; if you want to keep your things separate from the baby’s, store them in a small clutch that you can pull out on its own.
Finally, this: I don’t think that you need to spend a fortune on a handbag; in fact, I tend to steer clear of very high-end bags, because INEVITABLY those damn antibacterial hand wipes will leak all over the lining, and that stuff does NOT come out. HOWEVER, I do think that very VERY low end bags–those made of Clearly Not Natural Materials–should be avoided at all costs. Fake leather is a big NO, girls. Fake ANYTHING, actually. Shop end-of-season sales and look for classic styles; I’ve bought a couple of bags at the Gap recently for about a third of their original price; two were leather and one was a lovely suede. Don’t be afraid to buy a nicer bag, don’t be afraid to take proper care of it, and don’t be afraid to retire it when it gets sad looking. Just be sure it’s the right bag for your life and your style.