The Handbag Phenomenon

As dogs are to men, handbags are to women: the perfect accessory to carry around with you on all your excursions. How much do we know about the handbag?

"It’s all about the individual and personal style."

The handbag has evolved into something of a must-have item for all women. They safeguard our most precious items: keys, phone, money, lipstick and mascara in a fashionable yet undeniably practical storage unit.

It is pretty safe to say that the handbag has begun to define a woman’s very own personality, ultimately spawning into a part of ourselves, reflecting both our individuality and our very essence.

In early modern Europe, handbags were less of common thing. Men and women originally carried around little purses or pouches filled with coins. They were usually made of sheep skin and leather and made transporting money easy and securely.

As the vogue of disposable clothes wearing among the wealthier classes began to boom, so did these purses. They became specifically made to match a woman’s particular outfit on any given day, and were now made out of silk or velvet with a drawstring that could be easily and comfortably attached to the wrist.

The modern purse or handbag is of course much different in design. For one thing, handbags have grown in size and now carry a lot more than just money. London’s H.J. Cave & Sons is regularly regarded as the first designer of the luxury leather bag that we see today from around 1839. What he invented of course truly is a phenomenon.

ChanelWalk out onto any high street and you will see every women carrying some form or style of a handbag, whether it is high street or a designer name.

“My favourite designers are Mulberry, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Marc Jacobs and Chanel,” says Sana, a doctor from Birmingham.

It can be many a-girls dream to own at least one designer handbag in their lifetimes. And with fashion designers making the most of women’s kryptonite, the road to chic can be pretty expensive for those willing to pay up to £2,500 for the perfect Chanel quilted number.

Whether you choose to carry a designer handbag or a high street one, you will be bowled over by the choice in style, colours and shapes. Here are some of the most common and popular styles and trends out right now:

The Shoulder Bag
Chloe Shoulder bagThe shoulder bag is considered the every-day bag and is one of the most popular bags that can fit all a woman’s daily essentials.

Sitting on the shoulder, it does not get in the way of day-to-day activities because they also leave your hands and arms free to chat on the phone or sip your coffee.

“I prefer mostly tan coloured bags because they go with every outfit. The shoulder bags are great because I can fit everything into them, including all my work notes,” says 25 year old NHS worker, Salma.

A particular favourite is the Chloé Alice Shoulder bag, which comes in monochrome block colours. It exudes sophistication, and retails at a mighty £1080.00.

Michael Kors ToteTotes have always had an elegant, classic shape perfect for the well-dressed professional woman. They have handles on the top which are traditionally held onto the crock of your elbow.

Alternatively, you can hold them loosely in your hand with perfect ladylike elegance. Totes come in all shapes and sizes, from small, medium to supersize. Block colours work really well on these kind of bags, including buckles, studs and other kinds of embellishments. You can also opt for the classic look, which come in brown, tan or black and go with any outfit.

“Totes are definitely my favourite,” says Biology student Mona. “They’re classy, smart and casual.”

The smart and sophisticated Michael Kors Cynthia Saffiano Tote can make a perfect present for a close friend or loved one, and comes in a range of vibrant colours priced at an average £285.00.

ClutchClutches are hand held, usually without any straps, and mostly saved for evening, or dressing up looks. They come in lots of sizes and shapes and the choice of prints, colours and fabrics can be pretty endless.

A season favourite is the supersize envelope clutches which are held under the arm and ooze sophistication and elegance, especially when teamed with a pencil skirt and heels.

The Maison du Posh Knuckle leather clutch has the popular envelope shape but with a funky knuckle style metal embellishment on top. It is great for evenings out and can also add a cool edge to any celebration party. It usually retails for £455.00.

match jacobs cross bodyAnother favourite is the cross-body bag which is useful when out and about or travelling. Because it remains attached to you, it means you don’t have to worry too much about keeping hold of it. It is also extremely handy on nights out.

Designer brands of the cross body bag include Jimmy Choo, Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Burberry.

The Marc Jacobs Classic Q Isabelle is small and sweet, and comes in a perfect pink, retailing at around £200.00.

Mulberry BayswaterWhoever thought the school playground could spawn the beginning of a fashion favourite? The satchel is very hot this season, and anyone who has any style inkling at all is sure to have or want one. They come in leather, with the classic school-feel coming in tan.

Otherwise, you can opt for the fluorescent yellow, pink or green depending on your fancy. With straps to wear on your shoulder and an endless number of pockets, it is the perfect bag for work or university. You can also find different multicolour’s including funky floral prints to give your satchel a different edge.

The Mulberry Classic Bayswater satchel is largely recognised as Britain’s ‘It’ bag retailing at £695.00. Designed by Nicholas Knightly, it became an instant best-seller. It is an all-time favourite of Nottingham student Shiza:

“I just find it timeless, sophisticated and classy. I like that it is simple, without the huge logos. It’s beautiful!”

It is probably not wrong to say that much of the handbag industry is dominated by Western designers, who have carried the torch of chic practicality for so long. But, that being said a growing number of Indian designers are also emerging onto the scene.

The Handbag Phenomenon

“The Indian workers were born into the trade, their fine embroidery and tailoring skills have been handed down through generations. All the artwork is done by people who know what they’re doing, Indian style. Most of them are Muslim men with very specialized skills, such as thread embroidery or stone embroidery — just like shoemakers, or artists.”

Bollywood megastar Kareena Kapoor, is pretty well known for her love of handbags. Regularly sporting the likes of YSL, Bottega Vaneta, Chanel and Alexander McQueen, she is well on her way to becoming Bollywood’s favourite fashionista.

Big trends to look out for this season are adventurous shapes, supersize or bucket bags, florals, fluorescents, colour-blocking, alligator skins and Asian influences. Of course, fashion is what you make it in the end. Style surpasses all boundaries.

As Alexander McQueen famously said: “It’s a new era in fashion – there are no rules. It’s all about the individual and personal style, wearing high-end, low-end, classic labels, and up-and-coming designers all together.”

It is probably fair to say what even handbag you go for, what it means to you, is probably just as important as what you use it for.

Aisha is an editor and a creative writer. Her passions include music, theatre, art and reading. Her motto is “Life is too short, so eat dessert first!”

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