The Handbag: A Visual Glossary of Purses

The Handbag- A Visual Glossary of Purses

Any fashionista knows that an outfit is not complete without the perfect purse to match. Whether you’re a fan of chasing the current trend or are looking for a classic bag worth investing in, this guide will help make your next purse purchase an educated one.

Types of Purses

The Crossbody

This type of bag doesn’t necessarily refer to the shape of the bag, but its adjoining strap. The crossbody has a long strap that is meant to be worn, as the name suggests, across your body.  This allows for your hands to be free to take on the night with your girlfriends or carry the groceries with ease. Crossbody bags typically have thin leather straps, although some can be made of linked chains or even sturdy cotton. You can always add a personal touch to any strap by weaving a scarf through it, adding a fun twist to an otherwise ordinary strap.

 The Hobo Bag

The Handbag- A Visual Glossary of Purses- The Hobo Bag

This bag was originally named after the “bindle” sack, a piece of cloth tied on a stick carried over the shoulder by cartoon “hobos.” Legend has it that a late fashionista took note from these cartoon characters and tied her belongings in a stylish handkerchief, giving birth to the hobo bag. Since then, the hobo has taken on a slight crescent shape with a single, medium-length strap to wear that is worn on one shoulder. It’s wide, loose shape affords a lot of room to stash all of your fabulous treasures (think Mary Poppins and her magic, bottomless bag). A leather hobo has great versatility, being able to transition from day to night with ease while adding a touch of bohemian chic to any outfit.

The Messenger Bag

The Handbag- A Visual Glossary of Purses- The Messenger Bag

The messenger bag finds its place in history because of its classic utilitarian design, from the days of the Pony Express to the modern-day bicycle messengers. Women have taken a cue from their male counterparts and have begun to incorporate the messenger bag  into their own ensembles, often in lieu of the dated briefcase or the sporty backpack. Typically made of durable materials like leather, canvas, or wool, the messenger bag has a thin structure with a flap over the top that secures with two belt-like clasps. It has a long strap that is meant to be worn as a crossbody, often with the bag resting on the side of the hip or in back. The messenger bag is almost exclusively worn for its function with the shape making it perfect to carry notebooks or a laptop for the on-the-go scholar or the thriving executive.

The Satchel

The Handbag- A Visual Glossary of Purses- The Satchel

The satchel purse is truly the most versatile of the bunch. It can take the form of a mini messenger bag or it can have a classic ladylike look with a handle on either side of a top zipper enclosure. Additionally, some designs come with a detachable long strap to wear the purse as a crossbody that allows for even more outfit options. Satchel handbags are often made of leather and are structured with a flat bottom so it can maintain its shape when set down.

The satchel is a favored shape of many luxury designer handbags. The famed Hermès Birkin and Kelly bags both reside in the satchel category. If you’re looking for a purse that comes with options galore and has a touch of glamour, the satchel may be exactly what you’re looking for.

The Saddle Bag

The Handbag- A Visual Glossary of Purses- The Saddle Bag

Used by the equestrian set since the first horse saddles were invented, the saddle bag was originally intended for storing a few vital items while trotting about town. It was attached directly to the horse’s saddle and made of leather to withstand the various changes in climate. This great equestrian trend was welcomed into modern fashion for both its practicality and its unique look. The saddle bag is easily identified by its round-shape and crossbody strap. It features a round fold-over flap that matches the bag’s shape and often a buckle closure. It has stuck to its equestrian roots and is almost exclusively made from leather. Gold hardware and embossed leather detailing are common additions that give the saddle bag a subtle feminine touch.

The Bucket Bag

The Handbag- A Visual Glossary of Purses- Bucket Bag

The bucket bag was originally introduced by Louis Vuitton’s Noe Bag that was made for champagne vintners to transport bottles. Now the bucket bag has come upon an new renaissance in modern day street fashion and have been spotted on the shoulders of celebrity “It” girls like Kate Bosworth and Alexa Chung. This handbag can be large or small, but no matter what the size, you’ll find that its shape is deceivingly roomy. The deep, wide-set frame and the soft, pliable leather material make it perfect to carry everything but the sink! Many bucket handbags have a drawstring closure with an additional magnetic clasp on the inside of the bag so you won’t have to worry about your goods spilling out. This style also features a crossbody strap for convenient, hands-free carrying. There are also some options available with medium-length shoulder straps or backpack straps. The slouchy structure makes this bag ideal for more casual ensembles, adding a relaxed bohemian vibe.

The Backpack Purse

The Handbag- A Visual Glossary of Purses- The Backpack Purse

The backpack might have you reminiscing about days back in high school, where pimples and angsty hormones reigned supreme, but the backpack purse serves a lot more than carrying around books from class to class. This bag is great if you’re looking for the ultimate hands-free accessory to store all your necessities. It has two straps that are worn on each shoulder and hangs off the back. It can come with a variety of different closures: zippers, straps, magnetic clasps, or buckles. Many sleek, leather versions are becoming a popular alternative to the typical handbag, since being popularized by Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen’s luxury line, The Row. The backpack purse is essentially perfect for any casual event, whether you are hauling around your goods around an amusement park or simply making a unique statement while running errands.

The Foldover Purse

The Handbag- A Visual Glossary of Purses- The Foldover Purse

The foldover purse can take any shape or silhouette because the defining factor of the foldover bag is, obviously, the folded over top section. This versatile handbag is a smaller bag when folded over, but if you find that you need a little bit more room, you can transform it into a large bag by simply unfolding it. Depending on the design, these purses can come with a short handle, a long crossbody strap, or both. Most commonly though, the foldover purse is often seen with no handles as a clutch. No matter which silhouette you choose, the foldover purse gives you the perfect opportunity to store some extra goodies, if needed.

The Tote Bag

The Handbag- A Visual Glossary of Purses- The Tote Bag

Also known as the “shopper’s bag,” the tote bag is a practical basic that is sure to come in handy when you’ve found yourself with a little more than you can carry. This  bag is typically worn with both its short straps upon one shoulder, and has a simple structure with minimal to no pockets. The tote comes in an assortment of sizes, colors, and materials, making it extremely versatile and able to be worn for various occasions. A classic canvas tote is perfect for running your weekend errands, while a sleek leather tote is ideal for carrying around your documents from meeting to meeting.

The Barrel Bag

The Handbag- A Visual Glossary of Purses- The Barrel Bag

Similar to the messenger bag, the barrel bag was originally associated with men in the army. This classic shape was ideal for soldiers to carry around their equipment while traveling around during wartime. However, women have once again “borrowed from the boys” and incorporated this purse into their own style. The barrel bag is built similarly to the satchel with a top zip closure and two short handles on either side, but its structure is much longer. It has a small horizontal, cylindrical silhouette that resembles a barrel and typically has a stiff frame that won’t lose its shape. Some designs come with a crossbody strap for a convenient way to wear it. This small, yet fashionable bag is perfect when you are meeting with your girlfriends or going out for a romantic date night.

The Duffel Bag

The Handbag- A Visual Glossary of Purses- The Duffel/ Mini Duffel


The duffel bag is a bigger, more casual type of barrel bag. It has the same horizontal, cylindrical shape, but unlike the fashion barrel bag, it is usually made of a flexible and durable material that is waterproof. This extremely roomy and functional bag makes it ideal to carry around clothes and toiletries when traveling. It’s a great alternative to a suitcase, which can be bulky and heavy. With the classic duffel bag, you can jet set around the world with ease.

The Baguette Bag

The Handbag- A Visual Glossary of Purses- The Baguette Bag

The baguette bag was designed to look like the bread that inspired its design: long, thin, and a perfect addition to a Parisian stroll. After Fendi first introduced the bag in 1997, it gained its iconic status from frequenting the shoulders of Carrie Bradshaw and company on the HBO classic Sex and the City. Because of its frequent role in the show, the baguette bag cemented its status as the “It Bag” of the 90’s.

The baguette bag has a petite structure, similar to the clutch (below), that is designed to hold only your bare essentials. The small strap can be worn in hand or upon your shoulder. From patent leather to sequins, the baguette bag has innumerable options as far as styling. The baguette bag is known to be a statement piece that adds a bold pop of style and is an easy addition to a night on the town or a romantic date night.

The Frame Handbag

The Handbag- A Visual Glossary of Purses- The Frame Bag

Frame purses refer to a rectangular or trapezoid-shaped handbag that has one or two short handles and a metal hinge top opening with a clasp closure or a kissing lock closure, which consists of two metal round balls that interlock, snap together, and “kiss”. This type of closure is reminiscent of handbags or coin purses from the 1920’s to the 1950’s, and would be an ideal choice for vintage lovers. The metal frame offers a sturdy structure, which reduces the risk of crushing any valuables you might carry around. This rigid shape gives the purse a clean, stream-lined appearance that makes any outfit look crisp and put-together. Add this bag to any outfit with a bright red lip for a classic look. Alternatively, if you’re searching for a purse that follows the most recent trends, many designers are now introducing frame handbags that have a modern twist, including studded embellishments or a slightly slouchy and relaxed structure.

The Doctor’s Bag

The Handbag- A Visual Glossary of Purses- The Doctor Bag

The signature bag of the original Wonder Woman, the doctor’s bag was traditionally used by doctors to carry around their medical gear when making house calls. Today, you will see fashionistas everywhere carrying around this handy and roomy purse. Its flat bottom and slightly elongated shape makes is ideal to haul around everything you need. It comes with two short handles to carry around easily in hand and a magnetic flap or clasp closure. Most doctor’s handbags have very few embellishments or detailing, making it look simple and professional. This chic design makes it perfect for everything from an important business meeting or a casual day of shopping.

The Clutch

The Handbag- A Visual Glossary of Purses- The Envelope Clutch

Whether you carry your clutch by hand, or looped around your wrist as a wristlet, it’s a great lightweight addition to both casual and formal ensembles. These purses are typically small in size and usually can only hold the absolute bare minimum. Small exotic bags were originally used by members of royalty and the upper class as a symbol of high esteem and status.

The Handbag: Minaudiere

The minaudière is a type of clutch that is specifically intended to be worn as an evening bag. Generally made of rigid materials such as metal, this small purse is usually adorned with small beads or crystals. These decorations give the ultimate glam factor, making it perfect for any black tie event.

In modern culture, however, clutches are less about stature and more about adding a decorative accent to your outfit. Clutches come in a variety of textures, colors, and embellishments that will allow you to express your own unique style: luscious purple satin, electric green leather, metallic gold detailing, elaborate rhinestone designs, the list goes on and on. Whether you’re off to a gala or the grocery store, keep your essentials close at hand  with the perfect clutch.


The beauty of a great purse lies in its ability to be both fashionable and functional, especially a well organized one! If you were looking to find the purse that suits you, or just looking to expand on your already overflowing purse collection, finding a purse that fits both fashion and function will truly make you an inseparable pair!

Don’t miss the full size handbag/purse infographic below.

The Handbag: A Visual Glossary of Purses, Infographic