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Your A To Z Guide To All Kinds Of Handbags For Women

By Somdutta Mazumder

Updated - Sept. 16, 2020 12 min read

At the cost of sounding just a tad over-dramatic, I'd like to state that a handbag is more than just a purse to a woman, it's her portable world packed in a safety net. Think about it, whether you're stopping by for a quick check-in on your BFF, or somehow ended up stranded amid a literal cyclone, as long as your bag is by your side, you have everything you need. Unlike men who quickly grab their keys and wallet, stuff it into their unbelievably large pockets and dash out of the door, women are a lot more watchful of what they take along with them. From lip balm for chapped lips to an emergency stash of makeup, and from hoarded tissues to sanitary napkins, a lot is going on in a woman's handbag. Not to mention, keys, wallet, water, sunscreen, phone charger, earphones, mint, hairpins, and....I'm out of breath! 


So many words to say one thing, handbags are important. Besides, useful or not, it's certainly a very versatile accessory you can use to effortlessly play up your outfit. But hold on to that thought, how in the world are you going to shop for bags if you don't really know what your options are? I mean, sure, you CAN do it, but being armed with knowledge about every kind you can invest in, sounds like an important step to building an impressive bag collection, no? If you're aggressively nodding in response to that question, we're here with just what you need. You no longer need to vaguely describe to your friends, how the purse you spotted in your favourite store looked. Because there exists a word for it, and here's the inventory of all types of handbags that will help you find it! 


Basic Must-Haves 


1. Tote Bag 

Every woman needs to have a reliable tote bag with ample storage space, that's also super-comfortable to carry around. For those who don't know, a tote bag is a large, unfastened bag with two parallel shoulder handles on either side. It's an extremely versatile bag to invest in, perfect for any occasion that demands you to carry more than a few things, whether it's shopping around the city, heading out for a class or just going to work. 


Image Courtesy - Pinterest


2. Shoulder Bag 

This is perhaps the most basic essential bag for every woman to have in her closet. It comes with all the trimmings you'd commonly associate with a generic hand bag, such as zippered pockets, compartments and a mechanism to seal it shut. As the name suggests, this is a casual bag meant to be carried on one shoulder with thinner and shorter straps than that of a tote bag. Shoulder bags are a very wide-ranging category and comprise of an assortment of silhouettes and sizes.


Image Courtesy - Popsugar


3. Saddle Cross-Body Bag 

Now, you might not have known the word "saddle", but in India, these bags have been clubbed under sling bags for as long as I can recall. The name of this bag originates from the traditional saddle placed on the back of a horse, and is called so because of the original purpose it was created for, to carry a few basic things while riding a horse! But now, several classier makeovers and sophisticated designs later, the saddlebag is a must-have fashion accessory. The characteristic feature of a saddlebag is a front flap that folds over and can be fastened with a clasp. They're usually relatively small and come with long cross-body straps. 


Image Courtesy - Pinterest


4. Satchel Bag 

Another popular classic, a satchel bag is sort of like a soft-sided briefcase. It's a large bag usually used for casual occasions, and comes with a big-ish loose sack connected to a pair of straps. Traditional satchels have a long strap that you can carry diagonally across your body, while contemporary bag trends have seen several modern variations with tweaks to the basic form. Satchel bags are relatively roomier than your average handbag, and the rectangular body comes with a flat bottom. 


Image Courtesy - Pinterest


5. Hobo Bag 

Made with a soft, elastic material, a hobo bag is typically large with a slouched body in a crescent shape, and ordinarily has a long strap to be worn over the shoulder. The soft material of a hobo bag tends to slump when it's set down. It usually has one spacious compartment, sealed with a singular zipper, and are named after the bindles traditionally carried by homeless people on a stick. In 2020 hobo bags are just as fashionably relevant, with a plethora of sizes, silhouettes and textures in style. 


Image Courtesy - Allie Express


Also Read: 6 Affordable Online Stores You Can Shop From On A Budget


For Practical Purposes 


1. Duffel Bag 

This one doesn't really warrant much of an explanation, and is more of a unisex carry-on than a handbag for women, although there are silhouettes and styles meant specifically for the latter category. A duffel bag is a large, cylindrical bag with two straps and rounded ends, preferred for carrying moderately heavy luggage, such as for when you're heading to the gym or even for a small trip. The name of this bag originated in Belgium, and stands for the material originally used to make it. 


Image Courtesy - Asteca Ambiental


2. Laptop Bag

Again, this is a very practical uni-sex bag meant primarily for carrying a laptop, along with other knick-knacks. A laptop bag is typically used by office-goers for its multiple compartments and the ample space inside the bag. Usually horizontal and rectangular in shape, a laptop bag would moistly feature heavy padding to protect the device kept inside. It is attached to a long, wide and comfortable strap, with the length typically being adjustable. 


Image Courtesy - Prop Shop 24


3. Messenger Bag 

The functionality of a messenger bag is appreciated by both men and women in equal measure, although the size tends to lean towards smaller in the latter category of users. The name originates from the bags traditionally used by postmen, but the modern version is sleeker and more elegant, with materials like leather and canvas being amongst the most commonly used. These are medium-sized rectangular bags with a long, thick and wide strap, and a fold-over front flap with clasp. 


Image Courtesy - Pinterest


4. Backpack Purse 

We all know what a backpack is, but one in the size and fit of a typical handbag has gained prominence in recent times. A backpack purse is a smaller and more stylish variation of the typical large backpack, commonly featuring details and embellishments. The specific size and silhouette vary considerably and can be anywhere from a rucksack to palm-sized. Off late, we've seen backpack purses in leather and canvas, with gold zippers, tassels or metallic studs used as adornments. 


Image Courtesy - StyleCaster


5. Barrel Bag

As the name suggests, this bag comes in the cylindrical shape of a barrel and is usually medium to small in size. Barrel bags typically have shorter shoulder straps, top zipper closure and a reasonable amount of room inside. The bag can be dressy or casual depending on the specific design you pick. 


Image Courtesy - Burberry


6. Belt Bag 

A recent hit amongst Instagram influencers, the belt bag has been one of the most trending pieces of the season. Which makes sense because of how effortlessly it can amp up your outfit's style quotient, while also serving practical needs. A belt bag is usually in the form of a small zippered pouch with a buckled belt as a strap, meant for wearing around the waist. It's also known as a fanny bag, although belt bags lean more towards style and class than utility, unlike fanny packs. 


Image Courtesy - Gigi Pip


7. Weekender Bag 

The difference between a duffel bag and a weekender bag is in the size and purpose, with the latter usually being larger and roomier. As the name suggests, the weekender bag is meant for short travel requirements like a weekend getaway, and the bag has come into the popular spotlight recently. It's extremely spacious and typically comes with both a pair of short straps and a long wide adjustable strap. It's similar to a hold-all bag with an open-top but will usually come in a material like your classic leather or printed canvas. 


Image Courtesy - Travel Away



The Style Staples


1. Clutch 

A true must-have for dressier occasions, a clutch is a small, flat handbag with no straps or handles, and a top sliding clasp. There's a staggering variety of silhouettes, forms and designs in the category of clutches for women, with options like textured, solid, sequined, embellished, embroidered and quilted at your dispense. It's designed to be hand-held or carried under the arm, and has a bare-minimum amount of space inside for small items like money, lipstick or travel-sized beauty products. 


Image Courtesy - Wise Geek


2. Bowler Bag 

With a name inspired by bags used to carry bowling balls, a bowler bag is a medium-sized, dome-shaped handbag typically featuring a pair of short, thick straps. Bowler bags usually have multiple compartments inside and are versatile enough to be incorporated in both casual day-looks, and dressier night outfits. It's a popular retro style of handbags, from the 1990s. 


Image Courtesy - Sofiq


3. Envelope Bag 

It's exactly what the name suggests, a bag in the form and shape of an envelope. Envelope bags are thin and long rectangular bags intended for being hand-held, and feature a triangular front flap like in the case of an actual envelope. Typically they don't have any straps, although you can find a hybrid of sling and envelope bag. These are meant for dressier occasions and parties, with just enough space for a few essential items. 


Image Courtesy - Pinterest


4. Minaudière 

While a minaudière is certainly a handbag for women, it also ventures into the territory of jewellery. It's a small box handbag akin to a clutch, except the Minaudière variety will feature heavy embellishments or elaborately embroidered fabric. They are meant to be sported with glam outfits like the ones you'd wear to a party, celebration or a wedding. It's a black-tie event kind of bag and comes with details like beads, sequins, glitter, crystals, rhinestones, or jewels.


Image Courtesy - Inside Weddings


Also Read: A *Crystal* Clear List Of The 8 Hottest Jewellery Trends


5. Cross-Body Flap Bag

A cross-body flap bag is an absolute must-have accessory, especially for semi-casual events like an understated lunch date or a house party. You'll usually get one in a size straddling small and medium, with a front clasped flap as the predominant feature. In some cases, the flap does not come with a clasp or a locking mechanism, and there's a zipper inside to secure your belongings while the flap is folded close. 


Image Courtesy - Omoda


6. Baguette Bag

A baguette bag is similar to a barrel bag in form, but without the circular ends and distinctly cylindrical body. It's a small, compact handbag that first made an appearance in the late 1990s, on catalogs of Italian fashion company Fendi. If you've watched Sex And The City, you must have seen Carrie Bradshaw sporting a baguette bag on more than one occasion. This narrow shoulder bag typically comes with a small strap-like handle. 


Image Courtesy - Shopee Singapore


7. Wristlet  

Again, as the name suggests, a wristlet is a small clutch-like bag that features a zipped pouch attached to a loop, meant to be worn on the wrist. As far as size is concerned, a wristlet is typically larger than an average wallet, and has a large open compartment meant for your phone, keys etc, along with a smaller zipped pouch for cash and cards. A wristlet is easy, timeless, and also super-easy to style with different kinds of outfits. 


Image Courtesy - Aliexpress


For The Lovers Of Quirk 


1. Round Bag 

Also known as circle bags, these are sling bags with a circular body and a long strap to put over the shoulder. It's a beautiful yet unique handbag style, that you can sport with any dressy ensemble to playfully switch up your bag game. Round bags are made of a wide range of materials, from leather or fabric to metal or jute. 


Image Courtesy - Pinterest


2. Bucket Bag 

Yep, a bag in the shape of a bucket. Bucket bags have been especially popular off-late, with sizes varying from a small backpack to a palm-sized carry-on. Their popularity at least in part stems from their versatility in styling, with specific forms available for school, work, or a general day hand purse. These bags have evolved over time in colour, material and style, but the basic bucket silhouette is fundamental. A close cousin of this handbag type, is a decorated Potli bag, usually paired with ethnic apparel. 


Image Courtesy - Aliexpress


3. Doctor's Bag

No points for guessing where the inspiration for this bag style came from. Closely emulating the portable medical bag lugged around by a physician during house-visits, the modern doctor's bag is a more stylish take on the utility carrier. It's a chic, modern representation of a classic style, and the trendier versions come with dainty details like gold clasps and stylish leather straps. 


Image Courtesy - Pinterest


4. Muff Bag

A muff is a small fuzzy winter-bag, made of a material like faux fur, wool or velvet. It's usually either circular or cylindrical in shape, and offers a decent amount of space in the form of a singular compartment secured by a zipper. The origins of a muff bag in the category of women's fashion dates as far back as 1570, when fur trimming was extremely popular amongst the masses. 


Image Courtesy - Shopper Board


5. Basket Bag 

Typically made of jute or straw, a basket bag is exactly that, a basket in the form of a bag with straps. More often than not, a basket bag is collected as a handicraft fashion item, than a handbag for everyday use. A basket bag is a vintage handbag type, and in present times usually used for events like trips to the beach, or a picnic excursion. However, with the right details and adornments, you can certainly channel a basket bag into a fashion statement. 


Image Courtesy - Corumeo

"I'm very organised these days, and I keep my life in my handbag, like most women." - Britt Ekland

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