A couple of weeks ago, Belovedest and I were wandering around Chicago when we happened upon a store called The Shudio. Yes, it’s a “hybrid of a retail shop full of eco conscious goods… combined with a metalsmith jewelry studio.” And yes, this is some fun…I could have purchased a lot of things, but I’m trying very hard to avoid that kind of reckless madness (especially with THREE big vacations coming up in the next year!), but I did buy a lovely little black leather wristlet, from a company called CHC. They donate 10% of their revenue to a local organization for homeless women, and all of their materials are local. Pretty nice; I was happy.
But when I got home and dug out my bag for our upcoming trip to Italy, I realized that my current assortment of bags is pretty much perfect. Seriously!
This is my current “bag wardrobe.”
This isn’t EXACTLY what I own, but it’s pretty close, and it was assembled in a pretty haphazard manner. The overnight bag was bought (late one evening!) in Paris, when I realized that I had “outshopped” my luggage. The tote bag was just plain whappage at L.L.Bean, as was the satchel from Agnes B. My cross body bag was given to me by my mother-in-law…. Clearly, there wasn’t a lot of meticulous planning here!
What makes this “wardrobe” perfect for me, right now, is that it accommodates a range of “what do I need to haul around?” without a lot of redundancy. If I’m really, truly going away for a few days, but not to the point that I need a real suitcase, the overnight bag is perfect…. For just 1 night, or to someplace where I just want to bring swimwear, or a clean tee shirt, my tote bag is great. It’s also the go-to carry-on bag for all flights…
For those times when a real honest to goodness handbag is called for, I have my Agnes B. bag. I’ve somehow managed to scratch the bottom of it REALLY SEVERELY, but my shoe repair guy polished the scratches, and it just qualifies as patina…
My life includes lots of occasions where I want to carry my wallet and my phone, but keep my hands free – and the crossbody bag is ideal in that situation. Mine is just big enough to fit my house keys and a lipstick, too.
Finally, I do, often, want to have my stuff IN MY HAND. My wristlet holds just about the exactly same things as my crossbody bag, but it feels more secure, and easier to access. Many people could be very happy with just 1 of the 2 of these, though.
(don’t forget that a nice sleek backpack is a great overnight bag…)There’s really no hard and fast rule to follow to get the right bags for your life; I think it just requires a little bit of self-analysis, and some thought. Sort of like building a wardrobe of clothes, or shoes, or jewelry….
What’s the most useful bag you own? Did you plan for it, or find it by accident?
Bag Bundles? I recently bought a large handbag from a thrift shop – orange tan – and it is wonderful. Doesn't match my yellow tan sandals though. I have lots of things in my handbag but don't need a tote size on a daily basis. This was a move away from my backpack which I had used for about 10 years. I have a very old strong cotton tote sized bag that I use if going on a day car trip for all my extras like gloves, hats, scarves etc. Thanks for thinking about bags (planning) for our wardrobe and realising that being practical about that planning is good. Carol S
Yes, you're right (of course!) Janice: a bit of self-analysis is necessary if one is to have the right bags for commuting, travelling, or popping out to the shops. I confess I don't quite see the point of a wristlet though. They look like they would just fit a mobile phone, a passport, and a set of keys–but not a wallet and a pair of reading glasses. When do you use your wristlet in preference to a (small) handbag? xxGaye
Janice Riggs says
My wristlet holds my phone, some cash, my ATM card, a credit card, the house keys, and a lipstick. There's usually a business card or two in there, and some miscellaneous pieces of paper, too. I really prefer it when I'm going to be walking a long way and don't want my cross body bag rubbing against me for 3 or 4 hours. It's also a better choice when I'm in the real crush of people downtown – it's all well and good to say that I'm too savvy to have a bag next to me stolen or pickpocketed, but that might be too much hubris for Chicago!
Thank you for this Janice: you've convinced me to give a wristlet a try! And since I'm the last person in Tokyo who doesn't own a mobile phone, there'll be plenty of room for reading glasses….
If you just want to give it a try, but not fully commit–there are some convertible bags that can be either cross body or wristlet. I use the Vince Camuto Cami when I travel (I don't know why, but when I'm home I like carrying a full-sized handbag) which has credit card slots, phone pocket, plus room for sunglasses (or reading glasses), lipstick, passport, and my rescue inhaler. It's available from a lot of sources, in many different colors, often at reduced prices.
Thanks so much for this wonderful suggestion! I have a useful Tumi cross body bag that's useful, but hardly elegant. The Vince Camuto Cami looks great–so many beautiful colours to choose from!
Great idea to have a bag wardrobe. I have an eclectic mix: Taupe suede holdall, a dark purple leather grab bag, a cream and taupe Fiorelli shoulder bag, a black leather cross body bag and a black and white snake print Tote. I have a small collection of clutch bags that have seen better days and plan to recycle and buy just one that meets all my needs – when I find it. Sharon.
Margie from Toronto says
The search for the "perfect" bag is an ongoing (and seemingly endless) process for me. I do own 3 rally good Dooney & Bourke bags (1 tote, 2 cross body in a small and a large) and then I just bought another mid-size cross body yesterday – on sale for a really good price – but have to admit that I'm never really quite satisfied.
It's the same with my overnight bag – it does the trick and is the carry on for me that matches my luggage. I need a new tote for the Fall/Winter and it will be a search. I'm tempted by the Longchamp's but I prefer something a bit more structured and open – sigh – this post gives me more options to consider and is very timely – thank you.
The tote bag search… it has taken me a year and a half to find a decent summer tote but it was worth the effort and the patience. I found a reversible white and navy leather tote on clearance that is just perfect! I am still searching for the elusive Fall/Winter tote. I too am looking for a more structured and open style in black or cognac and prefer leather. The search continues. Let me know if you find something, it might be what I'm looking for too!
Margie from Toronto says
I'm actually considering this bag or it's slightly larger version – What do you think?
I think it's a nice alternative to the canvas style bags you see from LL Bean and Lands End – looks classier to me. The placement of the pockets seems well thought out, and I love the length of the handles. I definitely like the slightly larger version better. I am slightly abusive with my tote bags (I tend to just plop them down wherever) so I prefer to stick with leather totes, or at least leather on the bottom! Much easier to keep clean. The search continues…
Taste of France says
I have several bags that I use all the time, depending on what and where I have to carry stuff. Sometimes I'll use different ones in a single day.
I would like to branch out beyond black and tan. Maybe red. My SIL is visiting and making me think again about fuchsia and brown.
A thought-provoking post: I tend to buy a new bag every fall and spring even though I have a closet shelf stuffed full of bags and even though I always tend to carry the same two or three oldies but goodies. Realizing that enough is enough is one of the most valuable life lessons I still struggle to learn from your blog, Janice.
I'm one of those people who changes her bag each day. I have a small collection of good quality bags in a variety of styles and colors. Of course, I have my favorites that see more rotation than others: a vintage black leather Le Sak hobo style with chain handle and a Brighton cognac leather and tan canvas weave bag (with charms that I love) get the most use, but a Tommy Hilfiger navy leather and white canvas small tote style and a vintage Etienne Aigner light pink cross body are getting a lot of use this spring and summer. Last summer my go to bag was a lime green straw shoulder bag. To me, bags are wonderful accessories and can really finish an outfit nicely.
This summer I am almost exclusively using a medium sized basket as my purse/tote and it is perfect.
Deb from Vancouver
Hi Janice, love this post and it has got me thinking. I go for extreme practicality and have made some purchasing mistakes but some great ones. My go to bags are a nylon MZ Wallace bag with many exterior pockets that is perfect for in-flight travel and other such needs. I save it for that purpose. I use my dark taupe classic Longchamp tote a lot when shopping at the mall or carrying supplies when I teach. My everyday bag is a shoulder strap medium size nylon bag in dark tan with three horizontal zippered pockets in front. I'm looking for a more dressy bag in a similar style, preferably nylon but maybe leather. I don't reach for the leather bags I have because of the weight. I love the nylon's light weight. When I'm carrying the Longchamp, I sometimes just take out my leather wrist wallet which can also accommodate my cell phone and keys, and run into a store for a quick purchase, leaving the tote in the car. For dressy occasions, I have a small bronze metallic leather purse with a shoulder strap (very important if I'm standing and have a drink in my hands!) I like the Longchamp so much, I'm thinking of getting a second one in the lovely slate blue. These are the only bags I have used this entire year. Janice Collins, Washington, DC
Carol S86303 says
I too seem to always be searching for the perfect bag. But I wear mostly non-patterned clothes so I love Vera Bradley! And they finally made my perfect pattern, Lilac Tapestry. So far I have 2 crossbody styles in it and plan on buying many more. I also have a couple styles in a black and white pattern for the rare times I wear something and can't carry purple with it. Leather is just too heavy for me too so the lightweight VB is perfect. (Hint to Janice: Lilac Tapestry with black are great colors for wardrobe building!)
Margie from Toronto says
I just checked out the Lilac Tapestry collection – I had no idea there were so many options! I'd love one of these totes for the summer but I think I need something a bit more heavy duty & waterproof for the winter – I'd be afraid of it being ruined in the rain or snow.
Coco Colmani says
Thank you for the Vera Bradley tip. What a lovely range!
Robyn in Tasmania
My favourite bag is my mulberry small Bayswater Satchel in Oak. It has the perfect size and I can wear it crossbody.
I have lots of bags that have not been used in years! I keep them……just in case! I recently donated several but still have too many. I have a black crossbody Vera Bradley that I use the most. It can hold all my essentials plus my iPad if I need that. I have a VB Duffle bag that I use for weekend trips and sometimes as my carryon on long trips. Several purses that I don't use. 3 or 4 evening type small bags….etc… I need to purge some more! LOL! Great post!
My favorite bags are made by Roche Leather, a small company in California. They are fairly structured, which suits my taste, and come in many styles and colors. I prefer shoulder bags but not cross-bodies. We travel mostly by car, and I use a Lands' End monogrammed canvas tote bag to carry my iPad, travel information, drinks, and so on. For parties I prefer small shoulder bags or clutch bags.
Probably my favorite tote bag ever is a red and black one from Old Navy's very early days, over 20 years ago. It has the right number of pockets and a zip top, but the color is a bit limiting. I have not been a huge Longchamps fan, but love my Herve Chapelier "shopping" bags. I like their square bottoms and the slightly heavier fabric. – nancyo
Coco Colmani says
I'm a flirt with bags. Most of mine come from op shops (thrift shops?) because it's hard to buy small, neat bags (my preference) otherwise. My favourite is an olive suede, open-topped, bucket with wooden handles and Jewel-coloured embroidery on the sides. It's stylish rather than folky, and goes with everything.
In winter, when most outfits are based on black or navy, it's fun to have a pop of colour on the arm or shoulder, which is where the little vintage red, cognac and mulberry bags come in.
Robyn in Tasmania
becky johns says
I use the wristlet for credit cards and charger for phone; I have another for Chapstick, lipstick, pills, small brush, toothpicks, that sort of stuff. I move both of them to quickly change to another color bag. Quick change but complete.
The impression I get from this post is that all the bags are chosen for their function and practicality. Yet, there are women who purchase bags for beauty/colour/luxury feel/etc. Also those working in the corporate world or attending a lot of work meetings and social functions would select quite different bags.
Thank you so much for this post. Perhaps you have offered an earlier piece on bags and I just missed it, although I don't think so, as I have been a constant reader for a number of years now. I have been waiting for something like this, as I find assembling a wardrobe of both beautiful and versatile handbags to be a challenge. Very helpful. Love your site, keep the good things coming!
Ha, my eye went straight to the most expensive piece – the Nancy Gonzales wristlet! It seems to be beautifully made, a perfect size, great color and texture, but 10 times what I would normally pay:(
What a fun post!
I divide my bags into a few different categories. First, my "everyday carry." Because I'm retired, these pieces are quite casual. (1) A custom-made tote from L.L. Bean: Black canvas, long handles, zip top, small outside pocket, monogrammed. (2) A small cross-body bag: Lightweight black nylon, made by LeSportsac. (3) A rubber-band "wallet." A thick blue rubber band. The kind that comes free with a bundle of broccoli. Used to hold a few credit cards, debit card, driver's license, and a $20 bill. Generally I bundle these: "Wallet" inside the cross-body bag, inside the tote bag. Sometimes the wallet goes in a pants pocket, as does my cellphone.
For times when I want to be a little less informal: (1) A black L.L. Bean leather tote. Probably identical to the one that you have, Janice. (2) A classic leather Coach cross-body bag, also in black.
For travel: (1) A blue nylon tote bag with black leather trim. Coordinates with my new blue carry-on suitcase. And most importantly, has a "sleeve" that allows it to slip over the handle of the suitcase. A great feature. Tote and suitcase by Briggs & Riley. (2) A madras L.L. Bean tote bag, used for car travel. Holds my laptop, my travel file, reading material, a neck pillow, a water bottle.
Deborah Montgomery says
Ooh . . . Italy? Sounds wonderful!! I have to admit my bag wardrobe is not as well thought out as what you have here. I mostly do a shoulder bag or a medium-sized clutch. Don't want anything too big, or too small. I have some big canvas LL Bean tote bags for car trips.
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