The casual observer could be forgiven for thinking that many women care less for the clothes they’re wearing than for the bag they’re clutching. The only possible exception to the rule is their shoes, which is ironic really, as they’re often chosen to match a particular bag. There’s a certain logic behind the obsession. Apart from their jeans and coats, women’s clothes often lack functional pockets, and since there are so many things to carry around, a bag makes perfect sense. But you’d have to be pretty gullible to think the function would ever take precedence over the form; if that were true women would have just one bag and it would be orange and plastic with Sainsburys written on the side.

The bag that can claim most to have a functional purpose is the standard day bag. Bedecked with internal and external pockets and big enough to hold a book, a few electronic gadgets, keys, a purse and a spare pair of tights, it’s difficult to make them look petite, and until the Tardis manufacturers spill the beans, that’s likely to remain the case. But being large does not necessarily mean a sacrifice in femininity. A few decorative flourishes, a delicate strap, some designer touches and the odd flash of metal can really break up the imposing qualities of the big day bag. It’s even possible to carry around a bag that’s big enough to carry your gym kit and pick up a bit of shopping on the way home from work while maintaining your chic.

For something truly elegant, however, bags really do have to start shrinking down a size or two. Whether it’s a classic evening bag or a clutch, the narrower it is the better; it might have to sit comfortably between your arm and your side for several hours. The main difference between a clutch and an evening bag is the strap. Many women prefer to carry either type, so if you’re buying a bag for someone else, make sure the strap is detachable or can tuck inside the bag without ruining the look or stopping it from closing as straps can really get in the way if they’re not being used. Of course, there’s a lower limit to practical size in evening bags. Even if its primary purpose really is as an accessory, it would be silly not to put something in it, even if it’s just keys, a phone, a credit card and a few essential bits of makeup. Good bags will not show these up as bumps and grooves visible from the outside.

The story of the bag is as old as the story of fashion itself, and styles have come and gone for hundreds of years. But the bond between a woman and her bag is perhaps the closest of the whole wardrobe. In fact it’s a wonder that bags turn up at all in vintage clothing stores, so rare is it to see a woman and her bag parting. OK, maybe this is a little dramatic in most women’s case. But let’s face it; we all know at least one.

Author Bio: Nigel Cooper is a fashion writer who put together this article with help from Rokit, suppliers of vintage bags and other ranges of vintage clothing.


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