Handbag Buying Guide

You take your handbag everywhere you go, so it needs to be both practical and stylish. This handbag guide outlines your options and offers tips on style matching, materials and maintenance.

Handbags 101

Handbags carry your daily essentials while also allowing you to accessorize your outfit with a wide range of shapes, sizes and colours. If you’re in the market for an everyday handbag, choose a generic style that complements your entire wardrobe to make assembling outfits stress free. Detailed and adventurous handbags are right for some occasions, but they can be tricky to match with your outfit. The material used to make your handbag helps determine its purpose. For instance, leather bags tend to be more fashionable, while canvas bags are more functional. Additional features such as compartments, zippers and straps keep your bag organized, and add security and flair. You need to consider the entire package to match your needs and personal style.

Types of Handbags



A clutch purse is a minimalist accessory that's small and light but big enough to hold the essentials, such as your keys, phone and money. A clutch purse must have a closure such as a zipper or snap. This accessory doesn’t usually feature a strap, but if it does, the strap is typically very small and simple. Some clutch purses feature a loop for your wrist, so you're less likely to drop them and can go hands free when necessary. Small style flourishes like tassels or studs look nice on this type of handbag, but avoid too many details as they may clash or make your purse look too busy. A clutch is an ideal choice when you want to pair a lightweight, non-bulky accessory with your outfit, and is perfect with eveningwear or for more formal occasions. 


Choose a satchel when you need a rugged bag that holds plenty of items and can be carried by either a handle or a shoulder strap. The closure on a satchel is a handy flap secured by a buckle or zipper. Satchels are used by both women and men, so you can get feminine, masculine and unisex versions. This bag often has several interior compartments and pockets inside and out for organization. Depending on the design, your satchel could be used in the work environment or may be more suitable as an after-hours accessory.

Tote Bags

A tote bag is great for carrying bulky or heavy objects, including books and groceries. This bag features two short-to-medium-sized shoulder straps, with a wide opening ideal for inserting and taking out large items. Tote bags are made from a range of rugged materials, including leather and tarp. In general, this style of handbag doesn't have pockets, but some tote bags feature handy inner storage compartments.

Cross Body Bags

When you need to carry a bag and also keep your hands free, consider a cross body bag. These bags are conveniently designed with a long strap that crosses over your shoulder and supports the bag against your opposite hip. The straps usually come with an adjustable buckle, letting you choose where your bag will drop. If the strap length isn't adjustable, try tying a knot in the strap to shorten it to your preferred length. Cross body bags are often designed on the smaller side to maintain the convenience of a lightweight accessory and prevent harm on the shoulder from carrying too much weight.

Shoulder Bags

No women's wardrobe is complete without at least one good basic shoulder bag. This style of handbag comes in a range of sizes and typically has either a single short strap or two short straps for easier access to your items. Due to the shortness of the straps, the bag is naturally held close to the body, snug and secure. When designed with longer straps, shoulder bags can be worn cross-body style. Details like outer pockets, tassels, buckles and zippers are simple tweaks that can add both functionality and style to your shoulder bag. 

Sling Purses

Sling purses are similar to cross-body bags, but usually a bit bigger and can hold more items. They often have pockets for extra storage and added style. A pocket sling is a variation of a sling purse, the difference being it has many pockets and compartments inside and out. Some pocket slings can be converted into cross-body-style bags by lengthening the single strap. This handbag is useful while traveling to store important items like identification and cash that should be zipped up in secure pockets. Some pocket slings look similar to small, one-shouldered backpacks.

Hobo Bags

Slouchy and spacious, hobo bags are ideal for casual outings when you need extra storage space. Much like a shoulder bag, hobo bags feature short straps that hold the bag close to your body for extra security. This is the type of bag you should choose in a neutral or earthy color, allowing it to effortlessly mesh with your wardrobe. Bucket bags have a slouchy carefree style similar to hobo bags, but they feature a scrunch and draw cord around the opening of the bag that creates a bucket-like shape. 

Computer Totes

A computer tote has a multi-purpose design: to protect your laptop and other small electronic devices, hold related items like pens and notebooks — and look stylish wherever you go. A well-designed model is both rugged and offers convenient interior storage compartments. Computer totes with zippered sections and organizers allow easy access and keep contents secure. Choose a bag with a reinforced bottom that’s strong enough to handle the weight of your possessions when fully-loaded. Look for a practical size that fits snug to your body and features comfortable straps. As regular commuters know all too well, padded straps can be lifesavers. 

Style Matching Tips:

• Don’t over-accessorize
• Avoid patterns that may clash
• Make sure accessories complement each other
• Use colours that work together rather than match precisely
• Choose white or black as a foundation colour for your outfit
• Make sure accessories reflect the tone and mood of your activity

Handbag Features:

Materials +

The material of your handbag can indicate how long it’s going to last and the best occasion to use it. Leather or nylon is an ideal choice when seeking a forever bag, since it will last longer than other materials. Keep in mind that leather requires careful maintenance to keep it in top shape. Canvas is appropriate for casual bags, such as totes, and the strong material can hold heavy items, but wear and tear will affect the bag over time. Faux leather, commonly known as pleather, is a cheap alternative to leather, but it will not last nearly as long. Suede is a popular material for handbags such as shoulder bags and hobo bags, but it's more likely to stain and isn't very durable.

Colours & Designs +

The colour and design of your handbag should complement your outfit and suit the occasion, whether you're at work or out socializing with friends. When shopping, consider factors such as season and what the bag can match with in your wardrobe. Bright or neon colors pop during the spring and summer. Cool, earthy tones are ideal for forever bags since they can blend with just about any outfit. Choose neutral colours and simple designs for day-to-day handbags. Consider also the combined effect of size and colour. In general, large bags don’t work well with wild colours, because your bag will end up drawing too much attention away from your outfit, rather than complementing it. To add flair to larger bags, stick with small and simple patterns.

Inner Compartments and Pockets +

The purpose of compartments and pockets to keep your belongings organized. Large handbags need inner compartments and pockets so you’re not constantly digging through your things. Look for pockets that store items logically and securely so they’re always easy to find. Items that you don’t want falling out should be kept in zipped inner compartments, which almost every bag features.

Outer Compartments and Pockets +

Outer pockets with a flap or buckle closure are great for items you often pull out like your phone or lipstick. Small items such as makeup can fit perfectly in outer pockets as well. Organize by priority, size and how often you need to reach for the item. For example, your wallet should never go in an outer pocket as it could slip out or get pickpocketed. Outside compartments should always have a snap, button or zipper closure.

Straps +

In a well-proportioned handbag, the size of the strap matches the bag. Thin straps fit petite bags and enhance the feminine look, while thick straps are suitable for larger bags and make them appear less bulky. Shoulder bags, hobo bags, pocket slings and satchels need a wider strap to accommodate the weight of the bag and spread the load on your shoulder. Cross-body bags and clutches are designed to carry lighter objects, so they're fine with thin or small straps. The ultimate purpose of the strap is to help keep your items secure. Take caution in choosing handbags with dainty straps, as they may be vulnerable to grab-and-run theft.

Zippers & Fasteners +

The zippers and fasteners on your handbag should offer easy access to your items while also keeping them safe. This holds for both the main closure and the closures on all outer compartments. The best fasteners open and close quickly, but prevent contents from falling out by accident and deter pickpockets. Zippers are generally secure and durable. Flap-and-snap closures are less secure but add stylish details to your handbag. Inner closures aren’t necessary but can help prevent your essentials from spilling out of your bag.

Accents +

Accents such as studs and tassels add style to your handbag. Some accents also have purpose. For example, a well-positioned buckle can serve to mask the snap that fastens your outer pockets. Contrast trimming makes a hobo bag pop, and a quilted sewn pattern livens up a dull clutch. Accents should complement your outfit and draw attention to the little details, like matching pumps or jewelry.

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Handbag Maintenance Tips:

• Carry a scuff-eraser pad or stain-remover pen to touch up light-coloured bags
• Stuff handbags with newspaper during storage to help retain their shape
• Put air fresheners or dryer sheets in handbags during storage to combat odour
• Treat your leather handbags with a recommended product to prevent stains
• Always follow the manufacturer’s directions for care and cleaning
• Protect suede bags with a waterproof spray

Which Handbag Is Right For Your Body Type?

Take proportion into account when considering purse size. For example, small purses or satchels naturally flatter petite figures while a taller woman can carry a mid-sized to over-sized purse. If you have a small waist and hips, consider cross body bags, hobo handbags, or shoulder bags. A triangular body shape suits handbags that rest between the waist and hips to enhance body symmetry. A handbag that rests at the natural waist can add shape to a figure where the shoulders run parallel to the waist and hips. Satchel bags and hobo bags also compliment this body type, but avoid purses that drop below the hips. An hourglass body type can pull off several styles as long as the size of the bag is proportionate to your stature. Tote handbags suit apple-shaped body types, but avoid styles like shoulder bags or messenger bags, which draw attention to the chest area. 
This article is intended as general information. Always be sure to read and follow the label(s)/instruction(s) that accompany your product(s). Walmart will not be responsible for any injury or damage caused by this activity.



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