Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Thinking About Handbags

Unlike with my recent post about summer dresses, I don't think I'm actually leaning towards making a purchase anytime soon, but one other wardrobe category that's also been on my mind recently is handbags. Out of all the types of items in my closet, I think bags may be the area in which I'm the most firmly stuck in my ways, I almost never stray from my rather conservative and arguably kind of boring tastes and preferences. 

My current handbag collection is pretty much fully represented by this Pinterest board. And, well, I think you can definitely tell what I like, it's mostly neutral colors and simple totes or shoulder bags. There are outliers - in particular that pink Longchamp "miaou" tote I found incredibly charming and cute, though I almost never have occasion to wear it - but not many. I clearly have a rather narrowly-defined "type" when it comes to my handbags. 

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For all that one of my big shopping-related daydreams and aspirations from when I started this blog was that I might someday buy myself a really fancy designer handbag, I never actually had a real idea of what that bag should look like. 

Even after I graduated law school and started working in biglaw for a year - such that I had enough disposable income so that I could technically afford a really fancy designer handbag if I wanted to make it a priority right away by cutting expenses aggressively in other areas - I still didn't have any clear ideas about a specific handbag I would actually like. (I named some extremely disparate-looking designs as possibilities in that 2016 post, including the Givenchy Antigona, Mulberry Bayswater, and Saint Laurent Duffle.) These days, now that I know my own tastes better, the only designer bag I seem to be interested in from this general price point is the Celine Seau Sangle. But I probably don't like it enough to actually want to spend that amount of money.

In recent years, I've gained a much clearer understanding of my tastes and preferences for handbags. In particular, I've learned I'm extremely fussy about certain design details that are sometimes enough to prevent a bag from being functional for me:

  • I don't like needing to fiddle with flaps or clasps to take items in and out. So no, the Mulberry Bayswater probably wouldn't have worked for me. The one exception to this "rule" was a vintage Coach City bag I bought used in college and carried until 2018 or so, when I gave it to my younger sister. The leather was already very soft and well-used before I bought it, so I didn't find the flap and clasp annoying. 
  • I generally need the straps to be designed such that I can comfortably carry the bag neatly on my shoulder or cross-body without it swinging around and getting in my way as I go about my day. The long-discontinued Coach Borough in my collection fails this test badly so I almost never wear it, though I also think it's beautiful so I haven't ever thought to resell it. (I also like carrying the Lo and Sons Waverley as a wristlet and would probably also find a backpack-style handbag functional, though I'm mostly not interested in backpacks unless they're big enough for a laptop.)
  • Bags mostly need to be large enough that I can easily carry two cell phones (I have separate work and personal devices), a mini-wallet, a Kindle, and my keys and Metrocard, though I do make exceptions for the smaller bags I wear to parties and weddings. 
  • Regardless, the opening of the main compartment - or multiple compartments, where applicable - needs to be big enough and otherwise designed to allow me to easily rummage inside to find and pull out my cell phones or keys. I've previously ordered the A.P.C. Half-Moon bag during a sale but returned it mostly because the leather is stiff enough that, at least when the bag is new, it's hard to get items in and out (even if the zippered opening is large enough that you wouldn't think that'd be an issue).
  • The bag can't be too heavy, or I'll never want to carry it. Over the years, my shoulders have gotten increasingly fussy about the weight of my daily-carry handbags. (Keeping in mind that I walk to work, around 15 to 20 minutes each way.) My otherwise beloved Coach Rogue is, unfortunately, just barely on the wrong side of this line when I carry everything I normally bring to work these days. Once I added a reusable travel mug for coffee and mini umbrella to the items pictured here, it became too heavy to be comfortable.
  • I generally don't like bags that are very stiff and structured. I really tend to gravitate towards more slouchy bags made of softer leather, I just find them more comfortable to carry, and it feels like they're less likely to swing around and get in my way as I go out and about. I've ordered bags like the A.P.C. Odette or Coach Saddle in really lovely colors on sale and thought they were gorgeous, but they were just too structured and stiff for me to actually want to carry them. 

So that's a very long-winded way of saying I'm incredibly nit-picky about so many details with my handbags! I really value comfort and ease of use and functionality. There are so many bags out there that I think are absolutely beautiful, but that I know I would never actually reach for or really want to carry for various reasons. 

This post was partially inspired by seeing Kristy's post about the Polene Numero Onze bag. I'd heard a lot about the Polene brand for years, I think they've long been popular with people who have similar tastes in fashion blogs and Instagram accounts as I do, and who also have a similar budget for handbags. Though I had never personally been that interested in Polene because their most ubiquitous-seeming Numero Un and Numero Un Mini designs break a number of my nitpicky personal "rules" for bags I like. (They have flaps and clasps, the straps might also be at a length where the bag could swing around a bit if I was carrying it around, etc. etc.)

Once Kristy posted about the Numero Onze, which I thought was incredibly cute, I was surprised to see that Polene had dramatically expanded their product line since the last time I really browsed their website around 2019. And I was maybe even more surprised to find I really like the look of many of Polene's new designs - including the Numero Neuf and Numero Huit pictured above - given that they previously didn't really have anything I was interested in. Many of the new designs, including the Numero Onze, are structured and sculptural in a way that feels very on-trend and interesting, but they also don't look too stiff in a way I dislike. 

Full disclosure, I'm probably not going to be in the market for a new handbag in the foreseeable future. I already have a very robust bag collection that's currently serving all my needs and wants very well. Still, I find these new Polene designs very compelling to look at. 

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