If you're a woman with a heart that beats for fashion, then it's likely you have a not-so-guilty preference for one particular type of fashion item. Some girls can't resist a new pair of earrings, others find the allure of a fresh navy jumper all too tempting to avoid. I'd say I'm a “shoe person” and have little to no control when I stumble upon a pair of heels that talk to my innermost desires.
Conversely, being a shoe person has made me really good at buying bags (let me explain). Since I'll fall for almost any fancy piece of footwear that looks at me the right way, I’m far more discerning when it comes to handbags.
Carrying the Antonia bag from Shrimps.
This means I'm fussy in many ways. My bags have to be versatile, well-made, on-trend and yet with the potential to last season after season. I don't love them unconditionally just because they're new or pretty; they have to earn a place in my wardrobe. As such, I've become well acquainted with some of the best handbag bags in the business.
From affordable options that genuinely look more expensive (and won't fall apart after a few wears) to the designer names that are actually worth spending your paycheque on, these are my recommendations for every handbag category…
Best Luxury Handbag Brands
This is my favourite little black bag. It's by Prada and goes with every work outfit.
First things first: If you're going to spend big bucks, please do so on something that will last. I'm not into putting down a wad of cash on something that will only look current for a season—my clothes, bags and shoes all have to work hard for the money.
With that in mind, I think there are certain luxury brands that are renowned for their top-quality leather goods as well as being able to tap into the fashion zeitgeist and produce something that feels at once current and timeless. Clever.
This designer handbag list could go on forever because it's such a competitive market and there are so many options available, but I have narrowed it down to a mere six to help in your search.
Prada does trend-smashing options as well as it does classics. I'm a big fan of the brand's hardwearing Saffiano leather (that's like a textured high-shine finish) when it comes to choosing a quality day bag you want to carry non-stop.
Another Italian luxury fashion house revered for its high standards and impeccable finish, Bottega may be better known for its signature woven bags, but a newer wave of styles (like this slouchy, ruched pouch) is proving to be a sales hit. They keep selling out…
This Spanish brand is known for its incredible leathers, and it's something that creative director Jonathan Anderson has amped up to the max, creating many It bags since he started at the brand in 2013. The Flamenco bag has been particularly popular again over the past year or so and I can see why—it's so laid back and easy to use.
We all know Fendi's Baguette bag is a thing of beauty and will forever be cool, but the Italian fashion house creates other great handbag styles too. Right now, I'm into this Croissant shoulder bag.
Chloé has had more It bags in its time than I've had really hot dinners, and many of those styles from the past still stand up today as a worthwhile investment. Many of the Chloé bags feature quite distinct hardware details and I have to admit, I prefer the plainer options. So this canvas Woody tote is the kind of summer bag I'd happily carry during the warmer months forever more.
British brand Mulberry is still respected for its top-quality manufacturing and hardworking handbags, but the product offering these days is so much more varied and exciting than it was a decade ago. Creative Director Johnny Coca has injected a whole lot of fun into the brand whilst maintaining a steady stream of sensible, covetable handbags too. I like it when those two sensibilities come together to create something that's a statement but not so specific you can only wear it with certain outfits. A recent collaboration with Ahluwalia does just that with its sustainable patchwork designs.
Hermès bags are amongst some of the most expensive in the world due to the incredible craftsmanship behind each and every piece. The French brand's leather goods also tend to retain their value (so long as you don't completely destroy one) and could be considered a very wise investment if you have, oh, you know, £10,000 or more to spare.
Show me a fashion editor who doesn't have a Gucci bag. Almost every industry person I know has a bit of the GG action in their lives, and for good reason. This brand knows exactly how to created buzzed-about items, but it also knows how to produce a really solid, everyday kind of crossbody mini bag—a holy grail for those of us on the go.
Best Contemporary Handbag Brands
Elleme's raffia Baozi bag
This is the part of the handbag industry that's been hotting up for years. Hitting around the £300 to £600 mark, new designer brands you can perhaps afford have been cropping up every season. With more to come for the rest of this year, it's clear that both retailers and shoppers are responding with some real zeal.
Once upon a time, this corner of the market was pretty empty (you could maybe get something around this price point from Marc Jacobs or See by Chloé), but now, it's hard to filter my favourites down into something digestible for you and your wardrobe. I've given it my best shot by grouping together the best contemporary bags I've invested in as well as the favourites amongst my fellow editors.
Australian label Oroton has only recently come to the UK but the brand is over 80 years old and a real favourite in its homeland. It's all about pared back shapes in neutral colours, aka the kind of simple-yet-effective handbags that go with everything.
If something kooky is your jam, then LASTFRAME is the answer. The Japanese brand has seen great success with its small fabric shoppers which range from intricate knits like this chequerboard style through to pleated versions in hot pink. They may an impact and will definitely generate compliments.
Dragon Diffusion's bags are handmade and purposefully created to feel artisanal and unique with slightly wonky silhouettes and an aged patina finish. They're the perfect chuck-everything-in-and-go kind of bags, and French girls are particularly keen.
Wandler is perhaps the most popular handbag brand in our office (four people own one). New styles are now filtering in and all of us would be more than happy adding to our collection. I've carried my mini Wandler (in white, might I add) so many times that you'd expect it to be battered, but it still looks perfect.
Elleme is a French brand that I've been in love with for a few years now. I own a couple of its styles—a Baozi (above) and one of these Raisin totes—and get plenty of wear out of both. They're unusual but still plain enough to keep using on repeat, plus they're beautifully manufactured.
When it comes to perfect straw bags, Muuñ is the one. These are handwoven in Ghana, finished in Paris and all come with handy inner pouches to keep your belongings safe.
When it comes to trendsetting bags, BY FAR is always at the start of the curve. Its '90s inspired shoulder bags have spawned many a copycat, and now they're experimenting more with iterations like this pocket style and wilder colours like this green.
I'm a huge fan of Marni's mainline leathergoods (and its Trunk bag is a classic style I'm really keen to save up for one day), but there's a little diffusion artisanal line called Marni Market, which is full of joyful shoppers and totes in woven, knitted and crocheted fabrics at more affordable prices. They are selling out fast, obviously!
Best Affordable Handbag Brands
My cat, Folly, and a cute beaded bag from Topshop.
Buying expensive-looking handbags on the high street is still—even in 2021—really difficult. I think it's best to go one of two ways: Either opt for something really minimal (and ideally made of suede or leather) or choose to indulge the wilder trends and cuter styles on a budget. Sometimes it's tricky to tell whether a beaded bag cost you £500 or £25, for example.
COS's bag offering has really improved over the last few seasons, with super-minimal leather and fabric styles that you could easily trick someone into thinking they're from The Row. No joke!
If you're into '90s and '00s style, then Weekday will be a surefire hit. The Scandi brand specialises in simple fabric styles that riff on retro silhouettes like bumbags or mini shoulder bags.
Charles & Keith's vegan leather bags are more exciting than your average, and the brand will try quite daring trends. You can also find bags that strike a note somewhere in the middle, like this cute woven style.
Kin is an in-house brand at John Lewis & Partners, and it's the perfect destination for those of you who just want very plain, very chic, pared-back, practical styles at a decent price.
Baggu's reusable nylon shopping bags are just so joyful!
Arket's bags are of a similar ilk to COS: Minimal in style, nicely made and guaranteed to last. Its straw styles have been particularly favoured this summer.
Zara is always going to be more trend-driven than classic, but grab-and-go styles like this maxi tote will be handy for many years to come.
My best-ever beach bag came from Mango quite a few summer ago, and the Spanish brand currently stocks a range of roomy totes that could compete with it.