Indulge me for a moment: What would you discover if you were to audit your handbag collection? Would you find you own far more bags than you wear? Or are you the type who hasn't bought a new purse in years because you're unsure which style will suit you? Is your collection filled with trendier styles or classic shapes? Do you only buy designer bags or non-label items? Whatever diagnosis you come away with from looking at your closet, it's safe to say that finding the best bags for your everyday life takes time. Even as an editor, I can admit that I am an unhinged bag lady. I won't go into it but know that I own too many baby bags and not enough practical carryalls.
With this self-awareness in mind and a desire to streamline closets everywhere (my own included), I set out to identify the types of handbags you should own. By sifting through hundreds of street-style images, I narrowed it down to a list of 15 types of purses that lend themselves to being great long-term investments based on longevity, popularity, and functionality. Of course, I should note that you don't need to buy every single bag listed, but it's a great starting point for those trying to expand or edit their collection to ensure it's trend-proof. So without further ado, let's get into it.
1. Sleek Shoulder Bag
Regarding functional bags, no style is more up for the task than the shoulder bag. Unlike other styles, this silhouette won't be irritating to carry around all day; sure, it can be carried by hand, but the right shoulder bag can nestle comfortably on your shoulder and be forgotten about as you waft about the world. Plus, the great thing about this bag is that it comes in various sizes, shapes, and shades, making it one of the most versatile items you can invest in. While you can't go wrong buying any shoulder bag, try going for a sleeker style (one with sharp angles or bold hardware) to make this style feel unique.
2. Compact Crossbody
Can you recall the last time you were uncomfortable at a party or on the train because you were fumbling your purse around? Luckily for us, there's a solution for that: the crossbody bag. As the name suggests, this style is typically similar to a handbag or shoulder bag; the only defining difference is that it has a long enough strap to drape across the body. For those who can't be bothered to carry a handbag all day, the crossbody is the ideal long-term investment.
3. The 9-to-5 Bag
For working girls, it's necessary to have a bag that can be put to work—enter the 9-to-5 bag. Unlike the shoulder or crossbody purse, this style isn't necessarily limited to one shape. The work bag can draw inspiration from more geometric shapes (think: Céline's archival Trapeze Bag) or feel a bit more buttoned-up like a briefcase (e.g., Hermès's Box Kelly Bag). The most important thing about this style isn't the shape; instead, it has to have enough structure to be functional and formal enough to be worn in a professional setting.
4. Structured Top-Handle
Photo:SZYMON BRZÓSKA/THE STYLE STALKER
While having a purse you can wear to the office is imperative, that doesn't mean that structured bags have to be limited to the work week. In fact, top-handle bags, or the traditional "handbag," can play an essential role in your wardrobe. Unlike the work bag, this style is small enough to carry from day-to-night, but still spacious enough for the essentials. It's a style that can come with additional straps, but typically it's best carried by hand (hence the moniker) and has more sculptural or trendier elements that allow it to spice up a capsule wardrobe.
5. Carryall Tote
If you can't leave the house without your laptop, makeup bag, snacks, and so on, then a carryall tote is a must-have for your collection. Unlike the structured work bag, this style is far larger in size and less compact. One of the defining features of this bag is that it often has no interior boning, allowing you to stuff the maximum amount of items into it. Don't be fooled, though; while this bag is functional, it can also be fashionable. Recent runway collections have shown us that opting for an oversized carryall with minor details (e.g., hardware, contrasting stitching, or unexpected colors) will make this style feel even more stylish.
6. Clutch Bag
Hear me out on this: clutch bags are just as important as any other type of purse. While they're not as necessarily hands-free or roomy as other styles, they can play a pivotal role in dressing for specific occasions—e.g., weddings, nights at the ballet, or more formal moments. The key to making this style feel just as functional as other types of bags is to consider some of the following things: Is the clutch still big enough to carry the essentials? Does it come in a neutral or metallic hue that can be easily styled in at least three different ways? And does it also come with a detachable strap to allow versatility in styling? If you consider all of these factors before you buy a clutch bag, you can ensure it's an excellent long-term investment.
7. Hobo Bag
Still can't wrap your head around how a clutch bag would be a practical long-term investment? Well, plenty of other types of bags can work for your wardrobe—chief among them is the hobo bag. Similar to the carryall tote, this bag silhouette lacks interior boning to create an overly-structured shape. However, it is more prominent in size than the typical shoulder bag, giving it a more roomier interior. While this style may have been negatively associated with boho fashion in the past, with more contemporary takes of the style cropping up, it's become a must-have again.
8. The Baguette
You can not round up bags that have managed to outlast the trend cycle without mentioning one of the most iconic silhouttes of all time: the baguette. Now seen as a staple, this compact silhouette was first catapulted into the collective consciousness when it surfaced in Fendi's '97 collections. Since then, this bag has taken on a life of its own—it's been donned by some of our most beloved cultural icons (ahem, Carrie Bradshaw), and it's been re-invented in various ways by different designers over the years. While on a practical this style's relevance can be attributed to how it's easy to wear and how it can be shopped in so many variations and price points, the allure isn't rooted in practicality. This bag is timeless because it's cemented itself not just as a staple in the closets of many but as a part of the cultural zeitgeist. It's not just a bag; it's a baguette, baby.
9. Doctor's Bag
Photo:Launchmetrics Spotlight; SZYMON BRZÓSKA/THE STYLE STALKER
Before the baguette became an essential part of the wardrobes of women everywhere, there was another purse that was a staple among essential workers: the doctor's bag. During the Victorian era, this style became popular as physicians made house calls to tend to the ill and often carried all of their medical supplies in this bag. As medical care shifted to hospitals, this style moved from being a must-have with medical practitioners to a style donned by the fashion set. Part of the allure of this bag has to do with its shape, as it's smaller than a duffle bag but has more structure, so it feels a bit more like a work bag. Unlike the traditionally structured handbag, though, newer variations of the doctor's bag feel less stuffy and more stylish—recent collections have bags that feature sharp angles, shiny patent leathers, spacious interiors, and more contemporary details overall.
10. Crescent Bag
Until now, most of the bags featured in this story have had more rectangular or square-inspired shapes. But if you do not like to be boxed in, there are other types of bags worth owning—ahem, the crescent-shaped bag, for instance. As the moniker suggests, the defining feature of this style is that its shape draws inspiration from circles and ovals, so the edges are often curved upwards slightly or create a half-moon or egg-in-the-hole shape. While at first, this bag might now seem as timeless as other styles, that's far from the truth. Crescent bags are just as versatile as any other type of purse—you can shop this bag in various sizes, materials, shades, and price points. Plus, they're just as easy to style (you can wear them to work, on the weekends, and so on) proving that this shape shouldn't be passed over.
11. Bucket Bag
Do you recall when Rihanna carried around a wine glass? Well, she should have had a bucket bag. As surprising as that statement may sound, it's not an off-keen declaration for those who know the origin story of this bag style. The bucket bag, per reports, was created in the '40s by Louis Vuitton's grandson to carry multiple champagne bottles. Since then, this style has evolved tremendously as it's no longer used for champagne (sadly). Instead, it's become a staple bag style among the fashion set, partly due to its evolution. From high-street brands to indie labels, we've seen this bag's "old" shape given modern twists by offering various sizes, colors, materials, and even adaptable straps to be styled multifunctional. It may no longer carry champagne, but it's a bag worth celebrating (and collecting) for years.
12. Barrel Bag
For the bag fanatics, there's always a fine line that must be walked when discerning what type of bags are worth investing in. On the one hand, you want a purse that can stand the test of time. On the other hand, you don't want something too basic. Enter the barrel bag into the conversation. Though it's a style that feels a bit more "niche" than others, don't be fooled, it's just as practical a purse as any other. The delicate balance this bag strikes is dues to its oblong shape, which draws slight inspiration from the duffle bag (so it's meant to be spacious), but it's smaller to make it easy to wear in daily life.
13. Bowling Bag
Some of the best types of bags were adopted from their original function (often antithetical to high fashion) and transformed into a trend—such was the case with the bowling bag. As the name suggests, this structured bag has a flat bottom and curved top to carry bowling equipment. The style's adaptation and subsequent embrace into mainstream fashion were ushered in by Dior's vibe bag (released in '97) and Prada's bowler bag (released in '00). With '00s fashion continuing to play such a pivotal role in fashion to this day, it's no surprise that this bag style continues to strike back.
14. Lock-Closure Bag
One of the defining features of a timeless bag isn't just its shape, the fabric, or even the size—it's the hardware. On a practical level, great hardware can be the difference between your bag breaking or scratching after a few uses or lasting for years. But stylistically, hardware can also make your bag feel dated or timeless. If you're searching for the latter, you'll want to opt for a back with a lock closure. While there are different variations of this style, from turn-lock, kiss lock, key-lock, and so on, the defining feature of this bag is how it closes. Unlike other purses, this style doesn't shut with a zipper, magnet, or drawstring; instead, it's all about moving a small piece of hardware. Though it's a small touch, it's something that's managed to make this style stay around for decades. It's proof that the selling point for any bag style longevity always lies in the details.
So many things are great about this bag; it's super versatile as it can be worn as a shoulder or handbag, and the neutral hue makes it easy to style. Plus, it has multiple spacious compartments, and the turn-lock closures are easy to use, so you don't struggle to open and close it.
15. The Evening Bag
Last, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the importance of owning at least one evening bag. I know what you're thinking, girl how is this the antithesis of trendy? Yes, we've seen evening bags, specifically metallic, mesh, and rhinestone bags, trending over the past few seasons. However, this bag is worth adding to your wardrobe because it can be functional (if you so choose). If you love going out, attend many weddings, or consider yourself a maximalist, chances are you will find yourself reaching for a sparkly bag in some form. And while it may not be the most low-key style listed in this story, it's a reminder that the point of curating a collection of bags is to find the styles that work for you. Not every type of handbag is worth buying because you have to honor your needs, budget, and sartorial preferences. But if a sparkly evening bag speaks to your soul, why not buy it? The best types of bags aren't meant to be limited by any listicle but by what is irreplaceable in your mind.