La Regale Satin Clutch on Frame with Rhinestone Closure

Photo: Courtesy of La Regale

The Fits-More-Than-a-Mint Clutch
You need something that goes with your dark jeans and heels on a Saturday night and is suitable for a black-tie wedding. O creative director Adam Glassman says a bag in a neutral metallic material—like silver, gold or pewter—adds subtle sparkle and works with both. Make sure your purse has a wrist strap so that you can avoid tucking it under your arm and snagging it on fabrics like silk or chiffon. (We like this hot pink version from La Regale.) A brightly colored leather clutch can be just as versatile and looks less formal than satin or lace for daytime events.

The right size: Approximately 10 inches long (the size of a standard envelope), says Amanda Mull, handbag enthusiast and managing editor of

The most common mistake: Choosing a too-petite style that barely fits a tube of lipstick and a credit card. Slip your essentials into the bag before you buy and make sure that you can easily snap it closed.

One to try: Chunky metal or colored zippers (seen on designer handbags like 3.1 Phillip Lim and Helmut Lang) accent a graphic shape—not to mention they'll keep everything inside secure.
The Limited Simple Tote in Black

Photo: Courtesy of the Limited

The Tote You Can Trust
Instead of choosing a flimsy fabric tote (which can sag and dig into your shoulder), invest in something more durable that keeps its shape—like a sturdy leather, coated canvas or rainproof rubber in a neutral color (like black, camel or tan) that won't show dirt and works year-round. (Try this sleek version from the Limited at left.) Look for thick, reinforced handles that are at least two fingers wide—this ensures they won't stretch out or snap if you're carrying a heavy load (like a laptop or half a dozen apples from your favorite fruit vendor).

The right size: Something roughly the size of a cereal box that doesn't jut out more than six inches from your body.

The most common mistake: Choosing straps that are too short or too long. Make sure that your bag can be easily swung over your shoulder (with the top hitting at the middle of your ribs) but doesn't drag on the ground if you carry it with one hand.

One to try: A two-tone tote made of contrasting colors doesn't just add style to a standard shopper—many brands (like C. Wonder) feature versions with a darker color on the bottom so that you can set it down at the grocery store or under your desk without worrying about stains.
Tory Burch Ally Shoulder Bag

Photo: Courtesy of Tory Burch

The Lady-Who-Lunches (at Her Desk) Bag
The best choice is a logo-free version made of pebbled or synthetic leather that is better at taking a beating over timeā€”not cotton or suede, both of which show stains and scuffs and usually only work for one season. Instead of a slouchy hobo style where things can sink to the middle, opt for a bag with a defined, rectangular shape (like this purse from Tory Burch). Black, brown, wine or camel will take you through all four seasons; vibrant jewel tones can work with a wool coat or a sundress, says Mull.

The right size: A purse that's approximately the same length and width as a file folder but not so boxy that it interferes with how your arm swings when you walk. Make sure it has an adjustable strap—a puffy winter jacket can hike up a bag that fits comfortably over a tank top in the summer, says Glassman.

The most common mistake: Choosing a smooth, buttery leather (like lambskin) that shows nicks and scratches, and sags under the weight of a heavy wallet.

One to try: Emerald green accessories showed up at shows like Stella McCartney and Mulberry. Choose a bag in this color to punch up a navy suit or a black-and-white print dress.
Asos Flip Lock Cross Body Bag

Photo: Marko Metzinger/Studio D

The Keep-Your-Hands-Free Cross-Body
You'll feel less like a pack mule when you're running errands if you try a compact messenger style that hangs diagonally across your body. Check that the stitching (particularly at the corners) is even and tight: It shouldn't budge or fray if you poke at it with your fingernail, says Mull. Opt for a lightweight leather (real or faux) or nylon that is durable but won't weigh you down when you're already carrying an armload of dry cleaning or a load of groceries.

The right size: A bag that rests on the curviest part of your hip or in front of your lower abdomen and is not too much larger than a DVD.

The most common mistake: Chain straps easily slide off, dig into shoulders and add unnecessary weight. Look for a flat, broad strap that is more forgiving.

One to try: A bold pattern with personality is good for off-duty hours—like the watercolor-inspired florals and graphic tribal prints seen on everything from accessories to dresses at shows like Jason Wu and Michael Kors.
LeSportsac Medium Weekender bag

Photo: Courtesy of LeSportsac

The Weekend-Escape Carryall
For a short getaway or gym visit, a bag made of heavy-duty nylon or canvas won't rip (even when tossed into the underbelly of an airplane or bus) but is soft enough to stuff into a locker. A flexible fabric (like this lightweight nylon LeSportsac duffle) can be folded and stashed in a bigger suitcase on longer trips and opened up later to bring home souvenirs, says Glassman. Look for a version with both a top handle for holding just sneakers and a change of clothes, and a long, detachable strap that can be worn across the body to balance heavier loads when you're schlepping through an airport.

The right size: An overnighter roomy enough to hold an extra outfit, pajamas, toiletries and a pair of shoes. (Most airlines limit your carry-on to 45 linear inches—meaning your bag should be no bigger than 22" x 14" x 9").

The most common mistake: Buying a bag that's heavy when empty. Thick leathers stand up to being stuffed into the overhead compartment, but they add extra weight.

One to try: A striped style is easier to spot on the luggage carousel, and everyone from Tory Burch to Donna Karan sent stripes down their spring runways.

Next: Packing secrets from travel pros