The Definitive Handbag Style Guide

Like the women who carry them, handbags too come in all shapes and sizes, and some fancy sounding names too. Just as every woman is beautiful in her own way, so are the various styles of bags. As the handbag is an integral part of a woman’s ensemble, it can play a key role in improving your overall look. Plus you need to know the ‘bag etiquette’ too. Just as you choose your dress to suit the occasion, your handbag style too has to be appropriate for the occasion.

Here’s a look at some of the popular handbag styles and tips on when and how to carry them.

Tote Handbag

Tote – Perhaps the most popular of all handbag styles, the tote handbag is a medium to large sized square or trapezoid bag with two generous sized parallel handles at top to carry it in your hand. Versatility, functionality and spaciousness are tote bags’ most endearing features making them work, shopping and play favourites of women across the globe. Tote goes well with almost all outfits except for slinky eveningwear.

Hobo Handbag

Hobo – The hobo is a medium to large slouchy bag with rounded bottom and edges, a dip in the middle and one end-to-end shoulder strap. Extremely informal and casually chic in its overall appearance, the hobo is not the bag for the boardroom or the cocktails but it is great for casual outings, friendly lunches and semi-formal workplaces. Think of the hobo as your bag equivalent of denims. Hardy, comfy, stylish but not for formal occasions.

Baguette Handbag

Baguette – The baguette is a small to medium sized, structured and rectangular (more wide than high) bag often with a flap and a detachable end to end shoulder strap. With smaller baguettes with detachable shoulder strap, you can remove the strap and turn your baguette into an evening clutch. The baguette usually tucks in above the wearer’s waist making it an ideal accessory for the pear shaped woman. Depending on the material and hardware, the baguette can go beautifully with most outfits and occasions.

Clutch Handbag

Clutch – The clutch is a small to tiny rectangular handheld or tucked underneath the shoulder bag that’s goes amazingly well with eveningwear and formal occasions (It is what female celebrities carry walking the red carpet). Bows, tassles, sequins,crystals, metallica- you name it and there is a clutch somewhere carrying it as embellishment. The clutch is not meant for carrying more than a lipstick, a tiny comb and a slim and sleek cell phone.

Foldover Handbag

Foldover clutch – A foldover clutch, a dual-purpose avatar of the not-so-great-on-space clutch, is a handbag with a flap that folds over to form a clutch. If it has a detachable shoulder strap or handles or both, you can use it in daytime as a handheld or shoulder hung bag and as a clutch in the evening.

Bucket Handbag

Bucket – A bucket bag is a medium to large sized, more long than wide and unstructured carry-all bag with drawstrings on top. Like the hobo bag, it is all casual chic and carefree nonchalance. Leave it at home if you are a white collar worker or going to a fancy restaurant for dinner but otherwise, you will love to carry this roomy bag everywhere with you.

Crossover Bag

Crossover – A crossover bag literally goes across over your body i.e. it is worn on one shoulder, crosses your body diagonally with its long strap and comes to lie on your opposite side hip or lower back. Amazingly comfortable for daywear as it leaves your hands free, distributes the weight evenly and is roomy enough to carry many essentials and more, its only drawback is that you need slim hips to carry it as it draws the eye to your lower half.

Messenger Handbag

Messenger – The messenger bag is a larger version of the rectangular crossover bag which makes it roomier for carrying your paraphernalia. Great for taking to college or office as it can hold your laptop/ tablet, a couple or more notebooks and a slim lunch pack too.

Satchel Handbag

Satchel – The satchel is a medium to large bag with a flap closure that snaps shut. The traditional satchel, very popular with students for its roominess, usually has a long strap for wearing across the body and a short strap for holding by hand. The ladies’ handheld versions of satchels are more structured and may be large, medium or small is size. The satchel is a great office or day bag.

Bowling Handbag

Bowling – The bowling bag resembles a dome-shaped satchel with top handles and shoulder straps. Its retro looks, structured shape, generous size and roomy interiors are stylish as well as practical for day use. A smaller bowling bag can go well with evening and formal events too


Now that you know the major bag styles, here are some general rules for carrying just the right bag style to office, shopping, casual, dressy, formal, semi, informal, gala or red carpet events. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Large bags give a relaxing aura, small bags add sophistication.
  • Large bags go with casuals and small bags go with formals.
  • An embellished bag is for evenings. Day bags are meant to be simpler and starker. If you must have some add-ons, opt for a bag with showy hardware or tie a bright scarf at the junction where the bag’s body andshoulder strap meet.
  • A stiff bag and a casual outfit, or a casual bag and a formal outfit, do not work together.
  • Your bag’s shape and length should counterbalance your curves. Tall and skinny? Carry a hobo. Heavy on hips? Choose a bag that ends at your waistline. Short and thickset? Carry a long and slim bag.
  • When in doubt, carry a medium sized tote if it’s daytime and a clutch, if it’s after work hours.