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Style

How to Buy a Woman a Handbag

A shopping guide for the clueless.

I've been told I'm hard to shop for. I get it, who wants to shop for a professional shopper? That would be like me offering professional tax accounting services to my mom, the CPA. (That sounds totally illegal, by the way, but you get my point.)

But then I realized by way of interaction with essentially every man I've ever encountered (bosses, hairdressers, fathers of friends, dudes at dinner parties) that this isn't a consequence of my choice of occupation; this is about the intimidation factor that comes along with being a lady. Most men are just straight-up clueless or terrified about making purchases that will please the females in their life—be it their wife, sister, or "no label" companion.  It seems they're happy to spend, but they want to do so smartly and successfully. 

The item I am asked most often from men for shopping advice on also happens to be the most beloved of all in a lady's wardrobe: the handbag. To which my first response is, "Well, is this purchase for purpose or pleasure—does she need it or just want it?"

You see, the first thing you should know, sirs, is that there is a difference between the versatile monstrosities we sling across our shoulders to help us schlep around our day-to-day necessities and the pretty little things we can fit in the palm of our hand when we change into a Cushnie et Ochs bodycon dress after dark. There's practical and there's impractical, and both make great gifts.

So, I've devised a shopping road map/cheat sheet to help get you in and out of the store with the right bag that perfectly suits her taste and lifestyle. You'll see it's really not that hard after all. (Says the professional shopper.)  

 

Practical Bags 

handbags-practical-bloomberg-new

(1) Grained calfskin shopping bag with leather strap, Chanel, $3,500, chanel.com; (2) Two-tone City Steamer MM bag, Louis Vuitton, $3,850, us.louisvuitton.com; (3) Leather Bourlingue bag, Hermès, $6,150, usa.hermes.com; (4) Leather Sommet medium tote, Bally, $1,795, bally.com

  • Access Her Lifestyle. Always consider the reason why you are buying her a handbag in the first place. Is it because she needs something bigger, or sturdier, or maybe something a little more scratchproof? (Tip: For the latter, rule out lightweight leathers like lambskin—it nicks too easily.) If she’s in need of a chic and functional work bag, think about whether she'd like a top handle to tote it, or if her needs require a shoulder strap so she can be hands-free (in which case, flat and broad straps will be the most comfortable; bonus points if they're adjustable). One thing to never overlook—despite lifestyle or price tag—is the starting weight. Never buy a lady you love a handbag that's heavy when it's empty. Not even a supersize Balenciaga is worth the upper trapezius pain.  
  • Be Observant. Make sure you have a true understanding of her taste level. Pay attention to the things in her wardrobe she really loves—everything from the brands she wears most often to the various textures and colors she favors. Snooping in her closet is perfectly acceptable, as is seeking the counsel of her friends. But for added affirmation, peep her social media accounts like Pinterest and Instagram. Beyond her own posts and pins, check out the tastemakers she interacts with and follows to get some ideas or examples of a style she admires. 
  • Size Matters. Beyond the style, the second most important aspect of a forvever-in-rotation handbag (your goal, by the way) is the size. Remember to account for how much space her belongings will take up. For instance, if her daily haul includes a 13-inch laptop, a paddle brush, and a pair of commuting flats—size way up. If buying online, be sure to check the bag's measurements to assure it's the proper size, as a lot of popular styles come in various options (like the Bally Sommet tote, above). To be more helpful, retailers such as Net-a-Porter and mytheresa.com also showcase each bag on a woman's figure, which makes it easier to decipher its actual size in comparison to your lady friend.  
  • Classic Trumps Trend. When in doubt, a black carryall by an iconic luxury brand like Chanel, Louis VuittonCeline, and Hermès will never fail you. But for a color switch-up, camel, tan, and gray are also considered classic, non-season-specific options. (Tip: Stay away from white—or bone—which typically requires too much upkeep for a wardrobe workhorse.)

 

Impractical 

handbags-impractical-bloomberg

(1) Peach calfskin Baguette with rhinestones, Fendi, $2,850, fendi.com(2) Studded leather clutch, Tom Ford, $3,690, net-a-porter.com; (3) Lock painted features shoulder bag, Valentino, $3,745, bergdorfgoodman.com; (4) Classic monogram leather shoulder bag, Saint Laurent, $2,750, mytheresa.com

Source: Vendors
  • Dazzle Her. Unlike with a practical (yet polished) everyday carryall, your goal with a special-occasion handbag (sometimes called an evening clutch, minaudière, or minibag) is to up the wow factor. She wants something her friends will covet; something that will elicit oohs and aahs every time she takes it out of the closet (see: Fendi or Valentino, above). So really consider her favorite colors, style type, and designers—as this is the opportunity to be a little more adventurous with your selection. Think: bold hues, playful prints, and anything that sparkles. 
  • Little Is Big. It's no secret that a nice handbag is a costly investment. High-end designer options of the best status and craftsmanship will cost you upwards of $1,000, easily. Good news for you, though, is that tiny handbags, or miniatures, are having a moment. Designers are making more pint-size options—which is fantastic because that means the entry-level price tag on some of the most sought-after labels minimizes potential "no returns" risk.   
  • Size Still Matters. Just because she likely won't be carrying this bag every day doesn't mean it shouldn't still accommodate all her various non-workweek sundries. Some ladies can get away with just carrying a credit card and a tube of lipstick for a night out, and others are not as comfortable downsizing their "must-haves." So if her handbag, or life, motto is "the bigger the better," consider getting her an oversize envelope clutch or a quilted, midsize shoulder bag with a decorative chain shoulder strap (like the emerald green one by Saint Laurent, above). But if she seems to care more about flair than actual practicality, go with something ultracompact and decadent like the above gold-studded hard clutch by Tom Ford. Then just add some fancy plans to give her an occasion to show off her new swoonworthy armpiece. 

Nic Screws is the style director at Bloomberg. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter or e-mail her any of your fashion concerns or questions at nscrews@bloomberg.net.

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