Rue La La - Handbags and purses - Hermes, Chanel and Chloe

Your Guide to Totes & More
You rarely leave the house without a handbag. Let’s take a look at some iconic designs, must-know maintenance tips, and the origins of this essential accessory.

The Fundamentals

A host of handbag styles move through the shelves each season, but only a shining few endure the test of fashion’s fickle sense of time. Whether an evening bag, a shop-friendly tote, a stylish shoulder piece, or a functional crossbody, the following purses are the superstars of the handbag world.

Rue La La - Handbags and purses - The Clutch

The Clutch When it comes to evening bags, clutches are the life of the party. Chic and usually strapless, the clutch is a cocktail dress’s best friend. Hoarders and heavy packers, be warned: These handbags will force you to stick to the essentials, like cash, ID, lipstick, and keys. From the geometric box clutch to Judith Leiber’s whimsical minaudière (and even the minimalist envelope), there’s a coveted clutch that just about anyone can get a grip on.

The Tote
Not to be confused with the slightly obnoxious abbreviation for “totally,” totes are easily the most versatile and popular of all handbags. With the term derived from the word meaning “to carry,” a tote is designed with both structure and space in mind. Ideal for anything from a shopping trip to a day at the beach or an impromptu weekend getaway, totes are, well, totally essential.

Rue La La - Handbags and purses - The Tote

Rue La La - Handbags and purses - The Baguette

The Baguette
While you shouldn’t go spreading a slice of buttery Brie on it, the baguette is in fact inspired by that loaf of bread tucked under a French girl’s arm. It’s the ideal carefree companion at a picnic with friends. Made famous by FENDI after its ongoing appearance as Carrie Bradshaw’s super-stylish It bag in Sex in the City, the little one-strap wonder has actually been making the rounds in fashion circles since 1997.

The Hobo
Queen of the shoulder bags, this characteristically slouchy handbag is one of the most popular shapes. Known for their aesthetically pleasing and easy-to-tow crescent shape, hobo handbags are perfect for a morning farmers’ market or as the home for your survival kit on a blind dinner date. Normally oversized, this best-selling purse can be used for as many occasions as there are style choices. From Christian Dior to FENDI to Coach, top designers love putting their signature twists on this timeless handbag.

Rue La La - Handbags and purses - The Hobo

Rue La La - Handbags and purses - The Satchel

The Satchel
Valedictorian of the crossbody class, the satchel is defined by its structured shape made from leather or other durable, canvas-like fabrics. This boxy unisex bag eventually reached cult status among trendy twentysomethings after 2008 and can be found in every style lover’s repertoire.

Terakeet Page Break
The Louis Vuitton Speedy. The Chanel 2.55. And, of course, the Hermès Birkin. What gives them their staying power? Take a closer look.

Rue La La - Handbags and purses - Hermes Birkin

Splurge-worthy designer bags are all about noteworthy hardware. The Chanel 2.55 – a classic shoulder bag – was intended to be both sleek and sensible. It’s rumored that Coco Chanel put a zippered pocket under the front flap to have a place to store love letters. As for the Birkin? Hermès takes security to the next level with a signature lock and key attached to each design.

Rue La La - Handbags and purses - Louis Vuitton

Designer handbags always use the finest materials, from buttery leather to heavy hardware. However, the prices of raw materials have skyrocketed in the past few years. Even cotton is scarcer in supply. So leather and coated canvas (à la Louis Vuitton) have become quite the commodity. And heavy hardware plated with a precious metal only adds to the value. While the Birkin’s gold-plated hardware may seem elaborate, it’s really there to prevent tarnishing, which adds to the bag’s timelessness.

Rue La La - Handbags and purses

Craftsmanship counts. And the work done by handbag artisans can’t be replicated by a machine. As more processes become mechanized, handmade items are the most desirable. To ensure that your designer handbag has been cured, cut, and stitched with care, pick a style made in Europe – the home base of the powerhouse luxury brands.

Terakeet Page Break
If you’re going to drop big bucks to call a designer handbag yours, ensuring its authenticity is the number one priority. Study up, and you’ll be a self-made label connoisseur.

Louis Vuitton

Rue La La - Handbags and purses - Louis Vuitton SignatureLV monograms should form straight lines and the stitching should be tight and even.


Rue La La - Handbags and purses - Chanel SignatureIf the handbag is from the 1980s or later, there will be a signature hologram sticker or card inside. If it’s vintage, study the fonts, heat stamps, and the alignment of patchwork.

Marc Jacobs

Rue La La - Handbags and purses - Marc Jacobs SignatureMake sure each bag has a seasoned code and a Riri or MJ zipper.

Christian Dior

Rue La La - Handbags and purses - Christian Dior SignatureAll authentic Dior handbags come with a white cotton dust bag with grey writing. The serial number will be located on the flipside of the inner sewn-in label.


Rue La La - Handbags and purses - Gucci SignatureSimple. The GGs should line up symmetrically.

Saint Laurent

Rue La La - Handbags and purses - Saint Laurent SignatureYou will never find hanging tags on these handbags. Each bag comes with serial numbers embossed on the inside. And the interior label is always evenly aligned.


Rue La La - Handbags and purses - Fendi SignatureEvery FENDI bag comes with a hologram sticker and a serial tag.


Rue La La - Handbags and purses - Balenciaga SignatureThe bales (the part that connects the handles to the bag) are one of the keys to authenticating a Balenciaga. The bales should be thick and rounded, not thin or square. The notches in the metal studs will be rounded, not square, as well.

Terakeet Page Break
Care Tips
Whatever material you end up choosing for your handbag, be sure to understand the proper maintenance and care. Some materials, especially natural ones like leather or cotton, may be more difficult to clean or restore.

Rue La La - Handbags and purses - Chanel Care

Metals react differently to various conditions over time. Silver and copper tarnish, while gold can wear down with a lot of use, changing the look of your bag the longer you have it. Platinum is harder than gold and resists tarnishing, but it’s also more rare and therefore costs more. Other metals may be even stronger, but are unlikely to look as polished. While makers of designer handbags use quality materials, nothing is completely free from the effects of time and the elements, so if you plan to keep your handbag around awhile, be sure to take its hardware durability under consideration.

When storing your handbag, add a little stuffing to help the bag maintain its shape. Instead of using newspaper, save packing materials like Bubble Wrap or large foam peanuts, which won’t attract moths or other critters.

While tucked away, store your handbag in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight. If you have a dust bag, cover your handbag with it to keep the outside clean and fresh.

Rue La La - Handbags and purses - Care

Terakeet Page Break
A Look Back: The History of Handbags
The history of handbags is a long-running battle between fad and function. From markers of social status to mirrors of culture, handbags have an alluring past.

Rue La La - Handbags and purses - History

16th century:
Handbags were often designed to be discreet and hidden in or under the ornate, sweeping skirts of the time.

18th century:
After the French Revolution, slender neoclassical clothing brought about the handbag’s revival. Eventually, the English nicknamed handbags “reticules” and “indispensables,” solidifying their destiny as a staple accessory. While experts disagree on an exact date, the term “handbag” was born somewhere between the late 1800s and early 1900s, coinciding with the invention of train travel and its demand for handheld luggage.

Early 20th century:
After the Roaring Twenties hit, women no longer felt the need to harmonize their handbags with their outfits and turned to minimalist clutches instead, relinquishing Victorian embellishments. Fast-forward ten years and the shoulder bag, the satchel, and the clasp bag hit the mainstream. Handbags adopted a plastic, zippered style thanks to the eclectic art deco movement, which embraced abstract ideas and industrial materials.

1930s – 1940s:
When World War II drove American women into the workforce, comfortable, practical handbags with a militarized aesthetic became the most popular style.

Postwar prosperity pushed design houses like Chanel and Christian Dior into the spotlight. Designer handbags became as iconic as Grace Kelly, and her famous Hermès leather pocketbook was eventually renamed the Kelly bag in the 1970s. Accessorizing with a matching purse was the standard.

Youth culture embraced styles that complemented various fashion trends, like the miniskirt. As the value of individual expression through fashion soared with each passing decade, handbags finally found their niche as a statement accessory for any wardrobe or occasion.

The fashion industry soon became a target for notable feminists – a culprit of female suppression with its unrealistic beauty ideals. As women rejected things like makeup, bras, and purses, early 70s handbags were for functional use only, until disco came around and begged for something flashy. Labels were expensive and a fixation with logos opened the door for fake knockoffs to rush in.

Large flashy handbags experienced another resurgence as women moved up the corporate ladder. A sizable showy purse was an integral piece of the new power wardrobe. Handbags were worn to represent a kind of forceful, feminine success.

This decade brought with it a sensitive, spiritual awareness that embraced an earth-friendly ideal. In response, designers like Prada and kate spade new york championed a minimalist aesthetic that made handbags simple and practical, but still luxurious.

2000s & onward:
As logos were once again in vogue, design houses competed to have the It bag, placing handbags at the center of many fashion shows. Handbags became increasingly lucrative and, to this day, women everywhere eagerly anticipate the must-have bag of the season.

Read more about handbag trends on the Rue La La blog, The (Style) Guide.

Comments and feedback appreciated!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.