My Handbag Buying System

I started to post this on Brenda's thread, but then I sort of felt like I might be threadjacking, so I decided to make a new post.

I am not a handbag (or shoe) girl. I know, I'm weird. But shopping and matching bags to my "style" is really kind of overwhelming for me. I've never really gotten how to do it. Since choosing handbags aren't really my strength, I've adopted a handbag shopping system. I will buy an inexpensive bag that I like at TJ Maxx or Express, Zara, etc. and carry that for a while. If I find that I am able to use it with lots of things, then I go looking for a high quality version, because I already know it will get a lot of use. For instance, I bought a cheapo yellow quilted, flap closure, chain handle purse and I used the heck out of it. It's finally starting to look kind of crummy, so for Christmas I asked for a nice, real leather version. It's not exactly the same, but pretty close and it will definitely serve the same purpose in my wardrobe. Some bags I think I'll really like and use a lot and end up not using them as much. But it's okay, since I didn't spend a lot of money on them.

Anyway, just an informational post, I guess. I know lots of you ladies ARE handbag gals, but I wonder if anyone else out there is overwhelmed by accessorizing with their purse or finding which style works with most of their outfits? Or does anyone else have a system/strategy for buying things that aren't fun for them?

This post is also published in the youlookfab forum. You can read and reply to it in either place. All replies will appear in both places.


  • Angie replied 8 years ago

    I like your system, Ana!

    For me, handbags are both an emotional and practical purchase. I let my heart do the choosing and let the brain way in - if it can get a thought in edgewise.

  • Ana replied 8 years ago

    Thanks, Angie! Hmm...that's interesting. It sounds very intuitive for you. Is there anything else you find you have to be more methodical about, or do you choose most of your clothing this way? (I imagine clothes shopping must be pretty intuitive for you). : )

  • cciele replied 8 years ago

    That's a very practical system Ana! I am a reformed handbag addict (having transferred my addiction to boots...). Like Angie, I let my heart do the choosing for handbags and worry about accessorizing and matching later.

    I don't really have a system for buying things that aren't fun (like jeans and pants, ugh). My system, if you can call it that, is to order a ton of stuff online, try it on at home, and then return a lot if it :)

  • Ana replied 8 years ago

    Cathy, I think trying on lots of stuff is a good system! : )

    Maybe I should have said "strategy" instead of system. My jeans-buying strategy is buy a pair and wear them until they get a tear (it always happens on the inner thigh), and then I buy a new pair. *g*

  • qfbrenda replied 8 years ago

    That's a very logical system... I like it! So far, I haven't been able to apply a lot of logic to handbag selection, though I'm usually a logical person. That other thread is as much thought as I've ever given to a particular bag. LOL

  • Queen Mum replied 8 years ago

    Great system Ana! It lets you take them on a "trial run" before committing to the real deal. I may need to give this system a whirl.

  • Beth replied 8 years ago

    Great system that makes perfect sense!

    I'm not a handbag girl, either. I also prefer smaller structured bags, which means that my bag choices for the last decade have been pretty slim.:)

    I compensate by buying shoes!

  • Sylvie replied 8 years ago

    Brilliant system. I'm always trying to get the "perfect item" and just spend the money once, but it's hard to know up front what I need. If you can go supercheap and try something out, it's worth it to avoid the purchasing mistakes.

  • rachylou replied 8 years ago

    That's a good system!

  • replied 8 years ago

    I find Zara prices quite stiff on the real leather purses. I buy even cheaper for test purposes. But I'm not a bag person, I have the barely minimum. But I like your system Ana, I think I sorta used it without realizing. Will be more aware now!

  • rae replied 8 years ago

    I'm emotional, too! About boots and jackets, too, I've found. I really think I work backward and find a way to work my beloved bags into the mix rather than the other way around.

    Case in point is a burgundy/orange celtic print bag I saw months ago... fell in love with the look, bought it, tried it, passed, and have spent the remaining time searching for the perfect plain burgundy bag to recreate the look in a size that suits me. I don't think my brain has a vote in the matter. :)

  • Isabel replied 8 years ago

    That is a really great approach. I did that with ponte pants, but I never thought about it for bags. Thanks !!!

  • christy replied 8 years ago

    Great way to give something a trial run - especially something that might be a bit out of your comfort zone. I love bags but I hate buying them!

  • replied 8 years ago

    What a great idea! Are you always able to find a similar bag in real leather? How do you go about searching it out? Is there a particular expensive brand that you usually end up with? (Now it's your turn to write an essay!)

  • Ana replied 8 years ago

    Thank you, everyone! It's been really interesting reading your responses and the way some of you choose your handbags. I'm so glad that some of you found this post helpful. : )

    Anya, I agree with you on Zara. When I buy the cheap version, it's usually not real leather, or else I buy it on major sale. I think Zara's sales are just ok, but Express usually deeply discounts their bags. I usually try to keep it $30 and under for most of my trial bags. I've definitely had the best luck with TJ Maxx and Marshall's, but DSW sometimes has some good bags on sale, too.

    Claire, I can usually find a bag that has at least a similar vibe/feel and color (color is really important to me). Sometimes it takes a while though, especially if I'm looking for a colorful bag. And I do think it's possible to find an inexpensive bag that you really love, and can't find a nicer version (or can't find one that is in your budget--that's what happens to me). Or if you love something very particular about the inexpensive bag (like, there's a zipper that runs across the front, or something), you might not have much luck replacing it. Does that make sense?

    When I start my search, I like to use Shopstyle and I type in some characteristic (or color). When I was looking to replace my yellow handbag, I just typed in "yellow" and then narrowed the search to "handbags." You can see from the photos that they aren't exactly the same. The one on the left is my current bag, and the one on the right is what I asked for Christmas. But I would wear both of them with the same outfits, so I think it's a good replacement. When I'm looking for nicer replacement bags, I also keep an eye out at Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus Last Call and The Rack, those kinds of places. Endless and Amazon are good places to look because they often have nice handbags that are on sale.

  • Sarah replied 8 years ago

    I love your yellow bag. :)
    I do the same thing with accessories...rings, bracelets, necklaces. I have no problem committing to bags, even though I "only" have four "good ones". When I finally find one I really like, I get it and always use it no matter what I paid for it.
    But jewelry is my hang up.

  • citygirldc replied 8 years ago

    Must try your "system" with shoes too. :)

  • Angie replied 8 years ago

    Ana, some people are good at algebra, and some people are good at buying bags :)

  • Sarah replied 8 years ago

    Haha, Angie. Brilliant. :)

  • Ana replied 8 years ago

    Angie, your reply made me laugh! It's so true. At this point I'm doing NO algebra though, so I sort of wish I was good at buying bags instead. : )

  • Angie replied 8 years ago

    Giving the algebra a rest is good, and not to worry about the bag buying challenge, Ana. No one would say so because you have KILLER style. And so does your friend, TX Sarah.

  • Ana replied 8 years ago

    Aww, thank you Angie! : )

  • Sarah replied 8 years ago

    I love Ana's style, and I have begged her to post more outfits. The last time we went shopping, she was complimented a few times. :)

  • velvetychocolate replied 8 years ago

    Thank you for this Ana! Very useful - I'm new at "investing" in handbags, and I like your system - it makes so much sense!

  • Vicki replied 8 years ago

    Ana, this is an excellent thread and I'm glad you started your own! I love your "system," "strategy," or whatever you want to call it. I also appreciate the online stores you mentioned when you're ready to make a secondary purchase. Both of your yellow bags are nice and I hope it's there for you on Christmas day. P.S. Congrats on the compliments you get when you shop; that must feel so good.

  • Lisa replied 8 years ago

    Love your strategy. My handbags have always been impulse purchases with one criteria. The bag has to make my heart sing. But then if it is a daily bag it must also fit the largest items I carry, my sunglasses and planner. If it is a weekend bag, it must be a crossbody for hands free shopping. If it is for date nights and special occasions, the smaller the better.

  • Suz replied 8 years ago

    Ana, I am late to this thread but I wanted to thank you for posting this. I am so happy to learn about your system. I am not a bag-lady, either, or at least I haven't been. Right now I have ONE winter bag to go with everything (and it does not). The truth is, I don't like many of the bags I see out there (I do like your yellow ones, however!) and so it feels really difficult to plonk down money on them. I am going to make a big search at Winner's (like TJ Maxx) and see what I can come up with. Thanks again!

  • replied 8 years ago

    Love your system. About a year ago I noticed how I favored a low end bag I got at Goodwill and decided to look for a higher end version. I still haven't found a good replacement for it but the whole process did make me think more about what I was really wanting in a handbag. I am way too lazy to change bags much so once I have my stuff in one bag I carry it for months.

  • Kate replied 8 years ago

    I am a two bag lady, but my progression to my current bags was not nearly as strategic. It was more of a process of trial and error over the years that led me to the bags I have now. I knew I liked cross body bags, so that has been a requirement for the past 7 years.

    Honestly, my big purse/bag (pic #1) I just got lucky with. I was at an artisans' festival with my boyfriend and his mother just after graduating college. I saw the purse and LOVED it. It was handmade by a local artist using leather from old sofa samples. Bf's mom said happy graduation and bought it on the spot! And it just so happens to perfectly fit the laptop I bought 5 months later. I still get compliments on it regularly, 2.5 years in.

    The journey to my newest small purse (#2) was a much more gradual process. After finding YLF, I bought a gray cross body purse on etsy ( A year later, I realized gray wasn't the best color, and bought a similarly styled tan one ( After about 9 months with that purse, and then buying a magnificent coach belt, I realized it was time to switch to a cross body purse that was a bit more my style, and made out of real high quality leather. And that is how I slowly, finally got to my current purse. I plan on using and loving it for a long time! In retrospect, I definitely tested out cheaper purses before making this investment, but that was not my plan.

  • Ana replied 8 years ago

    Sorry for the late response. Friday and Saturday are busy days for me.

    I'm so glad that some of you found this post helpful! And I really enjoyed hearing about how some of you go about handbag shopping, too.

    Sarah and Vicky, thank you for the wonderful compliments. I appreciate it. : )

  • lyn* replied 8 years ago

    I found this post very useful too - I have definitely worn out quite a few of my 'trial' bags and like them all :)

    PS: Your little quilted yellow bag sounds adorable!

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