What Size Handbag Should I Carry?


One of my lovely readers Karen sent me this email:

I do think we can and should each find our own personal style and be comfortable with it.  I do not understand the large size that handbags have become.  If I carried a currently stylish handbag, it would be 90% empty, and I’m not sure I get the point.  Seriously, some of my carry-on luggage pieces are smaller than some handbags.
I like the smaller “organizer” type handbags with shoulder strap, in a nice leather.  Zip it open and there is a place for everything.  I don’t carry anything for my hair, and just one lipstick.  Credit cards, cash, small outer pocket for cell phone.  Car key and sunglasses fit inside.
By today’s standards, my handbag is more of a wallet! 
I’m wondering if you can address this large handbag topic, please?
I suppose, regardless of whether I appear to be out of step, I will carry what I feel fits me.

So to answer her question we need to ponder upon a few questions.

What is your body scale?

To get an idea of your body scale, measure around your wrist (in inches) to see where you fit.  

Small: 5.5″  or less
Medium :  5.5″ to 6.5″
Large: 6.5″ or more

Now this is just a general guide – it’s all about height to weight as well, so if very tall but very slim you may look smaller scale.

The Optical Illusion of Scale

Now, look at this illustration:  which centre circle is bigger?

The one on the right – right?

No, they are the same size, it’s just an optical illusion.    How can we apply this to handbag choice?

If you want to make yourself look smaller, carry a larger handbag, if you want to make yourself look larger, carry a smaller scale handbag, otherwise go with whatever is the scale handbag that suits your body scale as determined earlier.

So the trend for large handbags is because many women want to make themselves look more petite.

The Effect of Personality

You always have to throw personality into the equation, it trumps every ‘rule’ in the book.  So if Karen likes a smaller scale handbag, no matter what her scale, that is what she’ll choose to carry.  Or if my very petite friend loves an enormous handbag, even though it will dwarf her, she will choose to carry it.

What is important to remember with a handbag, no matter what size, is to choose one that expresses your personality and is a great piece.  You wear/carry it every day, so make sure it’s good quality and adds to your overall look, rather than carrying something old and beaten up that detracts from your image.

What size handbag do you prefer?



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  • Another great topic 🙂

    I'd like to look bigger(wider), so I avoid bags that look big on me.
    I used to always carry a tiny one (size of a big wallet, takes skill to fit everything in), but recently switched to a medium-sized one. Books and gloves can go in, too, ahh! This is better for daily use; tiny ones are more for going out.

    I insist on adjustable shoulder straps so that I can either wear it across the body (what effect does that have, by the way?) or on one shoulder (beside the body).

    I hate bags that sit between the upper arm and chest, they have to be below the elbow for me to be comfortable.

    Of course then there's shape … but that's a whole other story.

    Color-wise, I always thought purse must match shoes, but recently got the idea that purse & scarf & gloves is a nice trio that could have nothing to do with shoes. I've also seen women use a bright purse that didn't match anything else they were wearing – not bad, but only for a change, it'd get tiresome every day. Also since I wear purses around the high hip area, a bright one may not be smart since it brings the eyes down instead of to the face.

    I avoid leather for ethical reasons, by the way, which limits my choices quite a bit, but not unbearably.

    Backpacks are nice, too, especially in the summer. They're a pain to take things out of, but it's worth the comfort. Hard to find a backpack that looks sensible over a wool coat though.

    – Tall and slim anon

  • I'm pretty average sized, but I tend to carry large-ish handbags…or bypass handbags altogether and go for the messenger bag. It's largely because I carry A LOT with me. I like to be prepared for every eventuality so I generally have:

    1) A bottle of water
    2) My lunch/snacks
    3) wallet, keys etc.
    4) Notepad and pens (in case I'm struck with inspiration!)
    5) A mini umbrella
    6) A novel
    7) Mints, etc.
    8) Powder for my nose
    9) Aspirin, bandaids

    …yeah, I carry a lot of stuff. 😛 I just hate the thought of leaving the house, then finding myself needing something (e.g. bandaids for a blister), and buying it just for the day when I've already got heaps at home. What a waste of money!

  • I like a medium sized hand bag (I'm 5 foot 6) because when I go out I carry around a lot.

    -Books, notebook, pen, pencil, lipgloss/stick, mirror, keys, wallet, mints, mini umbrella, etc.

  • Anon – will do a post on that!

    Sal – awww schucks! Thanks so much for your compliment.

    Amanda – interesting – I might do a post on what do you carry!

    Luinae – I used to always carry an umbrella, til we had a 12 year drought and it's just not needed anymore!

  • Proportion thing makes so much sense!!! I was recently thinking about this question of choosing a bag… Color, related to hair? skin? …Great that you plan to make more posts about it as I am planning to buy a summer bag wich means maybe leather but not as dark as my "winter bags".I'll follow you good advices. I am a medium scale girl and my bags are big. Works then. I need space in a bag. For ecological reasons I try to never use the plastic bags they give you in stores. I hate it when my bag is too small to fit the things I need to buy on the road. or bring …But I like a bag that fits my body, means a flexible one, that doesn't look bad when empty and kind of "wraps" a bit my body. They are a great accesory!

  • ha ha! so that explains why everybody wants a big bag – it makes them look smaller! I suppose that makes sense. it doesn't appear to be working for me, though, I think my bag is pretty big and nobody seems to think I'm terribly small. 😉

    my main criteria in terms of size is that I can get everything in without crushing either pair of glasses I need to carry with me. Other than that, I'd like one that was lighter weight.

  • Imogen, sometime, will you address what color one should purchase if you can only buy one or two day bags? I love bags, but can't afford to buy multiple colors nor do I want to switch bags that often. Besides black or taupe, what color do you feel is most versatile year-round? I'm partial to a rich purple; sort of an aubergine/amethyst color but is that too "heavy" to wear in the summertime?

  • Being 5/1", I love a medium size bag that is somewhat slouchy so it sort of hugs my body even when it is quite full. It suits my casual lifestyle and doesn't feel as big as a structured bag. More importantly though is weight. I eschew bags that have too much embellishment as it adds to unnecessary weight, preferring to add personal style through leather choice, hardware, color and shape.

    • I have bags in different sizes. the biggest one is the MK laptop in saphiano leather. The bag is structured and has room for my laptop, a future ipad, and all other essentials including a key holder. The MK laptop tote is also very durrable. The only gripe about it is that it doesn’t have a zipper to close the other compartments for rainy days. . I got it for interviews where I was asked to bring my resume and/or laptop. I have 2 other messenger bags that can fit my 13 inch macbook pro which I use for everything. Carrying my laptop with other missulaneous gadgets can get pretty heavy, especially for long commute.

  • I'm a medium frame, but tall. I fell in love with a bag over the summer, but when I finally bought it, I realized that it was enourmous, and collected tons of junk!
    Unless I need to carry my laptop, the bigest bag I use is about 8" by 10". I can fit at least 2 notebooks, my wallet, keys, pens, 1-2 books, empty ziplock bags, tissues, lipstick, phone, pouch of emergancy and hygene supplies, and an extra silk scarf/junk jewelry in it easily. If I used a larger bag I'd find myself carrying the kitchen sink!

  • I like bags of generous size; not huge ones, but bags that are balance with me and what I wear, bags that have my name written all over them! The bag plays a big role in my outfit, so I have splurged on them. My bags are seasonal, and I only have a few. I don´t understand why so many carry so much stuff along. All I really need, is my wallet, Nokia cellphone, emergency pill case, touch-up make-ups, my agenda and seasonally a torch ( I live on the countryside ) + umbrella and keys. If I go shopping, I´ll try to manage without extra bags, since I have a largish bag along anyways.

  • I'm a "personality bag" type I think – I only have 1 (at a time, which I change about once every 2 years or so!), and it's just big enough for my purse (wallet), keys, shopping bags, phone, painkillers, 1 round of sandwiches and a yoghurt.

    Personally I really don't see the point of carrying extra luggage around just for the sheer hell of it!

    I am so NOT a bag tart lol!

  • Except for formal occasions and "corporate drag", I almost always use a "healthy back bag" also known as an "Ameribag" (LLBean and Ameribag are among the companies that make them, and I have also seen artesans making them in leather). These are a teardropped shaped shoulder bag in matte fabric (heavy nylon, I believe), that can be worn over the shoulder or crossed over the body, and settle in the small of the back (especially on bicycle). You can turn them around and cradle them in front if you are on a crowded bus or train, or in a crowd, and afraid of pickpockets.

    A tiny bag is useless for me as I have to be able to carry my gloves and soft hat, a notepad – soon a netbook computer when I find a proper one – a comb, lipstick and a bit of eye makeup, pens etc.

    This bag also has a handy hook for keys and bicycle "turtle lights".

    Note that Karen is using a car, so she doesn't have to carry everything on her person.

    That said, I do think some of the modern bags are overkill and look too heavy. I'd prefer to carry a cotton or nylon shopper bag in my shoulder bag or handbag if I should buy something.

    Conversely, one thing that looks ridiculous is largish women using those miniature backpack bags.

  • Lagatta: ROLF. I know the back bags! Indeed, they look c r a z y and especially on largish women. Could we just let the small school kids and hikers have the special privilege to carry them! They certainly are not something for a grown-up woman, ever

  • I have just discovered your blog and let me tell you that I'm in love! You have gain a faithfull reader! You make everything clear! Loved your post on bags size!

  • My comment disappeared, so here goes again! I like bags that are about the size of a piece of office paper. That's all I need. Any bigger and it just gets ridiculous digging for stuff. I HATE hobos!!! More structure helps me be organized and able to easily grab stuff.

  • I adore bags and change mine almost daily. Although I'm quite petite, I do carry a variety of sizes. My favourites are on the larger size (Like Amanda, I don't want to be caught without). Most large bags look ridiculous on me, but there are a few styles that work on my small frame. As long as the leather is very soft & slouchy I can get away with a larger hobo. And when I wear a larger bag, I make sure the strap is long enough to carry it more behind me than at my side.

  • Excellent topic, Imogen and great advice. Although I'm not that tall (or big) I love large bags. The larger the better. As Amanda e Kym above I always have millions of things to carry and I need a lot of space. I also love unusual and shiny bags. Ciao. A.

  • I love how you explain things! I'm not a big fan of the giant hobo bag trend that was popular in the last year. I prefer structured bags and will definitely watch the size!

  • What a great post! Sometimes I think women get a little carried away in looking for a handbag that will suit their shape. Sometimes it's better just to buy it if you really love it! I agree with the email one of your readers sent, I love places to put everything! It means I don't have to rummage around trying to find things in the base of my bag! However, I am also partial to a large bag; too often I seem to carry lots of things!
    I do think you should carry a larger bag if you want to look smaller and a smaller one to look larger, however sometimes bags that are too big look overpowering on petite girls!

  • What confused me was why my anorexic friends LOL were insisting using their HUGE hobo or their must have loud colored with bangled gigantic hangbags as if their needing surgery soon for damaged elbows and wrists carrying them–little do they know they are subconsciously ‘disappearing’ behind their purses as well makes sense to us average weight people now LOLOLOL.

    This article is very educational, thank you–I am going to repost it and hopefully my anorexic friends see it 😀

  • And I totally agree with one of the above posts who mentions not only is it a matter with the size of the purse but the STYLE/SHAPE as well. I’ve seen large women using that huge square / rectangular shape purse and while it may have practical compartments–really draws all our eyes to their belly or rear wherever they are holding it close to them if they’re trying to ‘hide’ those imperfections, really is drawing attention to their problem areas. Somebody should tell them HAHA. That huge square purse is just not flattering; maybe, to a toothpick but certainly heavy set women could use a HUGE longer than wider purse instead.

  • I think you should carry whatever bag suits you lifestyle. I am very petite, travel a lot and have a teen age girl and a husband. Haha I am always asked to carry this or that. Also, I like a large bag to smuggle movie candy and carry my iPad in. Maybe my bag is too big for my size, but it works for me!

  • Depends on what I have to carry on a particular day. For everyday, I prefer a medium sized bag only because I usually don’t carry too many things with me. Besides, I want the bag to be a part of my overall look rather than the bag wearing me. I use a slightly bigger bag if I have to carry my child’s things with me and/or if I’m going on a trip and have to carry a few more things.

  • I’m someone who changes my handbags depending on my outfit, I don’t really like plain black or brown ones so I choose one of my bags that match whatever colour I’m wearing. Normally it’s a blue one (Because I wear blue a lot) or a dark orange for outfits where I’m wearing a lot of earthy colours. I really hate shapeless/slouch bags, my mum has one and it really irritates me when it takes a good 5 minutes to find the car keys, I prefer bags that are structured and hold their shape.

    In terms of size I usually go for small/medium. I have handbags where people are amazed at what can pull out of it when in reality it’s just a much perfected game of handbag tetris 😉
    But overall I like ones where I can fit my purse, phone, camera, and a few other bits and bobs in. I’m quite small in size and whenever I wear anything too big I feel like a little toddler playing dress up! lol

  • I like the advice. But when I see a cute bag, I don’t care..I go for it. 🙂 I am not sure if anyone else does this, BUT!! I carry a small bag inside a bigger bag (bigger bag balances me out). So when I need to run to the store, I have my crossbody with all my cards, cash and what ever inside (that’s my Calvin Klein Crossbody bag- which the strap just broke and I am waiting for a new one to be delivered). I hate lugging a big bag shopping, it annoys me, and I cant carry a small bag at all times, there’s stuff I NEED!! lol so I solve two birds with one stone.. Works for me 🙂 Bags are my LIFE!! well not really, but I do love them.. no really I do 🙂

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