Try to choose a shape that is the opposite of your body type. If you are tall and thin, look for a slouchy, rounded hobo bag to compliment your figure. If you're short and voluptous, play off opposites by choosing a handbag that is tall and rectangular or long and sleek (like a clutch).

In general, the rounder your figure, the more structured your bag should be. That doesn't mean that you have to carry a hard box around to counterbalance your womanly shape: rectangular or square silhouettes in soft leathers or fabrics will do the trick.

Some popular shapes:

  • Tote - An open-top bag with straps or handles.
  • Hobo bag - A crescent-shaped shoulder bag.
  • Duffle - Tall shoulderbag, often with a wider opening on top.
  • Field bag - A flap-top shoulderbag with utility-type closure (buckles, snaps, etc).
  • Clutch - A small, handheld bag or a larger, geometric shape that is tucked under the arm.
  • Satchel- A large, handheld bag.
  • Baguette - Long and rounded shoulder bag resembling the namesake bread.
  • Messenger - A large, soft shoulder bag with long straps (often worn across the body).
  • Cigar Box - A small, boxy, hard bag.
  • Pouch - A soft, small bag.
  • Kelly bag - A classic Hermes style named after Grace Kelly; a large, structured handbag with distinctive hardware closures.
While the shape should oppose your body type for maximum flattery, the size of the bag should be in proportion to your figure.

Think scale here: a woman who is 6 feet tall and a size 14 would look lost with a teensy hand-held bag. A petite size 0 would look overwhelmed by an enormous slouchy bag.

A shoulder bag's length (where the bottom of the bag hits your body) will accentuate whatever part of the body it comes near.

For example, a shoulder bag that ends around the hips will play up your hip width (the eye is drawn to the bag).

Most women look great with a bag that hits mid-torso because it flatters the waist.

If you are PETITE:
Smaller people can easily become overwhelmed by large handbags. Small to medium shoulder bags are your best bet. If you want to create an illusion of height, then pick a style that is taller than it is wide.

If you are TALL and SKINNY:
Don't have a lot of curves? Try a large, unstructured hobo style. If you prefer a smaller bag, then select on that hits you right at your waist when worn over the shoulder. Both of these will help you create the illusion of a curvier figure.

If you are PLUS SIZED:
Go for larger, more structured handbags like totes and briefs. A bag that is wider than it is tall will help balance out your figure. Smaller bags should be avoided since they will appear out of proportion when compared to your size.

If you are PEAR SHAPED:
Try a smaller bag that fits snugly under your arm. It will help you draw attention away from your hip area and toward your bustline. This will help balance out your figure. Messenger bags and satchels should be avoided since they will cause the eye to move downward.

If you are BIG BUSTED:
A large chest will only be emphasized by a handbag that hits you above the waist. Instead, choose a messenger style or handheld satchel. This will help draw the eye downward, away from your bust, and can help balance out your figure.


Handle: A handle made in the shape of a complete closed circle.
East-West: Describes a handbag shape which is wider than it is long.
Gusset: The triangular end piece of a handbag which gives depth and roominess to the shape.
Luggage Handle: Has the same rigid shape as the handle of an ordinary suitcase. May be made of metal covered with leather or material.
North-South: Describes a long narrow shape.
Top-Handle: A handle not long enough to go over the shoulder, designed to be held in the hand.


  • Calfskin: made from the hides of young cattle, has soft, smooth texture which makes it desirable for the finest quality handbags.
  • Kip (Steerhide): from a somewhat older animal, is less fragile than calf, but not as supple and fine.
  • Cowhide: from the full grown animal, a grained leather especially popular for casual bags.
  • Sheep and Lambskin: Light, fine grained leathers used primarily in imported bags.
  • Reptile: skins used for handbags include those of certain types of snakes, turtles and lizards. All are distinguished by the intricate patterns of the animal's scaled skin. Some reptile materials are restricted from use in handbags by laws which protect endangered species.
  • Antiqued leather has a smooth finish and a mottled, mellow look. The grain of crushed
    leather is accented by shrinking.
  • Glazed leather has a polished finish, whereas a matte finish is dull.
  • Suede is a treatment applied to the flesh side of a skin to produce a napped, velvet-like
  • Embossing reproduces grain and other patterns on the leather surface. It may be used to duplicate a natural phenomonon-reptile grain may be embossed on smooth leather, for example-or it may be used to create an entirely new effect. One popular embossed grain is saffian, which gives a crosshatched texture to the leather surface.
  • Patent is high gloss finish on leather. Thick leather is split into two or more layers before use. The top layer, containing the natural grain is called top grain. All other layers are splits.

Before they are made into bags, leathers are subjected to a variety of treatments and finishes which create great variety in color and appearance.


Originally developed as less expensive substitutes for leather, man-made materials have become important handbag components on their own merits and are now used in a large percentage of handbags made in the United States. New textures and colors are continually introduced. The principal man-made materials are vinyl and polyurethane. Light weight and wipe-clean care are two factors contributing to their popularity. Embossing, patent and other finishes used on leathers are created on man-made materials as well. A major innovation in handbag technology is flow molding, in which liquid material flows into a mold and emerges as a finished bag, complete will all details of texture and stitching.


  • Virtually every fabric that's used to make garments has been used at one time or another to make handbags. Certain materials have become classics:
  • Burlap is a coarse, bumpy cloth used in casual bags.
  • Canvas, durable and good looking, is the most popular fabric used in handbags. Duck, a similar but somewhat heavier fabric, is also used.
  • Cotton in an incredible variety of prints and textures is used in novel summer handbags.
  • Faille has a ribbed surface with a smooth, rich finish. The fabric is a flat, cross-grained silk, wool or rayon used in dressy styles.
  • Linen, woven from flax, is a spring classic.
  • Needlepoint and tapestry are heavy, ornamental fabrics used in knitting bags and similar styles.
  • Peau de soie is a dull satin used in evening bags.
  • Petit point refers to a very fine cross stitch worked by hand. Fine petit points are almost always imported.
  • Silk brocade, crepe, bengaline, moire and satin are used for elegant late-day bags.
  • Velvet has luster and richness which make it ideal for dressier bags. Solids, prints and cut velvets are all popular.


Straw bags have been basic summer accessories for years. Classic straw bags of willow or rattan were hand woven into rigid shapes. More modern straws are soft and cloth like; most are imported.


Many bags are lined with canvas, nylon or pig suede. To clean, gently pull the interior insides out and use a standard lint roller to pick up debris. Or try the fabric-brush attachment on your vacuum.

Keep these fasteners working smoothly by running a piece of natural beeswax (found in hardware stores) over a zipper's open teeth.

Handles and straps
Residue from lotions can discolor and age material- another good reason to keep hands clean. Also, don't overstuff a bag: too much weight can weaken stitching or damage straps.

Deep scratches or cracks on metal are virtually impossible to repair. But bag and shoe repair shops can replate hardware to hide finer flaws.

Leather, of course, is a skin, so keep it happy and moisturized with a leather conditioning cream. There's no reason to treat it with a protectant or a silicone spray. Caught in the rain? Run for cover, then dab- don't wipe moisture away.

Structured bags with stiff bottoms often have "feet" (metal rivets incorporated into the base) to protect the leather against scratches and stains. Feet can also be added by a professional


Keep your alligator or crocodile bag supple by applying a leather conditioner. Use a soft, lint-free fabric like a sheepskin knit and test conditioner in an inconspicuous place before using all over.

A suede brush can do wonders, but for serious stains, it's best to see a pro. When storing, wrap leather handles or straps in cloth so they don't rest against suede and leave blotches.

Cloth bags attract dust, so when you're done using a bag for the season, give it a light lint roller before storing covered. For deeper stains or markings, take to a repair shop.

Experts warn against using any type of product on snakeskin, which is quite fragile. Over time, scales will begin to lift. When that happens, you can have the bag lacquered, but the treatment may change the appearance of the scales.

Seperate light patent leathers from dark hued bags to avoid discoloration. To clean, take a piece of cheesecloth, dampen with a bit of white vinegar and rub. Wipe off with a clean piece of fabric.

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