Closet 101 Style

My Perfect Handbag List

I recently received a question from a reader (hello L!) about putting together the perfect “bag wardrobe.” L had just graduated from college and was ready to start building a more professional and “longer term” wardrobe, and invest in key accessories, but wanted to make sure they were the right ones.

I think this is a great way to think about one’s closet. I know that for myself, I purchased haphazardly for years trying out all kinds of various bags until I figured out what my “must haves” were and the various functions they would fill. I sat down and wrote out my must haves as well as nice to haves for my definition of a perfect and well rounded handbag collection. I tried to provide some examples but there are so many bags out there – make sure to explore!

From left to right: the shoulder bag, the convertible clutch, and the work bag.

The Must Have Bags

The Shoulder Bag. Easy to carry, doesn’t take up too much space, and you can put all your every day goodies into it. Something easy to take from walking around running errands in the day, to meeting your friends for a drink at night. Neutral color like black, brown, tan.

Something like: The classic Bottega hobo, and a little more nicely priced M by MJ hobo bag. 

The Work Bag. Something understated, preferably without noticeable logos that you can take to interviews. Fits what you typically need to bring for work, including a laptop and files. Looks professional. If you’re really minimalist, this can probably be combined with the shoulder bag, but I would find my work bag too unwieldy for everyday activity. Neutral color.

Examples: This classic Prada tote, or the ubiquitous and very useful Longchamp tote

The Convertible Clutch. Honestly you can just get a regular clutch, but I am very clumsy so most of the time, I appreciate ones that have a strap. This will be a bag that will take you from weddings to nice dinner outs, office parties and more. Tuck the strap in for a more formal look. If you’re going to only have one of these, I think it should be black or close to it.

A $$$ version is this Prada clutch , less heavy on your wallet is this M by MJ style. 

Once you get the Must Haves checked off, you can start adding….

From left to right: the handheld bag, and the colorful bag

The Nice to Have Bags

The Cross-body Bag. Something to use casually and when you’re running around and need to be hands free. All my friends who have young children use these quite a lot, they can also be great when traveling. You can have a small one that’s light and maybe add a larger one. I included my Nano as an example here, but my favorite is actually a Talbots bag that I use quite often – I’ll have to take a picture soon!

Another example is this M by MJ that I’ve always found adorable.

The Handheld Bag. An accessory that makes you feel like a lady. And that ideally comes with an optional shoulder strap for those times your hands are full.

The Colorful Bag. If you’re a neutral lover like me, you tend to opt towards “neutral” bags that can match with everything. However, nothing beats a bright color for adding some interest in your outfit. And I’ve found that colors like red, yellow, blue and chartreuse match with more items than you may originally think!

I personally have added this yellow Bottega to my list as a future possibility in this category! 

The Hold Everything Bag: To me, this is a bag similar to the work bag but that is a little more casual – that you would take on a casual day to the supermarket or while traveling for pleasure. If you’re a student, you might use it for school. I’m still looking for my perfect one ( thoughI have some in mind).

From left to right: the crossbody bag, the bright clutch, and the hold everything bag

The “It’s Summer!” Bag. I don’t really have one of these. There are some bags that I just think look perfect in the summer – little straw totes, white/canvas colors, fun summer prints. I’d love to add one but I’m always afraid of getting a light color dirty. Maybe I will look into cheaper options.

The Beach Bag. The name is self explanatory, right? Something you can bring on vacation when you head to the beach. Ideally waterproof and something you won’t be bothered about if you get sand in it (which is impossible to get out).

The Bright Clutch. A black one should suit most purposes, but I also think a bright colored clutch looks wonderful against neutral evening wear. It will make you stand out!

I still get the most compliments on my brightly colored YSL clutch (which comes in all sorts of colors).

Note that I tried not to include specific brand names in my main descriptions, because I do think that sometimes we can get attached to a very specific brand/style, and not just the function. I know this is something that I often do, thinking, “I want to get a blue Chanel flap bag!” instead of thinking, “I’d like to get a neutral colored shoulder bag that would work for day/night.” In the past I’ve been overly fixated about a particular brand/style, and just ended up just filling that particular want instead of a genuine need in my wardrobe.

Writing this list took way longer than I thought, and made me realize that there’s still quite a few gaps that I need to fill in my closet, and that I have to stop getting distracted by pretty things along the way. I hope this was helpful to some of you, and would love to hear your comments/feedback – what’s on your “must have” bag list? Do you disagree with anything I had, and what would you add?

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  • TripsTreasures
    April 16, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    Thanks for this post, very interesting. Your collection of bags is amazing, but its great you also consider those of us with a smaller budget 🙂

    I love that Céline Nano bag, can I ask you the price of that one ? I always wondered what it was compared to the big Celine lugguga bag. ( which costs here around 1300 euros I think, not sure )

    B. x

  • Lilli
    April 16, 2012 at 12:57 pm

    fab bags!:) love them all!

  • Couture Coco
    April 16, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    This is one of your most useful and interesting posts Katherine! Umm I'm going through your list wayyyy retrospectively lol. Truly this is the conclusion I reached from starting my closet audit and this year specifically focusing on my accessories and bags. Other bag lists I've found are too short and I'm like but I need and use more than 3 bags in my life. Love that your list is totally comprehensive to a woman's life and her lifestyle throughout the year – thank you!

  • Jessie Ooi
    April 16, 2012 at 1:02 pm

    Like this post!

  • Cee
    April 16, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    Reading through your list made me realize that I've got some gaps in my "collection" 😉 All kidding aside, from one bag lover to another, I agree whole-heartedly with this list. It's all about finding bags that work with your lifestyle. At the top of the list for me might be a work appropriate bag with a long strap that works cross-body. I found that in the Chloe Gemma, only two years too late for now I can't even find a used one anywhere!

  • Adele
    April 16, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    This is such a fab post Katherine. I have the Prada classic tote & LOVE it!
    Happy Monday hun xoxo

  • lareinarumbera
    April 16, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    This is a well-edited and thoughtful list. I would add that for different lifestyles, the "must haves" and the "nice to haves" might be different (or switched over from your categories)… For example, if you're very active or enjoy walking around a lot, a cross-body bag might be a "must have" while the classic shoulder bag might be a "nice to have" (I personally prefer a shoulder bag that comes with a removable strap so it can be worn both ways).

    Although my bag closet is about… 10 bags in total, I find myself carrying pretty much only 2 of them – 1 navy blue nylon tote (the "social cabby" by lug bags) which protects my laptop and holds all my things for the workday and a small coach bucket bag I bought like, 8 years ago (this was my first "expensive" bag purchase).

  • Michelleesque
    April 16, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    Oh my goodness, this is mighty amazing! I love your work bag the most!


  • Sylwia from the sign of design
    April 16, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    Fantastic post!:)

  • pursuing poise
    April 16, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    This is such a good informative post!

  • Anonymous
    April 16, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    YEs me too, I needed a really good day to day bag I can go to work with and also wear it on the weekends (for the trips to shopping etc) and last week I bought the Prada tote and recived a lot of compliments so far. I defenitly suggest this bag for anyone who cant afford the Hermes Birkin Bag.

  • Lisa
    April 16, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    What a great post! One that will hopefully keep us focused on key needs since there are so many options out there! I recently purchased a Givenchy Nightingale in an electric blue for my first 'color' bag…I tend to go very neutral. I would love to find a cross body that is not too big (like all my other purses) and not too small (kids, I need to carry some stuff)…that's been a challenge! 🙂 I can't help but drool at your Hermes purses….especially the perfect colors, can go with anything and so very classic!

  • Chic 'n Cheap Living
    April 16, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    Yes what a great idea! I totally do this with my ideal wardrobe list. I'm thinking of a fun WOC or other convertible clutch, great cross body bag for work, statement clutch (like a McQueen), and a classic cross body (a 2.55 bag has been on my list forever!)

    Chic 'n Cheap Living

  • The Jones
    April 16, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    Total agreement on this…I could be content with a big work bag, clutch, and shoulder bag, but those colourful handbags, bright purses, and summery totes are great additions too. LOVE your red quilted Chanel, oh my stars!

    <3 Cambria

    Enter my Shabby Apple GIVEAWAY!!!

  • Cette Petite
    April 16, 2012 at 4:38 pm

    I love this! It's so informative and fun, plus the illustrations are to die for.
    Now, if you could teach me how to switch between bags without inevitably leaving out something important.

  • Katherine
    April 16, 2012 at 4:45 pm

    Good question! How about a purse organizer?

  • Katherine
    April 16, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    An electric blue bag sounds delicious! I've been lusting after one myself 🙂

  • Katherine
    April 16, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    I totally agree, and thank you for bringing it up. I love that you have such a streamlined collection and all your bags get a lot of love 🙂

  • Katherine
    April 16, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    Both of you are so lucky! I LOVE that tote! It was also in Mission Impossible 4, lol!

  • Katherine
    April 16, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    I think retail is $2k in the US but it must be much less in Europe 🙂

  • Anonymous
    April 16, 2012 at 5:00 pm

    maybe just a tab too vain?

  • miss sophie
    April 16, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    love this post…and your gorgeous collection of bags!

  • Beautygirl24
    April 16, 2012 at 5:27 pm

    I totally agree! This is a great guide for those of us wanting to invest in timeless bags, rather than having a bunch of bags that will only get a little use. I have my dream bag (my Chanel flap) and a practical little Kate Spade tote. I think I want an LV next 🙂

  • Call me M
    April 16, 2012 at 6:08 pm

    Really interesting and well thought post! It's much easier to see what I need right now. Plus the bags you've shown us are amazing.

  • Susan
    April 16, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    Great article! The photos are gorgeous. 🙂
    I would add an overnight/weekender bag to the list. Still searching 🙂

    I especially love the first photo.. the Bottega hobo is so photogenic! 🙂 Your collection is great 🙂

  • Susan
    April 16, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    P.S. I'm thinking of getting the black YSL Muse (the large dome satchel) as my go-to black bag.
    Do you think it's a worthwhile investment?

    I ask you because you know a lot about quality/value of bags and classic investment pieces.
    Your post on Balenciaga leather made me think twice about buying a City, which I had been considering for awhile. What's your honest opinion on the Muse?

    Thank you 🙂

  • The Little Dust Princess
    April 16, 2012 at 6:32 pm

    Great list, Katherine! I myself can get carried away with getting bags that don't fit my "needs". Sales & aesthetics usually get to me, but I always ask for a second opinion and my boyfriend usually helps me make the final decision. : )

  • Stephanie
    April 16, 2012 at 6:47 pm

    I love clutches but I definitely need one with at least a little wrist strap. I'm so bad about leaving them lying around!!

  • AM
    April 16, 2012 at 6:48 pm

    Your collection is impressive! And I agree with all that you have said. I did a post on my fav bags here:

    (These are not all of my bags) but just ones that I personally cannot live without and all for different reasons.

    Love your blog will be following you and waiting for your future posts!

  • Katherine
    April 16, 2012 at 6:56 pm

    I love the YSL Muse and have the now discontinued medium size – however I think I would try to get the black one on sale somewhere, either at a department store friends/family or on eBay.

    Have you thought about a Bottega hobo? 🙂

  • Anonymous
    April 16, 2012 at 9:04 pm

    Hi Katherine!
    I LOVE your work bag and was wondering what it was called?
    Do you usually buy from the store directly or go on ebay to find pieces? What would you recommend doing?

  • Chocolate, Cookies & Candies
    April 16, 2012 at 10:14 pm

    I want your bags, Kat! I know exactly what you mean though. I used to get so hung up on brand names despite knowing that they may not suit my lifestyle. Great advice!

  • Chocolate, Cookies & Candies
    April 16, 2012 at 10:14 pm

    I want your bags, Kat! I know exactly what you mean though. I used to get so hung up on brand names despite knowing that they may not suit my lifestyle. Great advice!

  • Katherine
    April 16, 2012 at 10:44 pm

    Hi! It's an older LV, I'll try to figure out the name. I will do a post on it in the future if it helps you 🙂

    I usually buy directly from the store but love deals on eBay! i've actually gotten my best deals from friends who have lovely collections and who are cleaning out their closets 🙂

  • Anna G
    April 16, 2012 at 11:00 pm

    I need a perfect carry all bag. I would love to get a Longchamp purse for class and work. I love all the variety of colors and designs.

  • Sarah
    April 16, 2012 at 11:49 pm

    Great list of suggestions. I've recently started trying to reduce my collection to basic must-haves. Love your collection! 🙂

  • dietingfashions
    April 17, 2012 at 12:02 am

    Great list! I am thinking of getting a Longchamp bag however I currently like my all in one diaper/work bag.

    It's not really a diaper bag, but it's divided into 3 sections so I just use one section to tote kiddy stuff around. I think as a mom, I feel more organized, knowing where to quickly grab wipes or a diaper out of my bag. I purchased this bag about 3 years ago but it sat in my closet for a year until I got the nerve to use it. I was afraid it would get abused, but it's been a very useful bag.

    For work I tote around manilla folders or work papers in the other compartment. It's not really made for that, but I don't mind bending or folding papers to make it fit seamlessly inside my bag. So I totally recommend a MOM handbag.


  • Anonymous
    April 17, 2012 at 1:14 am

    Reminds me of the Alma bag, but with longer handles. Yes, that would be amazing! You're so nice:)

  • Latkes and Dim Sum
    April 17, 2012 at 2:11 am

    I am so in love with your Kelly…!

  • harperandmonroe
    April 17, 2012 at 5:11 am

    as always thanks for stopping by and OMG i'm about to just go knock on your door and steal your bag collection. i gotta get my hands on that work bag 🙂 love your choices!

  • TripsTreasures
    April 17, 2012 at 7:31 am

    Thank you Katherine ! Wow, the celine bags really seem to be much cheaper in Europe. I made a quick post about a few lower budget bags that are on my wishlist, would love to hear which one you like most !

    B. x

  • prettymeggy
    April 17, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    you have great bag collection!!! and i want them all!!! Chanel and Celine are among my favourites 🙂
    take care. xoxo, Haus of Gala

  • TINA
    April 17, 2012 at 6:04 pm

    I think it is Lussac City bag

  • TINA
    April 17, 2012 at 6:05 pm

    Great post! I am saving money now to buy a decent work bag 🙂

  • caise
    April 17, 2012 at 7:30 pm

    great bags!

  • lucydphoto
    April 18, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    Wonderful and helpful post, Katherine! I completely agree about having at least 2 clutches or evening bags, one in basic black and one in a great color. I'm mostly a neutral girl but having a small evening bag in a knock-out color and/or skin makes the outfit!

  • RochellekeCloset
    April 18, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    I love your kelly so gorgeous!

  • Diva In Me
    April 18, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    I like this post =) I totally agree with you on the descriptions of a "must-have bag". Very necessary indeed for different occasions. Probably I'm a bag and shoes person so I'm a little bias =D

  • Melanie
    April 18, 2012 at 8:21 pm

    Love the bags. My clutch is my favorite bag right now.

  • Annabelle
    April 19, 2012 at 11:54 pm

    I can't carry anything too big, so I skew heavily to crossbody bags and clutches (mostly convertible, about half bright and half neutral). I get by quite nicely with my selection of smaller bags, but I think you hit all the important categories for the average person!

  • Patricia
    April 20, 2012 at 10:54 am

    Hi Katherine! Very nice post. When you say Bottega Hobo, which size do you mean, the large or the maxi? I´m thinking about to buy the hobo, but I am not really sure which size would be the perfect one for me. I need to add a new black bag in my closet. I want a bag that I can use in my everyday life and I´ve been looking the hobo but since I saw the maxi one, i start to doubt which one would be better.

  • Katherine
    April 20, 2012 at 3:26 pm

    Hi Patricia, I actually have never seen the Maxi! That sounds like a very intriguing size. I think the large is very nice if you don't carry TONS of stuff around everyday – can you go to a boutique to try them both out?

  • Worthington
    April 23, 2012 at 6:08 pm

    I know I use my 2.55 all the time – actually, the three we own are my mothers, but we trade them back and forth rather liberally (black, red, beige).

  • Karen
    May 5, 2012 at 7:14 am

    Very helpful post since I’m usually the type that buys bags haphazardly. haha I hope to find my perfect everyday bag soon!

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