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Radley Stories

Style Notes

A Handbag Buying Guide: How To Make Your Decision When Buying a Bag

08 August 2023

What colour handbag goes with everything? What about the size, style and material? There are many things to consider when you’re buying a bag, but with our handy guide, you’ll know where to start. After all, here at Radley London we know a thing or two about accessories. 

Did You Know?

In one lifetime, the average woman will spend upwards of £4000 on handbags. (Although it’s thought this number could nearer £6000 nowadays.) That’s why it’s so important to make sure you buy handbags that are right for you, and most importantly, buy those that will last. 

We understand the importance of quality, versatility and style. It’s why we channel all of these into our accessories during the craft and design process. We also know how much thought goes into investing in a new accessory, so we’ve put together a list of things to consider when choosing your next one. We’ll even tell you how to clean a leather handbag at home, to ensure it lasts a lifetime. 

We’d suggest thinking about when you’ll use it, how often, and whether the cost per wear will be worth the price tag. But don’t worry, whether you’re buying for yourself, a friend or are buying a handbag for your girlfriend, we’re here to help. 

A Handbag Buying Guide

1. Size

One of the first things to consider. Your new bag will need to fit the essentials you’re always carrying (phone, keys, earphones, cash), but if you’re looking for a work bag, you’ll need space for your laptop and lunch too.

Large styles are the best for work as they have room for those commuting items and have extra pockets to organise your tech too. Not just convenient, they’re also fashionable. Oversized silhouettes like luxury leather totes regularly make a welcome return to fashion, appearing on designer runways and as part of seasonal collections.

Not looking for a commuter style? Our medium bags are perfect for weekends, but still hold enough to get you through the day. That might be a water bottle, a jacket or that chunky novel you’ve been enjoying. In this case, look at a spacious cross body, or even a versatile grab. (Wondering what is a grab bag? You can find out all about them over on Radley Stories.)  

Then there’s the mini styles. The small handbags that are made for evenings, or when you’re just popping out. While the clutch is one of the most common, mini cross body bags have also started to become a popular choice. This is thanks to fashion’s micro trend, where many silhouettes have been downsized into chic and stylish off-duty staples. That’s also why phone cross body bags are now a must-have item.


How Big Can A Handbag Be On A Plane? 

If you’re wondering ‘does a handbag count as hand luggage’, there’s a simple answer: yes. They can be taken on-board as your chosen carry-on. 

But it’s always best to check the size regulations with your airline before flying, as each one may have different rules. Generally, you can take a handbag or backpack on-board, so long as it fits within the size limits, but you may be required to pay an extra fee to store even a small suitcase in the overhead cabin. If you like to buy handbags for your trip, we’d recommend checking the airline regulations before making your purchase. 

2. Purpose or Occasion

Back to our handbag buying guide and let’s talk occasions. There’s a style for all of them and sometimes it can be tough to know which style is best. 


These are the bags for weddings, garden parties, summer events and evening dinner dates. Occasion bags are often small or even hand-held, but are perfectly sized to hold essentials. You can choose from plain and sophisticated to decorative and detailed. Either way, when picked correctly, they will complete and complement your outfit. 

The most common are trendy evening clutch bags, but wristlets, mini cross body bags or even grabs have all come to be popular for occasions too. 

If you’re buying a handbag for your girlfriend for an upcoming event, think about the types already in her collection. Does she like going hands-free? Does she appreciate intricate detailing or opt for more simple styles? Narrowing down these options will help to point you in the right direction.


Perhaps the most practical of all bags as it’s designed to hold technology and documents, as well as your own personal items. There is no set shape or size for a work bag, but they tend to be large with multiple compartments and pockets, and often have several straps to distribute the weight of the contents across your shoulders. 

The most common type is the backpack, but tote bags also make a popular choice as they’re so spacious. 


For when you’re away from home and making good memories. It might be one of the best ladies’ weekend holdalls for your journey, to a canvas tote that doubles up as your favourite beach bag. These accessories are just as important as your day-to-day ones. 

Make sure you’ve packed all summer holiday essentials - that’s your sunglasses, sandals and your latest novel. 


Casual styles can be luxurious too. And when you find one you love, it’ll make every day feel like an occasion (even if you’re just heading to the supermarket). Slip on a hands-free cross body bag as you tick off your chores, or stylish shoulder bag when catching up with friends.

Everyone’s day-to-day routine is different and your go-to bag needs to suit your lifestyle. Do you only like to carry a few things, or is your motto the more the merrier? Perhaps you love a pop of colour or do you feel more comfortable wearing timeless neutrals? The good news is, whatever your style, there are handbags for everyone. 


What Colour Handbag Goes With Everything?

We can understand why you might want a style that you can use across a whole range of occasions and wear with many outfits? And it is possible to find one that does everything. If this is you, our top tip when buying a bag would be to find a medium size - one that’s not too big, but isn’t tiny either. This way, you can carry essentials and have that little bit of extra room in case you need it. 

You’ll also need a neutral colour. But what colour handbag goes with everything? You’ll probably be tempted to opt for black or brown bags. They’re good, timeless choices, but don’t ignore lighter tones like white or cream. They’ll suit your brighter, summer outfits and will also pop against your darker, autumnal ones too. Then there’s grey. A softer, yet just as versatile, alternative to black that deserves just as much credit and attention.

3. Material

Knowing the occasion leads us to our next point - what material will your handbag need to be? 

Choosing the right one isn’t just about aesthetics. It’s also about practicality. Do you spend lots of time outside? If so, you may want to buy handbags that are water-proof or water-resistant. Or perhaps you work in a smart office and need a professional look, like a leather handbag that complements your sophisticated wardrobe. 

You may already have an idea what material you’d like, but take a look at our information below to ensure you’re making the right choice. 


A luxurious, natural and durable material. That means, when you invest in a leather handbag, you get a style that will last a lifetime. This is why we see leather across a whole range of items, from clutches to footwear, and even car seats and sofas. 

It’s important to know the difference between Real Leather vs. Faux Leather, so you can make sure you’re buying the best quality. Find out All You Need To Know About Leather in our guides, where we’ll tell you how to store handbags and how to clean a leather bag at home (which is much easier when you have the right leather care products). 


For us, that could be recycled polyester or BCI coated cotton canvas. (Yes, we use both of these responsible materials to make bags, as part of our sustainability commitments.) 

Non-leather handbags are soft and lightweight, making them popular alternatives to leather styles. Always check the label, as they could be machine washable too, so they’re easy to keep clean as you wear them every day. And when you need to pop them in your wardrobe, they can be packed flat to take up less space. 

Some may see these fabric styles and think they’re quite casual, but we’ve crafted backpacks, office totes and more with laptop sleeves and sophisticated details that make them work-friendly. 

4. Style

Are red handbags fashionable? Are totes a coveted shape right now? What type of handbags are in style? 

If you’re shopping and are asking yourself any of these questions, our handbag buying guide is the right place to be. If you’re buying a handbag for your girlfriend, or are looking for a new addition to your wardrobe and you’re not sure where to start, we get it. There is certainly a lot of choice out there, whether it’s colour, material, fastening or style. But as experts in accessories, and leather, we can help you narrow it down. Use the list below to find out the benefits and purpose of each design.


Where function meets fashion. Backpacks are practical in nature, which makes them a great choice for hands-free travelling, exploring, commuting and more. Whether you’re dressing casual or smart, there are backpacks to complement every look. Plus, the two shoulder straps distribute the weight and means you can carry heavy items comfortably and safely. 

Cross Body Bags

Perfect for a woman on the move. These are easily one of the most popular styles as they are fuss- and hands-free. The strap should be worn diagonally across the body and can be adjusted to a comfortable and desired length to always keep the bag close by. This security is another reason why so many people choose cross body styles. Those who love to buy handbags will definitely have one or two in their collection. 

They are also a popular choice of men’s bag, so this is a good place to start if you’re wondering ‘where can I buy a messenger bag’.


Famed and favoured for their glamour, clutches will never go out of style. For centuries, they have been the go-to bag for all occasions and despite ever-changing trends, this has always remained the same. Available in both minimal and decorative designs and a whole range of shapes, there are versions of it to compliment every outfit. As the name suggests, they’re all designed to be held, but some may come with a wristlet or a detachable chain strap so you can go hands-free (handy when the canopy tray comes your way). 

Grab Bags

They allow you to do exactly what it says – grab it and go. That’s all thanks to the top handles. Available in many different designs, patterns and shapes, it’s easy to find the perfect one to coordinate with your look, and the nature of a grab bag means you’ll always look stylish when clutching it in hand. Diana, Princess of Wales, was often seen with top handle bags at glamorous events. 

Shoulders Bags and Totes

Every woman’s best friend and one that will always be around. It was back in the ‘50s when they launched into the spotlight, thanks to Former First Lady Jackie Onassis’ famous shoulder bag, and they’re still favoured as a sophisticated and stylish option today. 

Another similar style is the tote. While these terms are often used interchangeably, a tote actually refers to a spacious silhouette, while a shoulder bag can be big or slim, sleek and mini. 

The list doesn’t stop there. There are also bumbags, buckets, canvas totes, briefcase laptop bags and more. And each one has had time in the spotlight as they’ve all been it-bags at some point in history. 


How To Hold Handbag

Trends and catwalks often dictate styles and colours for the seasons ahead, but the way to hold a handbag is only dependent on the bag itself. Each shape comes with its own straps or handles - some more versatile silhouettes may even have both so the option is all yours. Head back up to our styles section to see the recommended way to carry each one.  

Whichever one you choose, it’s good to remember:

  • Your bag should always weigh less than 10% of your body weight.

  • If you need to excess this, take precautions to ensure the weight never exceeds 20% of your body weight.

Not only do the styles differ, so do the fastenings and interiors. Some may have laptop sleeves, lots of pockets or even multiple compartments, whereas others offer one super spacious section to hold everything.  

Keeping items well organised is important, especially when the bag is oversized. That’s why compartmented or pocketed styles are so popular and are what people look for when buying a bag. We love it because they help us separate our things (and keep a wet umbrella away from our notebook). 

When it comes to security, you’ll find some sort of fastening on every bag - even open-top bucket shapes tend to have a magnetic tab or interior drawstring pouch. For extra security, zipped pockets inside or out are great as they can be fastened to keep your most precious belongings safe. When you buy handbags, choosing a style with the right combination of pockets and security will keep you feeling reassured and comfortable as you go about your day. 


That’s it for our handbag buying guide. We think we’ve covered everything there is to know, so now it’s time for the fun part. The shopping. (Or not, if you’re buying a handbag for your girlfriend.) Either way, our new-in collection is the best place to start and head over to Radley Stories to read all about the idea behind our current campaign.