Handbags are awesome. Not only do they carry our essentials, they also pull together our look and easily upgrade our wardrobe. Unfortunately, it's hard to find ones that don't suck.
Often, handbags aren't ergonomic or very functional even if they look nice. Conversely, sometimes the most functional handbags are the ugliest. Maybe that's why the average woman owns about 21 handbags and buys a new one every three months or so. Since handbags can cost a couple of hundred dollars, you want to make sure your investment is worth it.
So here's how to find the kinds of handbags that don't suck, by which we mean those that fit you well, don't kill your shoulders, and have that happy marriage between great looks and practicality.
Style and Purpose
The first thing you should consider is when and how you'll use your next handbag. What will you carry in it? What outfits will you wear it with? How will you actually wear it? For example, if you're looking for an everyday bag for walking around the city, you might prefer a lightweight cross-body bag rather than a leather satchel with short handles. For work, you might choose a classic shoulder bag that's roomy enough, perhaps, to carry a small tablet or paperwork.
There are definitely lots of styles and materials to choose from, at least.
Handbag Fit for your Body Type
In addition to your handbag's purpose, you might want to choose a bag that flatters your body, much like you would choose any other fashion object. HSN has this guide to handbags for different body types:
The size of handbag should be proportionate to the person's body type
- Short and petite women appear taller with small handbags and shorter with large handbags
- Tall and slim women appear larger with small handbags and look best with midsize, large and oversized styles.
The shape of a handbag should be opposite of the person's body type
- Short women look taller carrying a long rectangular handbag
- Slim and tall women benefit from a round handbag
The length of a handbag — where the bottom hits the body — emphasises that area
- Short handbags make busts appear larger, so choose styles with longer straps to avert attention
- Most women look good wearing handbags that hang to the mid-torso
They also suggest using handbags to balance out your figure. For example if you have a pear-shaped or triangle body type (waist and hips wider than your shoulders), a satchel handbag that falls between your waist and your hips could make your top area seem larger and balance out your figure. If you have a rectangle body type (shoulders, waist, and hips about the same width), a hobo or shoulder bag that falls at your waist could add slight curves.
When you try out a handbag at the store, be sure to check how it looks on you in a mirror so you choose one that compliments rather than clashes with your style.
Signs of Crappy vs Quality Handbags
Everyone has different tastes and needs, but beyond style preferences, I think we can all agree we want a bag that will last more than a couple of years and that will serve its purpose, whether we're carrying just a few credit cards for a date night out or need to schlep around many gadgets for work.
Some signs of crappy handbags include:
- Useless pockets or too many compartments. They might seem like they'd be great for organisation, but interior and exterior pockets often aren't big enough or could be too big that your stuff will just disappear forever into.
- Unreasonably heavy. A heavy handbag is a prescription for shoulder and back pain. The ideal weight of a handbag, according to a USDA study is under 2.2 pounds (meanwhile the average woman's handbag weighs 5.2 pounds).
- Poor straps. Adjustable straps are best for flexibility and fit, but if the straps aren't adjustable, make sure they're not too long or short for your body. Also avoid straps that are pencil thin; they will cut into your shoulders more and aren't ergonomic.
- Low-quality materials. Leather bags should be soft and buttery, not plastic-like, stiff, or squeaky. Non-leather bags, such as canvas or fabric handbags, should be sturdy rather than thin (check if they have been coated for weather endurance). Also look at the interior lining, which shouldn't be flimsy, have tears in the corners, or loose.
Examine your handbag for:
- Stitching. The stitching and seaming should be consistent throughout, without any loose or stray threads. If the bag has a pattern, the print should also match at the seams. Also tug on any embellishments like hanging pulls or chains to make sure they aren't loose and won't fall off.
- Quality zippers and other hardware. One of the best signs of quality is how the zipper opens and closes — it should glide smoothly. Similarly, other closures like buttons or clasps should close neatly and easily.
- Connections for the straps. The seams where the straps meet the bag body are very important, since those are high pressure areas. Also, Real Simple advises us to stay away from bags with handles that aren't stitched along the edges of the straps and that are only glued, because those handles will eventually separate.
- Fewer seams and parts. The more parts (snaps, latches, buttons) there are to a handbag, the more ways your bag can break. Similarly, as Saddleback Leather explains, many pieces of leather stitched together into a sort of quilt means lots of seams — and a weaker bag.
- Other fine details. Sometimes it's the little touches that show off a quality handbag. Things like feet on the bottom of the bag so it doesn't get dirty when you put it down, a key fob on the inside of the bag, a comfortable zipper pull, and exterior pockets with magnetic closures.
Your handbags should be a thing of beauty and a source of joy for you. Invest in quality ones and they will last you many seasons.