Fight the Frump: Update Your Handbag

I was racking my brain for more ideas for my Fight the Frump series, and I remember someone suggesting handbags as a topic. It’s funny because I wouldn’t have thought of a handbag as being frumpy, but they really can be. Handbag styles go in and out of fashion like everything else, plus there are some general rules or guidelines that are helpful to know, as to what styles/sizes/colors work best for each individual person.

Fight the Frump: Update Your Handbag

As always, with posts like this, I hesitate to show examples of the “don’ts” because I don’t want to insult anyone. At the end of the day, I fully believe you should wear/carry what you like and feel good in, no matter if it’s in style or out or somewhere in between, but if you’re looking to update your go-to handbag this fall, I hope you find this post helpful.

Fight the Frump: Update Your Handbag

The first thing to consider is the condition of your bag.

It’s time to update your bag if it looks worn, if the leather (or whatever material it is) is rubbed off or fading in spots, or if the threads are coming loose, etc. Sometimes we get so used to using something that we don’t notice when it starts to fade, so take a good look at your bag(s) from an outsider’s perspective and determine if it’s time to upgrade/update.

The second thing to consider is the quality.

The older we get, the more important it is to invest in quality basics. Your handbag is something you carry with you every day, and it’s always visible. This is definitely an area where I recommend buying the most quality piece you can reasonably afford.

This doesn’t mean you have to break the bank or go into debt over a handbag (please don’t do that!) but there are lots of good choices at a variety of price points. I also recommend always buying handbags on sale to maximize your budget.

But stay away from fake designer bags. That’s one of those things you can get away with when you’re young, but as we get older, it really cheapens our look.

The third thing that is important to note is the size of your everyday bag and how it compares to your size.

Of course there are times when you need a huge tote to carry all the things, and there are other times when a small clutch is appropriate. But for your go-to daily bag, consider your size in relation to the size of the bag.

If you’re a petite woman, go for a smaller bag — still large enough to carry the essentials, but not so big as to overwhelm you. Conversely, if you’re a larger or taller woman, carrying a diminutive bag throws off your look and can look frumpy.

My fourth tip is not to over-stuff your bag. 

An over-stuffed handbag adds to the frump factor, plus it just looks sloppy. If your bag is bursting at the seams, it’s time to get a bigger bag or downsize the amount of things you’re carrying on a daily basis. Every few years, it’s a good idea to take an honest look at your lifestyle and carrying habits and reassess your handbag needs.

Finally, determine if your handbag looks dated. If your bag was trendy 5 or 10 years ago, it’s probably looking dated now. For example (and some of y’all are going hate me for this) it’s time to ditch the bags with logos splashed all over them.

Also, ditch any quilted cloth bag with a loud print. Again, if you love it, carry it, but if you want to update your look, those types of bags will definitely date your style.

When selecting your go-to handbag, opt for a classic style without a lot of embellishments or trendy accents. Choose a good quality leather or faux leather (unless you are morally opposed, I highly recommend genuine leather; it looks nicer and will last much longer) in a modern neutral tone or a bold color that compliments most of your wardrobe.

Another good option is a quality canvas. These bags are generally less expensive than leather, and they’re also extremely durable and hold up to all kinds of weather as well as sloppy kids, etc.

As far as colors go, if you like to carry just one bag, I recommend a beige, grey, or taupe. Those colors go with almost everything. If you like to have a few bags to switch out depending on your outfit, consider adding a black bag and then maybe a color or two — either a pastel or a bold color, whatever goes best with your wardrobe.

I hope this post was helpful. Now go forth and fight the frump!

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55 Responses

  1. Oh Jolynne! I loved this post! It really helped me get a big picture look at handbags! That list of dream bags looks great to me! I’ve been seeing that Louis Vuitton Tote around and I love it! Fantastic! Thank you!

  2. I just drooled all over this post, haha! You rounded up the most gorgeous bags! I was never much of a handbag person until about 5 or 6 years ago when I invested in my first leather bag. I’ve been hooked ever since!
    And you are so right about getting an appropriate size for one’s frame. When I bought my TB York, I originally got the full size, and it was just waaay too big for me. I honestly looked silly trying to carry it. Luckily, the small one ended up going on sale soon after, so I was able to exchange them. Huge difference.

    1. That’s interesting! I compare those two sizes a lot (I never invested but I love those bags!) and I was always thinking about how much I needed it to carry, not which one looked better on me. I definitely need to take my own advice sometimes. LOL!

  3. That was great post !  I think there are a few bags i need to get rid of  thanks for showing me the light 

  4. Thank you for all the suggestions on handbags!  Great post and now I need to go through my old handbags and maybe update with a new one! There are lots of good choices out there.  One of my favorites are Fossil handbags, and if you live near an outlet store, the prices are really good!  

  5. I lLOVE this post! You hit the mark with Sole Society for a reasonable trendy bag the quality is excellent. I’m 51 finally bought my LV neverfull gm. I got the monogrammed I was concerned about it being to ostentatious but I figured. I raised 5 kids put them through college I earned it. Have a great day it’s rainy here in Chicago 

    1. CONGRATS! 🙂 My husband treated me to the MM in the Damier pattern last year for Christmas. I LOVE IT. I also struggled with that feeling at first, but it is so practical and I know I’ll carry it for many years.

  6. Great post!  I, too, am a fan of handbags.  All of these are lovely and your post accommodates all price points.  For anyone living near outlets, great deals on beautiful bags can be found there, too.

  7. Excellent post Jo-Lynne with so much good information.  I am one that likes different handbags to chose from.  I had never thought about considering my body build when selecting them.  I do love for my contents to be orderly so I can find whatever without looking inside.  Here’s a new one for you, I bet:  I also keep in mind whether or not the handbag will fit under my seat & be out if the way in our mini van, so that it doesn’t interfere with our dogs.  Yep, that’s for real.  We took the center console out right after we purchased the van so that our big dog can sit between us, to look out the front window and get loved on.  Java loves to lay down and hide his head sort of under our legs, so we avoid having any obstructions.  If we have cups in the holders in the middle, he will bull doze his way in, until we remove our cups and close the cup holder.  Yes, our 90+ lbs dogs are spoiled, in some ways, but they are also well trained and obey our commands.
    Have a great weekend!

      1. It sort of looks like a 3rd person.  When our Labradoodle was a puppy, we secured a collapsible crate on the center console of the truck, so he could be right beside us, and see out the front window.  And he was safe.  That is how it all started.  Now our standard poodle has learned to do the same thing, so they take turns helping us drive.

  8. Great post, Jolynne! I do have a question! I’ve been considering a LV never-full logo bag for some time. I havn’t bit the bullet because it is a huge investment and I always get tripped up on the logo (you stated that as a no no too) and, mostly, it bothers me to spend so much on a bag that only the handles and trim are leather…. the body is coated canvas. Do you think LV is an exception to some of the things you mentioned and worth the price? I see so many women carrying them…. Thanks! Krista

    1. Yeah, I was thinking of that bag when I mentioned the logos. I have the MM in the Damier pattern and I did pick that pattern b/c I wasn’t sure I wanted the LV logos on mine, but I still see a lot of fashion bloggers with those and I do think it’s a bit of an exception to the “rule.” Of course, that may change, I don’t know. I read an article when prepping this post about how current trends are moving away from big logos, but I was thinking more of the fabric Coach bags with all the Cs and then the fake imitations of those. That said, if you’re doubting it, maybe try a different pattern?

      As far as the coated canvas vs. leather, I actually really like coated canvas for totes because it is so practical and I also like the look of it. I had a Rebecca Minkoff striped coated canvas tote with leather straps and trim for quite a few years, and I always liked how durable it was, but eventually it got discolored and started to look worn so when I got my LV, I passed it on.

      I carry my LV tote on the plane, put it thru security, stash it under my car seat, and I don’t worry about it getting scratched or dinged up. Not to say that I’m careless with it, but I like that I don’t have to be precious with it either.

      Ultimately, I think the question is, do YOU love it and think you’ll carry it often enough and for long enough to get the value out of the purchase? I hope that helps!

  9. Great post. I am a fan of Burberry! I purchase a Burberry item to mark special milestones. I bought my first Burberry at 25, to reward myself for completing a marathon. I bought my second at age 30 to commemorate being Thirty! I’m older than 30 now (ahem!) and my Burberry purse from 25 still looks classically modern and is in great shape! Fun post!!

    1. I’ve been looking at their bags recently… that bucket bag in this roundup is calling to me. 🙂 I’ve also heard the same thing from friends who have their bags (and their wallets, too) and they hold up for so many years.

  10. My 20-something daughters love to carry “vintage” Coach and Dooney & Burke bags. Luckily they’ve mostly taken advantage of my closet and their grandmother’s, so it’s been very inexpensive for them to obtain some great styled handbags! Nice, higher quality bags will really last for generations! And in most cases remain stylish. Have a great weekend!

  11. This post is super helpful. I need a new brown bag for fall/winter, and I want leather, but I’m also kinda cheap, so I’m having a hard time making up my mind. I guess I don’t want to spend a lot of money and then be sorry by next year. So I really appreciate your thoughts from today’s post, especially the part about structured bags being the way to go–thanks!

    1. Just my two cents, as someone else mentioned earlier, Fossil makes good quality leather bags that are very reasonably priced.  They seem to be on the more casual side, style-wise, if that fits you, but they’re very durable.  

  12. What are your thoughts on outlet stores? Is there a substantial quality difference? Is it better to buy a bag at an outlet store or on sale at a department store?

    1. I did address that, but I realize it was kind of buried. You can get good prices on name brand bags at the outlet malls, but they’re usually not overstocks or last year’s styles. Most of these brands actually produce a separate line of merchandise for these outlet stores that is not the same quality. It’s still totally fine to shop there, especially if it’s the look you’re going for the look more than the quality, but it is something I think people should be aware of because the “deals” probably aren’t as good as they seem.

      So to answer your questions directly, I personally prefer to buy on a good sale at a department store because I want the quality as well as the look.

  13. I tried to use the code “FRIENDS” on a TB bag but it said the code was expired! So disappointing! This was an awesome post, though! Very informative!

    1. Oh, wait. I’m sorry, I thought you were commenting on another post. Where was the TB bag? The sales I mentioned are Kate Spade and Lord & Taylor. I don’t think L&T carries TB bags.

  14. I loved this post! You included so much helpful information! I’m a ‘drooler’ over high quality leather handbags. I have purchased several Dooney and Bourke over the years, and they are in constant rotation- they wear well, are made of gorgeous leathers/colors and there are so many styles to choose from. Thanks for including them in your post! 

  15. Thank you for the Fight the Frump post about purses you answered many questions about handbags (purses). I had already ditched my quilted cloth bags with a loud print that I had, all except the one I carry my stuff in for my preschool lessons. For some reason even though I have several bags that I have gotten to carry my lesson plans in I keep going back to the quilted cloth bag with a loud print, go figure.

  16. If you can’t afford the REAL thing, don’t by fakes. It’s not a matter of getting “away with when you’re young” — it is NOT a victimless crime
    . The money from fake products goes to organized crime, and helps fund terrorism and the trafficking of drugs, people, sex and wildlife.

    If it’s too good to be true, is most likely is.

  17. I’m into crossbody purses. I love that they stay on versus shoulder bags that tend to slip off and are hands free versus handled purses. They are great for travelling, too. I see some nice ones in your post. Christmas is not far off. Right? Lol

  18. Lots of good advice in this post! I had to return a few bags I bought online because I didn’t read the size notes close enough. The bags were so big and looked ridiculous on me lol! I am trying to work on point #4 since I have been switching bags more often…and I have been known to break a bag a time or two from carrying too much (luckily nothing super expensive, but the poor quality likely contributed to its demise too). 

  19. Bags! I love bags! I’ll go barefoot whenever possible, but won’t do without my bags! I bought my first D&B purse about 3 years ago and was hooked! My latest is a Frye bag and I just love it.

  20. I’ve had a major dilemma with handbags for the past several years: the trend is gold hardware, and I really dislike gold. I can’t find anything that has silver hardware (or even pewter). I occasionally find black bags with silver hardware, but I really need a beige/taupe/gray bag. Are there any brands that actually have bags with silver hardware? Or perhaps a site that allows searches by hardware color? I’m getting desperate waiting out the gold trend… lol!

    1. Ahhh, yes, gold is definitely trending. I do see black bags with silver but not so many other neutrals. Let me look around. I am sure there are some, but they’re definitely few and far between these days.

    2. So Kim, I’ve been looking for bags with silver hardware. It’s hard to find them, and I’m not sure the size and price point you’re looking for, but one option is to look for bags with NO hardware. Sometimes those are best b/c they you don’t have to think about if it matches or not. I have a Tory Burch hobo that is like that, and it’s nice. This Kate Spade one is an example: https://rstyle.me/n/ctawsqgthw

      The McGraw line from Tory Burch has silver hardware on the “silver maple” color bags, and some styles have no hardware: https://rstyle.me/n/ctawuigthw

      The Rebecca Minkoff Love crossbody bags come with silver and black hardware on some colors: https://rstyle.me/n/ctawu7gthw

      At a lower price point, this faux leather satchel has silver hardware on all 3 color options: https://rstyle.me/n/ctawwegthw

      Also this Sole Society tote has no hardware: https://rstyle.me/n/ctawx4gthw

      I hope that helps!

      1. Jo-Lynne, THANK YOU! You’ve provided some helpful tips and great links to get started. I actually had that Chelsea28 handbag link open in another tab when I read your reply, haha! Looking for bags with no hardware is a great option. Some totes fall into that category, like the Sole Society you used as an example. Thank you for taking the time to help me out!

  21. This is not a comment about your handbag post, even though it was awesome! I wanted to let you know I just joined trunk club, and thank you for that older post! I have such a hard time finding jeans that fit, and hopefully this will help! I can’t wait for the shipment!

    1. Oh, good! I hope you love it! Even if the first trunk isn’t awesome, I advise trying it a few times until the stylist gets to know your style and tastes and what works best on your body type. I have so much fun seeing what mine sends me now. 🙂

  22. LOVED this post Jolynne!!  First of all thanks for the generic tips.  I’d never considered the over-stuffing problem, but you’re right!  Also I laughed at the point you made about purse size and body size. I am very petite and went through a phase where I loved oversized totes.  Until an older coworker joked that it was so big I could crawl in it!  A polite way of telling me I looked ridiculous!  Ha!
    As to the consignment sites,  I have bought tons of purses from Poshmark!  I buy mid range purses and have found several at a significant discount.  Granted some are used but there are also many that are new with tags! (I guess ppl got them as gifts or changed their mind but couldn’t return?). They also offer a luxury service for high end products such as Gucci or Louis Vuitton.  These items go from the seller to the company headquarters for authenticity verification before shipping to the buyer.  Even on the more affordable items, you can always reject a purchase if it arrives in poor condition or is not as described (such as a purse you thought in pics was designer. It is actually a knock off).  I’ve only had this experience once, but it was no problem to cancel, I didn’t have to return the purse and my account was not charge.  So if you’re hesitant to buy purses (especially designer) at an online resale site, this one offers a good safety net.  For anyone reading who’s interested,  my referral code is meg23, it will give you a $5 discount! 
    Thanks again for the informative post Jolynne!!  Can’t wait for more fight the frump!!!

  23. I used to carry a lot in my purse, sometimes I could barely get it zipped.  I’ve since downsized to a Vera Bradley Jen Zip ID, that I carry every day.  Are there any small bags that you would recommend?  I love the look of the large leather totes but that’s too large for me anymore. Thank you

    1. I probably should have recommended more small bags. I guess I was thinking of an everyday bag as bigger, but it doesn’t have to be. What price range are you looking at? Maybe I can find a few suggestions.

      1. Yes! I see another post on clutches in your future? I am forever in search of a small clutch that fits inside my tote with my laptop. I have a Coach clutch with a front snap I use now that will fit my wallet things, a lipstick and my phone. But finding another one (that fits a lipstick and my phone AND fits neatly inside my tote) is challenging!

  24. Since you noted a good quality canvas bag, and leather of course!, I’d love for you to check out R.Riveter. Their bags are beautiful, and are hand-crafted in the USA by military spouses across the nation. They’re gorgeous, high quality bags and support a good cause. Check them out! Oh, and I’m not affiliated with them, just a lover of their bags. 🙂

  25. Love this post–thank you! I’ve also had good luck, when my classic bags are looking a bit worn, taking them to my shoe repair person for a detailed cleaning and repair session. They often come back looking brand new! I pay about $50 for this, but it extends the life of my classic leather bags considerably. Something to think about.

  26. Is it wrong that when my husband asked me “What was the highlight our European trip?”  my first thought was the Goyard bag I bought?  Lol

  27. Hi Jo-Lynn, WOW great post!

    I shy away from designer bags for their ‘cookie cutter’ cult following. what do you think about artisan bags, like https://www.portlandleathergoods.com/collections/leather-totes? No designer name, but handcrafted one at a time, and best, USA made.

    Do you get rid of bags as they go out, or retain in case they circle back? example, in the post you mention slouch hobos are going out – what to do with them?

    Lastly, love this “fight the frump” topic. keep ’em coming! thanks so much.

    1. Hey Nancy. Those bags are gorgeous! I do get rid of them. I always find that when things “circle back” they change the styles just enough that my old ones don’t really look current anymore. But also, I am just one of those people who enjoys purging and doesn’t want things in my closet that I don’t wear. Sometimes I save something in the basement in a marked bin, thinking that I may want it again someday, but honestly, most of those things I end up giving away eventually. There has been a rare occasion that I’m so glad I kept it tho. It’s hard to know.

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