Saturday, 25 January 2014

Guide to Buying Purses and Handbags

Buying a new purse can be a major investment, as many top-quality bags sell for hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Wasting money on a handbag that turns out to be impractical, uncomfortable, or a poor fit with one’s wardrobe is never a good fashion move. It follows that anyone shopping for purses should have some idea of what she is looking for.
First, a shopper can learn about purses in general. Understanding how purses developed over time and breaking a purse down into its components results in better overall knowledge and more confidence when shopping.
Next, a shopper should decide what type of purse she wants. This is usually dictated by her lifestyle, daily routine, the amount of belongings that she wishes to put in the purse, how many other bags she carries (such as a diaper bag or briefcase), and the general image she desires to create.
Once she has decided on a purse type, a shopper can look into different styles of purses. The style refers to the overall shape and design. Many bags fall into clearly defined categories, while others are hybrids of different style elements.
The bag’s brand and material (which includes color and pattern) may also be factors in the decision making. Lastly, helpful purse accessories will round out a handbag purchase.

Purse History 

The first bags were worn by men to carry seeds, medicines, and other items related to their trades. By the 14th century, money pouches were tied to the waist, as pockets in garments did not yet exist. By this time, bags were carried by both sexes and were already considered status symbols. A luxurious bag with designs and decorations was the mark of a person of higher social standing, while plain bags indicated peasants.
Over the next several hundred years, purses evolved differently for men and women. Men used leather purses, much like coin purses or wallets, and eventually, pockets were sewn into trousers. On the other hand, women’s bags were made of increasingly ornate materials: often silk or velvet with intricate embroidery, tassels, and other accents. Women’s handbags were called by different names in different countries.
By the 1800s, opportunities for travel and the need for luggage led to the development of "handbags," which ladies could carry by themselves. Carpetbags were literally made out of Persian rugs and came in a variety of sizes, some like suitcases and others on the scale of smaller purses. Sturdier leather luggage and handbags began to be produced, and the handbag continued to evolve through the 20th century into a variety of styles and designs.
Acceptable men’s bags through the years have included briefcases and attaché cases, saddle bags, messenger bags, backpacks, military duffels, weekenders, camera bags, flight bags, and shaving kits, but generally not handbags per se. With the proliferation of modern electronic gadgets such as smartphones, tablet computers, MP3 players, Bluetooth headsets, earbuds, and the like, more men are starting to carry what is affectionately dubbed the "man purse" or "manbag," bringing history full circle.

Purses as Status Symbols

Over time, women’s handbags and purses have evolved from practical items to fashion statements to status symbols. Celebrities are often known for and photographed with their outrageously expensive designer bags. A huge counterfeit handbag industry has emerged in an attempt to satisfy consumers who cannot afford authentic designer bags but wish to project an image of wealth and high fashion.

Glossary of Purse Terms and Parts 

Understanding the different parts of a purse will help one understand product descriptions and make buying decisions. The following chart outlines some of the key terms that are used to define purses.




Mechanism used to close the purse
Drawstring, snap, zipper, toggle button, magnet, Velcro, kiss-lock, clasp
Refers to relatively short, usually rigid hand grips
Leather, synthetic leather, chain, metal, bamboo, wood, bone, plastic
Commonly long, flexible loops
Leather, synthetic leather, fabric
Fabric used to line the interior of the purse
Natural fabric, synthetic fabric, vinyl
A rigid top structure from which a soft bag is suspended; the closure is often a kiss-lock type which snaps shut
Usually metal but may be plastic or another hard material
(Usually) metal pieces
Zippers, snaps, buckles, clasp closures, spring clasps and loops used to attach removable straps, strap adjustments, rings connecting straps to bags, feet
Small nubs, typically four, found on the bottom of a flat-bottomed bag to keep it off of dirty surfaces
Metal, rubber, plastic

Types of Purses 

Purses can only be carried in a limited number of ways. Almost every purse falls into one of the following five general types. It should be noted that many handbags, wristlets, and clutches come with optional detachable shoulder straps for hands-free convenience, but a true shoulder bag is one that is intended to be worn primarily on the shoulder, with a permanently attached strap.

Type of Purse


Cross body bag
Features a long strap, sometimes adjustable, usually attached to the bag so that the strap lies flat when worn bandolier-style
Shoulder bag
Features a long, permanently affixed, often adjustable strap designed to be worn on the shoulder so that the bag itself hangs within easy reach of the hand
Typically features two stiff handles, one on either side of the opening, to be carried in the hand
Features a short strap at one end of a small bag that is meant to be worn on the wrist; the bag itself resembles a wallet or clutch
Features no handles or straps and is meant to be carried in the hand or the crook of the arm, although a long detachable chain or strap is sometimes included

Styles of Purses 

Purse style refers to the overall shape and functional design. The following chart details the most commonly seen styles.

Bag Style


Shaped like a miniature backpack, this type of bag can be worn on the back, with both straps over the shoulder, or carried in the hand
A small, narrow handbag
Bowling bag
Modeled after the bags used to carry bowling balls
A soft-sided, cylindrical bag, typically with a drawstring closure at the top; the bag is taller than it is wide
A small, slim, and sleek purse without handles or straps, often with a metal frame that clicks or snaps shut
Doctor’s bag
Modeled after a traditional doctor’s bag
A bag with a flat or slightly dipped top and a rounded bottom
An unstructured, crescent-shaped shoulder bag, typically on the larger side; loses shape and slouches when set down
Similar to a cross body or sling bag, this type of bag is worn by placing the strap over the head and on the opposite shoulder from the side of the body where the bag hangs
More unusual purses in funny shapes are usually carried by children but also by women with an avant-garde sense of style; purses may be in the shapes of animal heads, Chinese take-out containers, lunch boxes, and other whimsical objects
Often misclassified as a hobo bag, this bag has a slight crescent shape with a dip in the center, but the bag has more structure than a hobo; may feature equestrian accents
A structured bag with handles on either side of the opening and a flat bottom so that the bag can sit up on its own
A bag with a strap that attaches at the top and bottom and is slung over the shoulder like a backpack
A bag that is generally open at the top, although a few versions have zippers or snaps; most are on the large side for carrying many items

Brands of Purses 

Many women have a particular brand of bag in mind when they are shopping. They may admire bags carried by celebrities or friends, spot them in advertisements, or be loyal to a family favorite. The following chart breaks down popular purse makers by price range. While prices within each brand do vary, this chart will give a general idea on price points.

Price Range

Example Brands

Hermès, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Gucci, Prada, Fendi, Burberry
Coach, Kooba, Botkier, Foley + Carina
DKNY, The Sak, Kenneth Cole, Kate Spade, Dooney & Bourke
Etienne Aigner, Nine West, Vera Bradley, Liz Claiborne

Famous Purses in History

Some celebrities are upstaged by their designer purses. Modern history has many examples of iconic bags. Below are a few of the most recognized.

Chanel 2.55

This sleek quilted bag, which appeared on the fashion scene in 1955, was the first to use a chain as a strap. It is still a highly coveted bag and has inspired many lookalikes.

Hermès Kelly

Legendary actress and princess Grace Kelly used her prized Hermès handbag to conceal her slight baby bump during the early stages of her pregnancy. The bag, which was very prominent in photographs of the star, became an in-demand item. The designer renamed the particular style after Kelly.

Hermès Birkin

Another hit by the same designer, this bag was designed for singer/actress Jane Birkin upon her offhand request for a bigger, better Hermès bag. The company’s CEO granted her wish by creating a larger tote-style leather bag with short handles. The Birkin bag is one of the best-known bags in the fashion world. The waiting list for one is years long, and the price tag can easily be thousands of dollars.

Purse Materials

Selecting a bag is simpler if the buyer knows what she wants the bag to be made of. Genuine leather bags are classics, but purses are available in all sorts of materials, including but not limited to:
  • Exotic animal skins
  • Suede
  • Synthetic leather
  • Canvas
  • Quilting
  • Linen
  • Straw
  • Raffia
  • Crochet
  • Nylon
The green movement has led to the creation of bags created from recycled materials. These may be patchwork fabric bags made from cut-up textiles such as old bags, clothing, fabric remnants, and bed linens. Other recycled bags are pieced together from what would normally be considered trash: empty juice boxes and pouches, candy wrappers, and other discarded "trash"


Whatever the material, handbags come in the entire spectrum of colors, including:
  • Basic black and white
  • A whole range of brown tones, from dark chocolate to nude and ecru
  • Classic neutrals: cordovan, navy, and gray
  • Crayon hues
  • Ice cream pastels
  • Neon brights
  • Metallics
Darker-toned bags generally look more appropriate with fall and winter fashions, and lighter-toned bags are best for spring and summer, although a black or brown bag can work in warm weather if the design is right. Most women find that they need a minimum of two purses for each season: a muted tone in a subdued design to carry to work and a weekend bag in a fun hue. Ladies with an active night life should add a third bag, an evening clutch or minibag, in a metallic or black. Bag lovers will find reasons to add many more purses to their accessory wardrobes.
Most of the old rules about accessorizing have been overturned. For example, it now looks dated to match a purse to one’s shoes. Mixing it up has that "stylist" look. Mixing metallics, such as a gold bag with copper jewelry, is okay because metallics are considered neutrals that go with anything else. It is still rare to see a white bag in winter, but with a black coat and pants, it could look fresh if worn with confidence.


Patterns found in clothing are generally found in purses. Some examples include:
  • Paisley
  • Stripes
  • Polka dots
  • Plaid
  • Checks
  • Houndstooth
  • Florals
  • Graphic prints
Another common print on handbags which would not normally be found on clothing is the use of designer initials or monograms stamped repeatedly across the material to form a unique pattern. Some of the most notable of these are Louis Vuitton and Gucci.


Material alone is not always descriptive enough. For example, leather comes in smooth, pebbled, patent, and distressed treatments. Crochet may be flat and relatively smooth or have considerable texture arising from special stitches. Fabrics may be rough or silky to the touch.


As if the elements mentioned thus far did not offer enough combinations, still to be considered are decorative touches and accents such as:
  • Sequins
  • Beading
  • Lace
  • Tassels
  • Fringe
  • Embroidery
  • Patchwork
  • Cutwork
  • Tooling
  • Insets
  • Piping
  • Contrasting stitching

Purse Accessories

Purse accessories will help to organize a bag that lacks pockets. Certain accessories will also keep a bag clean and extend its useful life. The following table describes some helpful handbag accessories.

Handbag Accessory


Purse organizer
Keeps contents sorted in a purse with few interior pockets; also makes it easy to change bags quickly by simply lifting out the filled organizer and placing it inside another bag
Purse hook
Placed on the edge of a restaurant or cafe table, this hook suspends purses safely near their owners and keeps them off of dirty floors
Adds a fun touch of bling and personality to the exterior of a handbag
A small clutch expressly for carrying money: currency, coins, credit cards, and a checkbook; some also include a calculator, photo sleeves, or a notepad
Cosmetic bag
Keeps fragrances and makeup from potentially spilling into the bag

How to Buy the Perfect Purse 

Handbags and purses (and other accessories) are generally sold anywhere women’s fashions are sold. Traditional brick-and-mortar stores include not only designer boutiques, outlets, department stores, and discount retailers, but also consignment shops and thrift stores. Alternative sources for purses include street vendors, craft fairs, yard sales, flea markets, auctions, and bazaars. Online buying options include eRetailers, classified ads, and auction sites.

How to Buy a Purse on

Because there are so many beautiful and stylish bags available, a shopper will have a much easier time making a decision if she can narrow down her options in terms of type, style, or brand, or a combination of those elements. Shopping blind and going on instinct works for some people, but this can take a long time, resulting in frustration and possibly a poor decision. By understanding purse history, options, and accessories, buying the perfect purse is in the bag.


  1. Nice article, which you have described very well about the Handbags. Your article is very useful for those who are looking to buy Online Women Items at an affordable price. thanks for sharing..

  2. I wanted to thank you for this excellent read. Thank you for taking time to share about the hand bag. If you are looking for the drag queen accessories then visit us on drag queen accessories

  3. It feels awe-inspiring to read such informative and distinctive articles on your websites. seeking for the online boutique shop then, is here for your all your boutique need. To know more about us you can visit on Choices & More boutique