Know Your Handbag, Part 1


Luxury fashion is an unforgiving world in which language can transform just as quickly and unsuspectingly as trends. As brands start pushing boundaries in design they also start to blur lines between genres of accessories, sometimes creating new terms for products that had no place in one field or another. Shopping for the perfect handbag, for example, can get you in all sorts of trouble. Here are a few starter notes to keep in mind for when pictures just don’t cut it.


Clutch: A bag without a handle that just wants to be held. Often accompanied by a male voice grumbling, “How the hell do you open this thing…”

Crossbody: See ‘Shoulder Bag’ – but don’t forget to put the strap over your head, otherwise it doesn’t count. Expect to see a longer strap or sling.

Duffel Bag: This is tricky, as you tend to see all sorts of bags claiming to be ‘Duffel Bags’. Originally the military man’s carry-all, today’s bigger and sportier duffel bags might still see foreign lands, or gym locker-rooms. However, you’ll also notice re-purposed duffel bags as the fashionista’s utilitarian sidekick. In most cases a cylindrical shape (left-to-right, not up-down) with two handles.

Hobo: See ‘Shoulder Bag’ – but think ‘slouchy’. Don’t worry, it’s supposed to look that way. This would usually feature one handle long enough to stick your whole arm through.

Messenger Bag: The casual crossbody. Modelled by dutiful yet disgruntled postmen for over half a century, the classic look has been retooled and taken a step up as a must-have in the fashionable man or woman’s closet. Also, see ‘Shoulder Bag’.

Shoulder Bag: Literally ANY bag that you can hang on your shoulder. That’s about all there is to it.

Tote: The quintessential ‘hand’ ‘bag’. Any bag that you would most likely hold in your hand or in the crook of your elbow, but most certainly NOT on your shoulder.

Wristlet: A clutch with separation issues. Likes to disguise itself as a wallet, even though we all know that it’s not.


As you can see, many of the terms are linked and interchangeable, but beware of grouping certain styles together. For example, all crossbody bags are shoulder bags, but not all shoulder bags are crossbodies. Plus there are bags that come with detachable straps, making them so many different things all at once. What matters is how you wear it.

So, now that you’ve mastered the basics, go forth and shop with confidence.

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