How I shop for bags

posted on: June 9, 2014

How I shop for bags | from A while back Maja wrote a blog post called “how I shop for clothes“, and ever since I’ve wanted to share my own take on the subject. The word shopping itself often brings to mind someone laden down with bags, racing from one shop to the other with a whiteglowing credit card, which isn’t really my way of doing things – but still, most of us have to visit the shops from time to time, and it can be very helpful to have some sort of strategy in mind. I decided to start with bags, as, strangely enough, they’re one of those things I rarely get. Although I can appreciate the craftsmanship behind, say, a beautiful, classic Chanel bag, I don’t have such a thing for them as women are “supposed” to have nowadays. Still, I do carry a fair amount of stuff with me on an everyday basis, and it can’t all fit in my pockets, so I’m definitely not questioning the need for bags!

How I shop for bags | from For a while now I’ve been keeping my eyes open for the perfect everyday bag, or bags. I’ve made do fairly well with my lovely little quilted one and a larger vintage one, plus a grey backpack from Bianco for heavier things (it’s impossible to find a picture of it online, but the shape is similar to this, just in very simple, medium grey faux-leather). None of them are 100% ideal, though. The quilted one is too small for anything but the absolute essentials, and the leather one is very wide in profile, so it sticks pretty far out from my body, which I don’t like. Both of these also have straps that can create marks on light clothing. The backpack was almost right, but it was too large, and hung too low on my body, hiding the curve of my back. After years of looking at bag after bag, feeling almost none of them were right enough to even be considered, I realized I have a pretty heavy list of criteria in my head.

How I shop for bags – YES

My criteria for bags

simple in shape and decoration, preferably with straight lines instead of soft curves. A square/rectangular shape is best. No heavy logos, fringes, bows, masses of charms/bling.

structured, so it can stand on its own when I put it down.

not too wide in profile. I don’t like it when bags stick out too far from my body, as it feels awkward and can be annoying when surrounded by many people.

– must have an across-the-body strap, or be a backpack. Nothing I have to carry with my hands/elbows, or that will be uncomfortable to carry over the shoulder.

smooth leather/faux leather is best, no canvas/suede/other fabric. This is both for how it looks and feels, but also so it can withstand heavy rain/snow.

– in a single colour (no patterns, though an interesting texture is nice), black and navy are best. No browns or greys, as they don’t work with my shoes or outerwear. Nothing that can stain light clothing.

– a sturdy closure, to make it hard for pickpockets; at least a zipper, but preferably some other kind of closure as well. This should also make sure no rain or snow can get inside the bag.

– metal can be silver or gold, no copper, and if gold it has to be a pale, cool gold, not a rosy or very yellow one.

fit my basic items: a water bottle, my Kindle, lipstick case, credit card holder, iPhone, tissues and earplugs. Bonus points for inner pockets that make organization easier.

– work with my budget, which is limited. Would ideally be made of real leather (I’ll treat it well), but faux leather is fine as long as it feels soft and not too much like plastic.

– handle being used for several years, both with quality and style in mind.

How I shop for bags – NO

I made these two Polyvore collages to illustrate my points. There’s nothing wrong with the “no-bags”, of course, they’re just not right for me.

When actually shopping for bags, whether it’s online or in physical shops, I usually don’t spend much time in the most affordable stores like H&M, Lindex and such ones, as their bags mostly just feel like plastic to me, no matter how pretty they look. Zara is often right aesthetically, but too costly for what you get, I think. My favourite place to search is (big surprise) vintage and second hand shops. If a bag has survived the use of one person already, chances are it’ll survive quite a long time with me as well. Many vintage leather bags look sad in the shops, all wrinkly and dull, but I know they only need some loving treatment to look better than new.

How I shop for bags | from

I’ll always consider the shape, colour and general look first, which eliminates a larger part of the selection in any store. I’ll then look at how I’m meant to carry it, because it’s no good if I can’t carry it across my body or like a backpack. Materials, closures and price are last. I know, I know, it’s a pretty heavy list, but it works out in the end. I just don’t need to own fifteen bags. I have no room for that, and I know I’d end up wearing two of them most of the time anyway. Right now, my bags are:

– the quilted navy one with chain strap, which works both as a small everyday bag, and for more dressed-up things.

– the leather bag I linked to earlier (which I suspect I won’t wear very often anymore, but I like it so much I’m going to keep it).

– a white silk bag decorated with tiny white beads, if I ever need something very fancy.

– a larger, soft leather bag, perfect for overnight stays and travel.

– a red leather backpack I had when I was a child. Good for travel and grocery shopping.

– the bright blue one at the top of this post. I bought it at ALDO this Friday, and I’m so happy with it! It fits all my critera, and though the colour is a bold choice for me, I know it’ll “lift” pretty much anything I choose to wear. This will be Everyday bag 1.

– the black backpack in this post. This is also from ALDO, bought this Friday. What can I say, when I find something that works for me, I have to go for it. This completes my search for everyday bags (making this Everyday bag 2), and I intend to wear it to pieces.

  • Irena

    I agree, no matter how pretty a bag maybe, it has to be practical too. I’ve turned down an amazing number of bags in search for ‘the one’ but having high standards finally pays off when you find that one amazing bag that will last :)

    • Maria

      It’s so wonderful to read all your comments and realise I’m not alone in my pickiness for bags! As you say, it definitely pays off to have high standards :)

  • Laura

    Great bags. I have a very bright yellow leather satchel, a recent birthday gift and a definite keeper. I also need a cross body strap or backpack, anything else annoys me.

    Unrelated but you inspired me to take the plunge and get a pixie cut after considering one for months or longer. Looking forward to your growing out process for if I decide not to keep mine (though I currently love it)

    • Maria

      You know, I almost bought a bright yellow bag myself – there’s just something so fresh about yellow. And congrats on that pixie! Blogging about/documenting the growing-out process just felt natural, so I hope it can be of help to someone :)

  • Hanne

    It’s very smart to have a list like this! Mine is actually very similar; need to be worn across the body, sturdy and simple materials (leather or canvas), no embellishments or fancy prints, preferably one colour and a simple outer design :) I’m surprisingly finicky about bags, haha. I guess that comes with having owned many bags and being annoyed with every single one :p
    I feel the same way about bags from H&M, so often they have lovely designs but the material and weight just feels wrong. My fav everyday bad is a rose red canvas bag from a etsy, but I’d love to own a similar one to the top row leftmost one in your “yes”-collage. The perfect leatherbag is what I’m gonna get next time I feel like getting a new bag, so thanks for reminding me of my scheme :D

    • Maria

      Sounds like we’re two of a bag-kind, you and I! And that leather bag in the polyvore collage is fantastic. One of mine actually resembles it from the front, but I wish it was slimmer in profile. Hopefully you’ll find one you really like :)

  • Bonnie

    I always enjoy reading posts like these, in part because it is nice to know that I am not the only one who has a long list of criteria running through their head when they shop! Are you planning on writing a whole “How I Shop” series? I know I for one would love to read it :)

    • Maria

      You’re definitely not alone, Bonnie! I thought I might sneak in a “how I shop” post once in a while, yes – that is, if it seemed like you readers would like that :) Thanks for letting me know!

  • Berit

    Ohh I love the blue bag, and my list is very similar. For going out bags I actually like Primark as in my opinion the quality does not need to be THAT great as they are not used as often as the ones I have for work.

    • Maria

      Yeah, that blue one just called my name, the colour is so bright! I’m less demanding of going out bags as well – or, I think I would be, if I ever had the need for them. I’m so rarely out on the town nowadays I’ll just wear my quilted navy one the few times a year it happens. There have been many a beautiful/cool clutch to admire, though!

  • Cookie

    Han som så oss med veskene sa at vi ikke ser ut som søstre, og at du ser veldig fransk ut. Nå blir døra til rommet mitt berømt. Håper det ikke går til hodet på den. Hodet? Karmen?

    • Maria

      Har vi bestemt oss for om dét er et kompliment eller ikke, at vi ikke ser ut som søstre? Søstre er vi iallfall uansett <3 og ja, alle bloggere trenger en hvit dør!

  • Caer

    That blue ALDO bag is gorgeous!

    I don’t have a thing for bags, either, although I like them. They’re just something I buy with the intention of using forever, so they have to be very practical. My own list of criteria is actually quite short, but so specific it rules out just about everything. Probably why I only own two bags right now, and am wanting to replace one. :)

    I also liked this “how I shop” post. It’s interesting to see people’s thought processes behind their purchases.

    • Maria

      Thank you, Caer! It’s interesting that so many of you readers have a similar bag strategy as me – popular culture there days give the impression that every female out there is obsessed with bags (and shoes). There’ll probably pop up some more “how I shop” posts in the future :)

  • Amanda

    I just wanted to tell you, I stumbled across your blog a few days ago and have just finished reading every single post. Your writing is wonderful, and your style is lovely – and so perfect for you! That’s probably weird to say, as I don’t know you, but you just look like a person whose clothes, hair, and makeup make complete sense on them. I’m in the midst of a bit of a style crisis (I just chucked out most of my clothes and am considering a pixie cut, as I’m feeling so very drab and nondescript), and I found your blog at the perfect time. Thank you for sharing your fabulous point of view with the world!

    • Maria

      Thank YOU for that wonderful comment, Amanda! It’s always heartwarming to hear that my blog just clicks with someone. I can relate to that style crisis of yours – I usually feel my style taking a distinct turn about every fourth year or so, which means that one is just around the corner. It can be a great thing, though! Change is good, so hang in there :)

  • walkercreative

    WOW! Your list is IDENTICAL to mine! I didn’t think it was possible. I am printing this to take it shopping. Thanks for writing this. (Perhaps it is a busy, short curvy thing .. . . ) You are especially right about a bag with structure and that can stand up on it’s own. My only addition to your list would be an OUTSIDE pocket (that zips or snaps) for a cell phone. I found one bag that fit the bill, and bought it in four colors.(Teal, Red, Slate/Charcoal & Cognac) I now need a yellow, white or silver one with these same qualities, but am having no luck so far. Nice to know I am not alone in my bag selectivity! :)

    • Maria

      What a happy coincidence! It must indeed be a busy, short curvy thing. Outside pockets are _almost_ a must for me, too, though I prefer to keep my phone in my coat/jacket pocket, both for easy access when I’m listening to music, and to prevent theft (hello, public transportation). How clever to buy the same bag in several colours – if they’d had the bright blue one in black with siver hardware, it would have been mine in a flash.