Handbag Hunting: Choosing The Right Handbag

Handbag Hunting: Choosing the Right Handbag

"A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous."
Gabrielle Chanel

Choosing the perfect handbag is a balance between practicality and style.  You need to consider your lifestyle and how you will use the bag.   You want to get a bag that will last you over time and will express your own personal style.

Here are some things to consider when shopping around for your next handbag:

How will you use your bag?
Do you go to work in an office, a school or are you out and about all day running errands and meeting clients?  Is your work attire formal business, business casual or do you work from home and occasionally step out to meet people. 

Do you anticipate your bag might get a little dirty from time to time?  
If so, you may want to choose something that does not have lining and cannot be easily damaged by the things you put in it.  For example, when I bring my indoor heels, lunch bag to work or little extras, I use a French tote.  
This one is not lined inside so it can take a beating.  Plus, the leather has a rustic look so the more it is used, the more beautiful the leather gets. 

However, it is casual so it may not be appropriate for meeting clients or on days when wearing a suit.  I like to use it for carrying the occasional bulky items.  
Totes and shoppers are so convenient because you can easily access them from the top and can carry it while it is open.  

Do you travel light?
If you only need your wallet, agenda, phone, iPod, keys and perhaps an iPad you have a lot more freedom to be stylish.  Look for something that has a main compartment and a few compartments for easy access to your electronic devices.  

What is the right size?
If you choose a bag that’s too small, you end up carrying more than one bag.  My personal preference is to carry a medium sized bag with top handles to be able to wear it on my arm or sling it cross body.  The convenience of wearing it messenger style is great; when it gets heavy I can sling it over my shoulder so if I am in a rush or with my kids I have both my hands free to multi-task.

How strong are you? 
One thing for sure, the leather on some finely made bags are amazing and luscious, but some of these bags are heavy!  Will you be lugging this bag around all day or simply be heading to the office?  Don't get one that is too big for what you need it for.
What colour is your outerwear?
If it matters to you that you don’t clash then this is a good question.  However, these days you can pretty much get away with anything.   

My coats are generally neutral tones like creme, black, brown or camel.  I know…boring, but my bag never clashes.  So if you can pull it off, I say…go for it!

How long is your commute?  Do you get to work by car, train, walk?
This may be another factor in determining if you want a messenger style bag rather than a top handle bag.  So all you have to do is be concerned with walking and will have your hands free to grab a coffee on the way in.  I have heard the argument that messenger bags are too casual but I assure you, there are many fine messengers that you would give a second glance.  For example, Louis Vuitton Speedy bags all have a detachable shoulder strap now, and a honorable mention to the Bloomsbury GM.

What is the weather like where you live?
Most leather bags are affected by extended exposure to moisture from rain, snow or humidity. 

Anything made with soft lamb, goat, suede or untreated leather that turns patina (where it tans over time), stain if anything wet lands on it.  And as the leather darkens over time, so will the stain.  But if your heart is set on one of these delicious bags, consider getting a colour where any discoloration will be less obvious. 
How about weather treating the bag?
If you are thinking of treating the leather on your own…DON’T.  I have also heard many horror stories of people spraying over the counter leather sprays on high end leather bags and ruining the leather forever.  Hire a leather professional that knows handbags and ask for past references or pictures of past work.  Some leather “professionals” don’t know how to treat high end bags and can deface your investment in no time. 

Do you work with young children who will be near your bag?
Same thing…watch out for stains and liquids.

What is your budget?
Not everyone is looking to spend a huge amount of money on a bag.  However, the investment can be worth it.  I have experimented with going cheap and cheap is what I got.  Cheap bags rarely last long.  With lower end bags I’ve found the snaps, buckles or zippers break quickly, the stitching breaks or unravels, or the corners get worn through.  You may have to do the occasional repair to a higher end bag but often, the repair is much less than replacing the whole bag.

Are you “green” conscious?
Lower end bags won’t cost you as much.  Sure..you can easily buy a new one when they need replacing when it wears out.  You may spend less, but you create more waste. Most good quality handbag makers have repair services which will cost you but the piece can be worn for a long time.  So you create less waste by hanging on to it longer.  Some last so long, they can even be re-sold.  Better yet, buy your bag vintage.

Handbags are one of the few items that when put it on, it can transform the entire feel of what you are wearing.  Whatever your choice for handbag, wear it with pride and take good care of it.  As Gabriel Chanel once said, "Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman."

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