Cross-body handbags

The Third Arm
Sorry, fanny pack lovers, but as long as the cross-body bag exists, there's no reason for that spare tire of a pouch to make a comeback. The extra-long strap keeps your arms free so you can text, balance a cardboard to-go tray of iced coffees or haul groceries without feeling like you're a pair of mouse ears away from resembling that photo of your mom at Disneyland in the late '80s.

Look for a size that's just large enough to carry a hardcover book or a 7-inch tablet. That way you won't be tempted to overstuff the bag with "just in case" extras that will kill your shoulder after an hour's wear.

Clockwise from top left: Neon Yellow Crossbody, $65; Tory Burch "Robinson - Mini" Crossbody Bag, $195; Legacy Colorblock Leather Swingpack, $178; Colorblock Perforated Leather Mini Bag, $168; Ted Baker London Large Quilted Crossbody Bag, $165;
Tote bags

The Double Agent
If there's any bag that we truly depend on, it's the tote bag. With all of that spaciousness, it's part gym bag, part baby bag, part beach bag. But we like it best as the getaway bag, as in those all-too-rare weekends when you cram in a change of clothes, a good book and your toothbrush, and head out of town to relax.

When buying a tote, pay close attention to the handles. Make sure they're long enough to easily slide onto your shoulder and sturdy enough that they won't tear off easily when the bag is stuffed full (which, let's face it, will be more often than not).

Clockwise from top left: Leather Shopper Bag, $238; Leather Stripe Tote, $80; Dianne Tote, $250; Shopper Bag, $169; Lauren Ralph Lauren Newbury Color-Pocket Fashion Tote, $278;
Structured top-handle bags

The Secret Keeper
The idea of a perpetually organized purse sounds blissful. On the days—or weeks—when that's not even a remote possibility, a structured top-handle bag guarantees that no one can tell that you're carrying eight months of crumpled receipts, two powdery tins of busted Altoids, and half a dozen pens that don't write, not to mention your keys and cash. The handbag holds its form so well that it's the ideal style for the office, making you feel pulled together even on days when you hit snooze too many times to iron your shirt.

Top-handle bags are appropriate for any work environment, but pay attention to the color. If you plan on carrying it every day—or you work in a conservative office—go for a dark neutral, like tan, gray or black.

Clockwise from top left: Daubs bag, $50; Shopper with Braided Handles, $80; Alexis Barrel Satchel by Ivanka Trump, $150; Color Block Faceted Turn Lock Satchel, $70; Swanky-Grass Green satchel, $88;
Drawstring bags

The Throwback
Saved by the Bell's Mark-Paul Gosselaar is hotter than ever on Franklin & Bash, and Cory and Topanga are returning to TV in the reboot of Boy Meets World, so it only makes sense that another late-'90s hit is experiencing a revival: the drawstring (or bucket) bag. Nearly as spacious as a tote, it's great for women on the run. However, the top closes so you don't have to worry about the contents spilling out as you dash from one place to another. Plus, the teardrop shape is perfect for switching up your look without changing your outfit—it lends a funky, casual tone to whatever you're wearing.

Like the tote, it's important to check the handles, since you can (and will) cram a lot into this bag. Also pay attention to the drawstring—or clasp—closure. If it slides open easily, it will only get looser over time.

Clockwise from top left: Marais Alvina Bucket Bag by Sam Edelman, $118; Lily Drawstring Tote by T Tahari, $198; Drawstring bag, $139; Michael Michael Kors Marina Drawstring Canvas Tote, $198; Pastel Colourblock Duffle, $62;

The Arm Candy
At first glance, the clutch seems impractical—it can barely hold a set of keys—but that's because you're thinking of it as a carryall, not what it really is: a bauble with purpose. It's just as eye-catching as a pair of chandelier earrings, but unlike jewelry, it discreetly holds your bare necessities.

When shopping, make a fist around your cell phone and stick it in a prospective clutch. If it fits, the handbag should have just enough space for your night-out essentials, dubbed "PMILK" by sartorial minimalists: phone, money, ID, lipcolor, keys.

Clockwise from top left: Rachel Rachel Roy Impulse Small Frame Clutch, $59; Shagreen Embossed Minaudiere, $88; Lila clutch by Tinley Road, $85; Monique Clutch in Coral, $98; Mina Cage Clutch, $128;

Next: 9 structured purses for every style