Best Handbags for Fall and Winter

Ask any stylist about the one element in a woman’s wardrobe that tells the story of who she is and they will likely say: “her handbag.” You can throw on a pair of old sneakers, jeans, and a tee-shirt, but add a great bag and suddenly your entire look is elevated. Even a well-loved high-quality bag says, “luxe.”

The good news is that you don’t need dozens of them. Realistically, few of us swap out our handbags on a regular basis. Also, although designers are constantly adding elements to bring them fashion forward there are fundamentally five types that will serve most of your needs. If you just build your handbag wardrobe thoughtfully with these five handbag styles, you’ll find that you have the right one for just about any occasion.

Always go for the best handbag you can afford. This is one of the few items that will likely be in your wardrobe long after you’ve turned over almost everything else. As for color, you’ll probably want the one you use most often to be in a neutral, one that works with the majority of your wardrobe. That doesn’t mean you must have a black, tan or even a mono-colored, every-day bag. For spring, a navy or white or even a coral might be one of your best neutrals.

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For your everyday bag, function and comfort should be your first consideration. And then, just as with your clothing, proportion and size should always be considered. You don’t want your bag announcing itself before you do, or being so petite as to be inconsequential. It has to make a statement about you, one that is flattering.

Let’s look at the basic types of handbags and their functions. (You’ll find our best handbags for our UK/EU readers below the US selections.)

Best Handbags for 5 Classic Types

Top-Handle:

These are the satchels, doctor’s bags, bucket-type bag, bowling bags, just about anything with shorter handles. What defines them is a flat base and one or two handles. These days almost all of them come with a removable cross-body strap, giving you the option to go hands-free. But generally, they are meant to be grasped by the handles. Softer, slouchy leather, suede or other textiles say “relaxed/casual.” Stiffer, structured or boxy styles (very on-trend this season) say “classic/professional.” For most of us, a satchel type bag will be our daily go-to because it has the volume to carry most of what we need while still looking polished and pulled-together.

Best handbags Top Handles

Top Row: 

Chloé, Aby Crocodile-Embossed Leather Top Handle Bag | $2,450

Mulberry, Mini Seaton | $1,195

Boyy, Fred Buckle Leather Shoulder Bag | $925

Tory Burch, Lee Radziwill Leather Bag | $698

Bottom Row: 

Demellier, Montreal Croc Embossed Leather Top Handle Bag | $595

Furla, Sabbia Bella Mini Top Handle Saffiano Crossbody | $199 (was $398!)

Isabella Rhea, Isabella Rhea Single Top Handle Leather Shoulder Bag |$120 (was $299!)

Topshop, Cannes Boxy Grab Bag | $52

Cross Body & Shoulder Bags

These often vie with the satchel bag for the most popular daily use handbag. They include saddle bags, messenger bags, buckets, narrow zip top (and often with multi external zippers), magnetic or twist-lock fold-over tops with a similar structure to satchels, all running the gamut from very classic to extremely casual. The more structured and moderate in size the more classic and dressy they appear. This could even include the Chanel-type quilted bags. The larger, less structured in shape, and less refined in texture or material, the more casual they appear. They can be small enough to accommodate just the bare necessities or large enough to match a satchel in volume. Cross body bags are a requirement for when you need – or want – to be hands-free.

best handbags

Top Row: 

Alexander McQueen, Jewelled Satchel Embellished Croc-effect Leather Bag | $2,390

The Volon, Po Day Croc-effect, Snake-effect and Textured-leather Bag | $1,105

Mulberry, Amberly | $1,450

Marge Sherwood, Vintage Brick Croc Embossed Leather Bag | $525

Bottom Row:

Brahmin, Meg Melbourne Croc Embossed Leather Shoulder Bag | $265

Kurt Geiger London, Kensington Tweed Shoulder Bag | $195

Persaman New York, Doroteia Snake Embossed Leather Tote Bag | $160 (was $400!)

Knotty, Crocodile Embossed Shoulder Bag with Zip Pouch | $88

Tote

The most versatile of handbag styles. Whether you are a mom, an executive, or a packrat, you need a tote. Everyone needs a tote. In fact, almost everyone has several. But here we’re referring to fairly plain, and larger sized totes. Their function depends on the environment. Unless you’re going to the beach, your tote should be simple and classic in style: less adornment, fewer embellishments. There’s even some wisdom to carrying a sleek, simple leather tote for your larger more professional – or pedestrian – items (like papers or spare shoes) and a smaller bag or envelope for your personal items. That way you can keep valuable items more secure in the smaller bag. For many women, the tote has replaced the briefcase/laptop bag altogether.

best handbags

Top Row: 

Valentino Garavani, Escape Textured-leather Tote | $2,845

Burberry Embossed Monogram Leather Tote | $910

Little Liffner Large Tulip Open Croc-Embossed Leather Tote | $700

Tory Burch, Perry Hobo | $458

Bottom Row:

Coach, Charlie | $375

Kate Spade, Taylor Leopard Tote | $198

Everlane, The Day Market Tote | $175

Ted Baker London, Valacon Houdini Tote | $30 (was $60!)

Clutches & Envelopes

We generally think of two styles for a clutch purse. The first ones are trim and more casual versions like a small envelope or a baguette bag. Although these may have small handles or wristlets they are still meant to be held in your hand. The key word being “clutch.” The smaller more delicate versions, including minaudieres, have more refined textures and materials – beading, metallic finishes, velvet, crystals, beads etc. – and complement more formal attire. These aren’t functional bags (unless you are an extreme minimalist) but they add an elegant finishing touch to any formal outfit.

Best Handbags for Women over 50 Clutches

Top Row:

Jimmy Choo, Varenne Croc-effect Leather Clutch | $995

Valentino Garavani, Rockstud Leather Envelope Pouch | $695

Mulberry, Amberley Phone Clutch | $550

Botkier, Valentina Straw & Leather Envelope Clutch | $98

Bottom Row: 

Anthropologie Nolita Mini Ring Clutch | $128

Nordstrom, Metallic Box Clutch | $79

Nina, Crystal Frame Clutch | $68

Topshop Panther Clutch | $38

You can certainly find envelope bags in a cross-body version (those often have chain handles) but generally, like a clutch, they are meant to be hand-held and carried close to the body. Their fundamental structure is that of an envelope and is best suited to a dressy-casual occasion, such as going out with friends, a business meeting when you don’t want to appear overly fussy, or an informal date night. But don’t expect to pack them with too much stuff. Anything larger than a phone, lipstick and small wallet will alter their sleek silhouette. They’re not the most practical of bags, but they can really make an outfit say “chic”.

Statement Bag

Enough said. This bag is what accompanies any monochromatic or minimalistic outfit, pairs perfectly with a little black dress, and is perfect for swanky lounges at the pool on vacation. These bags are practically art. They are weird and beautiful at the same time. Daring, elegant and the perfect conversation-starter.

best hand bags

Top Row:

Gucci, Green Rajah Leather Cross-body | $2,600

Burberry, Leather-trimmed Printed Coated-canvas Tote | $960

Mark & Graham, Telluride Tote | $475

Bottom Row:

Brahmin, Amira Chenoa | $335

Charles and Keith, Satin Tassel Crossbody Clutch | $89

ModCloth, Always Luxe Velvet Clutch | $49

UK Selections

best handbags

Top Row:

Dolce & Gabbana, Devotion Leather Shoulder Bag | £1,495

By Far, Tamara Leather Tote | £685

Kurt Geiger London, Shoreditch Croc-embossed Leather Cross-body Bag | £220.00

Bottom Row:

Reiss, Jessie Bag | £195

Reiss, Bellsize Clutch | £90

Trip, Black Ring Shopper Bag | £25

Just one final point: since you’re going to be spending a little more for basics, make sure you take good care of them. That means pre-treating with stain guard if necessary and getting them repaired or polished as needed. With just a little maintenance you’ll have a great handbag wardrobe for a long time.

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