Five Key Elements Of The Perfect Handbag

The Perfect Handbag

I guess it’s no surprise how much women love handbags (or purses as our friends in the U.S. sometimes call them). We tend to carry one almost everywhere. And they often contain not only our daily essentials but our precious memories too.

It is not lost on me that France has produced some of the most iconic handbag names of all time. These include high end brands like Hermes, Goyard, Chanel, Dior and Celine. And of course I can’t omit the ever polarising Louis Vuitton. But you’ll also find a large number of French names producing good quality, relatively affordable handbags including Longchamp and (the new to me) Lancaster Paris.

Handbags have been the flavour of the month in my world recently. I’ve gifted them and I’ve  gratefully received them. All this handbag to-ing and fro-ing has naturally led to stacks of discussion. How many bags do you have? How many handbags do you need? And, perhaps more interestingly, what makes a great handbag?

To my mind, there is no universal answer to that last question. It really comes down to what each individual woman is looking for. The perfect handbag for me might hold no appeal whatsoever for you – and vice versa.

However, there are some key elements that you might like to explore if you are looking to invest in a new handbag.

The Key Elements Of The Perfect Handbag


One thing is guaranteed when you start looking at handbags – there is a style and shape to suit every possible taste. While ‘It’ bags come and go, classic shapes include:

  • The Pochette. A small bag that is often worn across the body. Holds the bare nessecities.
  • The Tote. Totes come in a variety sizes and are made in just about every material under the sun. Some can be zipped up however many are open topped. All come with double handles. I like to ensure that mine come with handles long enough to sling over my shoulder.
  • The Doctor or Bowling. Two different looks but a similar idea. These mid sized, structured bags have shorter handles that can be held in the hand or in the crook of the elbow. They make excellent handbags if you work in an office or corporate environment.
  • The Bucket. An elegant looking bag that often sports a drawstring closure and a strap that can be worn across the body or from one shoulder. I love the look of these bags, but due to a lack of pockets in many, they can end up quite a mess inside – mainly because you throw everything in it, just like a bucket!
  • The Messenger. Ideal for girls on the go. A cross body bag that allows the user to go hands-free. Large enough to carry the essentials, and then some.


It is kind of obvious, but you need to ensure that the bag you purchase is the right size for your needs. Here are some of my top tips.

  • If you carry a laptop or other work gear, you are probably going to need a larger bag. If you do choose a larger bag think about how heavy it is before you start loading it up. Bags can get awfully heavy very quickly.
  • But even if you prefer to travel light, don’t underestimate how much space you need to accommodate your every day belongings. A wallet, keys, glasses and personal items often take up more space than you might imagine.
  • If your budget stretches to it, I recommend a wardrobe of at least 3 bags. A pochette or smaller bag, for occasions where you just need your phone and lippy, a mid sized structured bag which works well for every day and a larger tote bag with a zip closure for days when you are lugging lots.
  • It is always worthwhile considering your body shape when you are selecting a bag of any size, as ideally the bag will suit your proportions.

Pockets – internal and external.

Consider carefully the internal mechanics of any bag you buy.

  • Well placed pockets can make your life so much easier and save you a ton of time digging for your phone, keys, pen or lipstick.
  • Equally though, too many pockets and dividers can make a bag impractical. It’s a tricky balance.
  • If you are someone who swaps between bags regularly, you might like to invest in one of those ‘bag organisers’ that holds all your goodies and can be easily swapped between bags. Personally, I use a mid sized leather envelope to hold all of my small bits and pieces. It too can be switched between bags with no fuss.


You can opt for leather, coated canvas or perhaps fabric when investing in a bag. This is a personal choice that will depend on your budget, lifestyle and potentially your values.

  • Leather is an evergreen favourite. But you do need to care for your leather goods by cleaning and polishing them regularly. Waterproofing is often a good idea too.
  • Coated canvas is hard working material which is easy to keep clean. And don’t think your coated canvas isn’t office ready. There are some fabulous structured bags out there in coated canvas.
  • Fabric bags and nylon bags are light and easy to carry, but are often more casual.


Yep another thing I keep banging on about. Today, I’ll just point out that, if you look after it, a good quality handbag will last you for years. Choose a timeless style, and you could be looking at a companion for a life time. And remember, price doesn’t always equal quality. Think about the hardware and the stitching, especially around the handles.

The perfect handbag

While I can’t say I’ve travelled anything close to the entire world, I have travelled extensively. And one French handbag seems to feature on the arms of women more than any other.

That bag is Le Pliage by Longchamp.

Its popularity is most likely due to sheer versatility, and a decent dose of practicality.

Available in multiple sizes and colours (it’s even able to be customised), this bag seems to meet a multitude of needs. The fact that the majority are made from easy care nylon (although there are leather versions of a similar bag), have zip closures and don’t cost the earth probably doesn’t hurt either!

I’ve seen Le Pliage doing duty as a shopping tote, as a traditional handbag and even as a doggie basket. Mine is large, black and I’ve used it extensively both in Australia and overseas.

I’d love to know – what is it you look for in a bag? Do you have a favourite companion? Or are you still on the hunt for the perfect handbag? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

And until next time – au revoir.

Please note – this is an unsolicited post and no compensation of any kind has been received from any of the brands named.

About Janelle

I believe that everyone can bring French elegance and inspiration to their life, no matter where they happen to live in the world. They only need to learn a secret or two to be on their way. When you join the Distant Francophile community, you’ll have access to the secrets that allow you to bring the best of the French lifestyle into your everyday life. I’m talking about things like style advice, recipes and book reviews. And you’ll also receive regular doses of French inspiration, as well as travel and packing tips galore.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

7 thoughts on “Five Key Elements Of The Perfect Handbag

  • Taste of France

    An inner zip pocket is good for keeping one’s wallet safe. Even if somebody slips a hand into your bag, they would be stopped by the second zipper. I like a zipper closure on bags anyway, rather than a snap or a tie. If your bag gets tipped over, the contents don’t spill all over.
    I use a clear plastic (zipped) pouch to hold the stuff I want to switch from bag to bag (pens, tissues, a small notepad, lipstick…). I like that it’s clear, so I can easily spot what I want. And the size limits what I carry.
    Lancaster makes some nice bags, less pricey than Longchamp or Goyard. And I have a Furla (Italian) that has held up very well–a guy tried to snatch it in Barcelona, but I didn’t let go and it didn’t break. He dragged me down the street before finally giving up.

    • Janelle Post author

      Wow Catherine, that incident in Barcelona must have been scary for you. I’m glad that your quality bag held up to the attempted theft. I do hope you were not hurt. I’m with you on the size limiting benefits of a small pouch and the clear plastic idea is a good one – I’m forever digging through my leather pouch! And yes, the Lancaster bags are nice. I’d heard of the brand but not paid much attention to it until I received a lovely bag as a gift recently. I’m very impressed.

  • Clare G.

    I’m glad both of you (Janelle and Catherine) give a vote of confidence to Lancaster (Paris) bags.I’d never heard of them either but I found a perfect summery striped cotton canvas one, with leather handles and 3 zips (top, outer & inner), while taking a quiet day off in St-Rémy last June. I needed one that was large enough to carry a paperback book and a notebook and yet flat enough to pack into my cabin baggage on the flight home.This one is just right and, what’s more, it was available at a sale price.

    • Janelle Post author

      Sounds like you found a real bargain there Claire – which adds to the joy of a great handbag. And I love the fact that you’ve picked up a bag that sounds like the very essence of Provence.

  • Alisa

    I also love the Longchamp pliage bags – they were introduced at about the time that I was an au pair in 1973, and the advertising was everywhere! Then, they were never used as a handbag, only as shopping totes that could be carried folded until used. I love that they have become ‘respectable’ handbags now!

    Another traditional and well-known French handbag manufacturer is Lancel. They make a very good product, but they are trying to upscale and I am not sure that the bags merit the prices they are trying to command now. Having said that, this summer I bought the Charlie nano bag, it is so ladylike and unlike anything else I have seen.

    I have found that sometimes the same bag costs less in the US than in France, oddly, even after the deduction of the VAT. When in France, it is worth checking online to see if the same bag can be purchased in the US for less.

    • Janelle Post author

      Thanks so much for that great tip for our US readers Alisa. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Australia – handbags are always more expensive in Australia than they are in France (and just about everywhere else I’ve travelled).

      Thank you too for reminding me about Lancel bags. I’ve admired them previously when I’ve been travelling. And I just had a little look on-line – your Charlie bag is certainly very lovely.