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Radley Stories

Style Notes

Trendy Clutch Bags: What Are The Best Evening Clutch Bags?

25 May 2023

Have you ever wondered how clutch bags were invented? With our trendy clutch bags guide, you can explore everything there is to know about this handbag style. From the different types of clutch bags to the best options for special occasions. 

Clutch Bags For All Occasions

Any style-conscious woman will know that on special occasions, you can never go wrong with a fashion clutch bag - the perfect finishing touch to any evening look. The popularity of the clutch bag has increased over time and now, this style could even be seen as a more glamorous daytime option too.

What is a Clutch Bag?

A clutch bag is a small handbag that can be held in hand. This means it may not have handles or a strap, but many do come with the option - often featuring a detachable or wristlet strap. Clutch bags are usually used for formal occasions and evening events. 

Modern, trendy clutch bags come in all shapes and colours. As they are quite small, they only have enough room for a few essentials, such as a phone, keys and a few cards, although oversized clutch bags are becoming increasingly popular. These larger on-trend clutch bags can still be carried in hand or tucked under the wearer’s arm.

How Did Clutch Bags Start?

Some of the earliest clutch bags date back to the 13th and 14th Centuries - a time when they were seen as a symbol of wealth. 

A clutch bag artefact from Northern Iraq in the 14th Century was thought to be one of the first clutch bags. However, the silver loops on the sides suggest it was once carried with a strap, making it an early cross body bag. although it is suggested that it may have originally been a saddle bag and the user had modified its design. And very unlike current day clutch bags, this early style is crafted in metal and engraved with illustrations.

The Clutch Bag: A History

In the 18th Century, wealthy men and women of the highest status began to carry pouches, which they concealed beneath layers of clothing. These first clutch bags would hold handkerchiefs and smelling salts. As women’s clothing began to change, slimmer fits meant this discretion was no longer possible, so the previously concealed pouches began to be held and displayed. Shortly after this is when the first evening bag was thought to emerge - a drawstring shape designed to hold gaming chips that could sit flat on games tables.

It was during the 1920s and 30s, with the rise of Hollywood, that saw clutch bags becoming event and evening staples. Red carpet fashion during this era often meant matching court shoes and clutch bags. It also inspired some of the best evening clutch bags that are still popular today, such as gem-embellished styles. 

And now, around the world, trendy clutch bags are chosen to complement elegant looks without distracting from them. 

Due to the small sizes, you might wonder what to put in a clutch bag. Any great designer will ensure their fashion clutch bags have enough room for a few items - your can’t-go-without-essentials. Popular items you might carry in a clutch bag include your phone and keys, perhaps a lipstick and a few cards (some clutches may even have interior card slots so you can leave your large purse at home). 

While the compact interior does restrict how much can be carried, it also reduces the weight so you can be sure this type of bag would very rarely be too heavy to carry. This is a particularly important characteristic of a clutch bag, as without straps it wouldn’t be suitable for them to contain heavy contents. 

Despite its timelessness as part of an evening outfit, the clutch bag can change according to trends and consumer tastes. While they may traditionally be crafted with leather, fashion has seen new, on-trend clutch bags recreated in soft fabrics or even denim. They may even be detailed with patterns, textures and adornments, such as studding, beading and embroidery - details that make them coveted and popular clutch bags. 

Known for her iconic style, Diana, Princess of Wales, was often pictured carrying a clutch bag at events. These appearances led to a huge spike in popularity for clutches during the ‘80s and ‘90s. Princess Diana’s clutch bags varied in shape – she was seen with slim, rectangular designs, pouch-style silhouettes and envelope clutches that were often crafted in satin, sometimes gently embellished and always coordinated with the colour of her outfit. Princess Diana was often spotted clutching the most beautiful clutches in front of her - showing how to carry a clutch bag in a way that was modest and glamorous.

A Timeline of Clutch Bags Styles


Suede clutch bags and crocodile print styles were most popular during the early ‘70s. But as fashion changed, it began to reveal more neutral-coloured styles emerging as the most popular clutch bags. 


Following the emergence of disco in the ‘70s, fashion became fearless and this saw on-trend clutch bags in bolder colours, including metallic hues. As a result, the popularity of gold and silver clutches rose. 

The success of sitcom Cheers may also be linked to the increased popularity for envelope clutches in this decade, as Diane Chambers’ character, Shelley Long, was never seen without hers. Then later, from 1985, it was the little black clutch bag that was taking centre stage in fashion circles. 


Clutch bags became longer, mirroring the slim, rectangular shape of the ‘90s favourite shoulder bag. This is also when animal prints began to reenter fashion, with snakeskin, leopard prints and more appearing on clothing and accessories.  


The Noughties welcomed many new trends, with heavy embellishments being just one of them. Whether it was glitter, sequins or rhinestones, you could find them on jeans, tank tops and accessories like the decade’s trendy clutch bags. 


After a brief gap where oversized accessories were at the forefront of catwalks and high street trends, the mini clutch bag made a return. The flat clutch once again became the best clutch bag of this era and a staple in many people’s wardrobes. 


What is a clutch bag now? Modern day clutch bags still look similar to those early editions. While they rise and fall in popularity due to trends, they always remain a timeless choice for evenings and events. To put it simply, they are never out of style. We particularly love expertly crafted leather styles, although we might be biased. That’s kind of our thing. 

Different Types of Clutch Bags

Classic Clutch

A classic clutch bag is usually petite and square in design with slightly rounded edges. Thought of as one of the best clutches, it does not feature a cross body strap as it’s designed to be held from the bottom or gripped at the top. The style of a classic clutch bag is usually more minimal, with a simple zip or magnetic fastening. These make the most versatile choice when you are wanting to wear matching court shoes and clutch bags. 

Envelope Clutch

An envelope clutch, quite simply, is a popular clutch bag that fastens with a pointed front flap – similar to the fold of an envelope. They are often slim with a square or rectangular shape and feature a flap that fastens at the front. This might be detailed with subtle embellishments or prints. It is a popular opinion that these make the best evening clutch bags. 

Clasp-Top Clutch

A clasp-top clutch bag can come in any shape, colour or material and will have an interlocking clasp to the top. This will often form part of a metal frame that opens up the bag, allowing access to the interior. These clasps can be decorated with embellishments or studs to make them stand out. The typical answer to how to carry a clutch bag is to grasp it from the top. With a metal frame, these fashion clutch bags are the easiest to carry this way.

Flapover Clutch

The flapover clutch bag is very similar to the envelope clutch – they both feature a fold of material that fastens at the front. The difference between these types of clutch bags is simply the shape of the flap. While the flap on envelope clutches will be shaped with a point, a flapover clutch could instead have a rounded or squared design. 

Day Clutch

The day clutch is a type of clutch bag that can be used during the day, rather than in the evening. These are less common when looking for the best evening clutch bags, but they can come in any colour, pattern or shape, and may even be slightly larger for a less formal look. This way you can fit more of your day-to-day items inside too. The concept of a day clutch bag is relatively new, with many people still choosing larger, more practical bags with handles for daily use. 


What Is The Difference Between A Clutch Bag and a Minaudière?

While many people may be familiar with the term and know the clutch bag meaning, the name ‘minaudière’ is used far less. So what’s the difference between the two? 

A minaudière is similar to a clutch bag in that it is a hand-held style, but it tends to be much more expensive due to the materials used and intricate detailing. Minaudière bags are often crafted using hard materials, such as plated metals, to give them a rigid shape. Many couture minaudières on the market come in eye-catching, elaborate, and sometimes eccentric designs.


How to Choose the Right Clutch Bag for You

What are you using your clutch bag for?

Think about the type of event or occasion you are buying a clutch bag for. If it’s for an evening event, you’re likely to only need a few essential items, which means a slim and petite clutch bag will be suitable. Think about your outfit and the dress code of the evening as these will impact the colour and design choice you make. Consider something glamorous, like a metallic on-trend clutch bag or beaded style if looking for an occasion bag. Or even a classic black clutch that will coordinate with any look perfectly. 

If you’re looking for a day clutch bag, you might want to go for a larger design that will fit more inside. Clutch bags with pockets are a popular everyday choice as they help to keep you organised. You’ll know a clutch is a hand-held style, but for a day version, perhaps consider one that comes with a detachable strap so you can go hands-free for a little more practicality. 

What to put in a clutch bag?

It’s important to consider what you need to carry before purchasing a fashion clutch bag. They are renowned for their limited interior space, so think of the items you really can’t leave the house without. These might be your phone, keys and money. Make sure you are able to fit all of your essentials into your new clutch bag. If you do need to carry more, consider an oversized clutch or a day clutch bag, rather than a classic, compact design.

Where are you taking your clutch bag?

Let’s think simply: what is a clutch bag for? Trendy clutch bags are known for being the classic accessory for any special events. That could be when enjoying an evening out at your favourite restaurant or bar, or attending a party - maybe a wedding, birthday, Christening or something else. We’d also recommend thinking about where you’ll be taking it (not just what you’ll be wearing it with!). If you’re heading to an outdoor event, you’ll be looking for the types of clutch bags that won’t be ruined in a spot of rain – in this case, it’s important to avoid suede. The best clutches for outdoor occasions are fabrics that won’t be ruined if they get wet. 

How to Carry a Clutch Bag 

  • Clutch its top or hold it from beneath to keep it secure.

  • If it has one, slip the wristlet strap over your hand. This way, you can still keep the bag at your side, while going hands-free. 

  • If it’s slim enough, tuck your clutch bag under your arm to free up both hands. Unless your clutch is embellished - if your bag has studs, pearls and gemstones, it can feel scratchy and uncomfortable to carry it in this way. Consider your outfit too - you don’t want those embellishments to catch on your clothes.   

Attending an event? That calls for the best jewellery - find our advice on Buying A Necklace over on Radley Stories. While you’re there, check out our guide about the Best Wedding Bags and take a look at our new-in category to find the perfect style for your next special occasion.