Style + Ask The Edit

Ask Belle Roundup May 7th


I would love to see a post on handbag maintenance. I’ve seen too many women carrying dirty, frayed, or even ripped handbags while wearing otherwise nice outfits. These crimes become more noticeable when women carry lighter-colored bags in the spring and summer months.

Any tips you can share (or request from readers) would be welcomed. I only know how to do the minimum- be gentle and take it to a cobbler for light repairs. I’d love to know more specific tricks.


The first thing you need to do to keep your handbag looking new is treat the leather or suede BEFORE you start carrying it.  Many women make the mistake of assuming that the leather is already treated, but even high end handbag makers usually don’t apply protectant to their bags.  So when you buy a bag, ask the store if they offer leather treatment services.  If they don’t, take it to a cobbler and have it treated.

Secondly, never clean the outside of your handbag with household cleaners.  A few years ago, a friend tried to clean a pen mark from her bag with Windex, it ate right through the leather.  On the inside of the bag, to clean up pen marks and the like, I like to use a dry rag and some Woolite.  

I sent a purse off to Bag, Borrow and Steal a few years ago.  They did a good job cleaning and repairing the bag, but the service was quite pricey.  I paid $250 to have it cleaned and repaired.  

If you want to try to clean a bag at home, I found this tutorial online.  I haven’t tried the method myself, but it was the most descriptive one I could find.

Hi Belle,

I work in government affairs part time, and also work as the event planner for a non-profit while I try and find something full time. This Saturday my non-profit is hosting a cocktail attire fundraiser at which many of my government affairs co-workers will be in attendance. I will be both working the event and socializing.  

Do you have any suggestions for a good balance between work appropriate attire and cocktail attire? 

Sincerely, Taryn

From Left, Reiss Panel Dress ($370), Pleat Front Sheath Dress ($138), DvF Rika Dress ($375)

Polyvore Set Here.

When choosing cocktail attire for work events, you really need to know what is not allowed.  No minidresses.  No halters, spaghetti straps or strapless necklines.  Wear sequins sparingly. No sheer fabrics.  No cutouts.  

Acceptable necklines are cap sleeves, sleeveless, short sleeves or long sleeves.  Silhouettes should be tailored but not too snug (no bandage dresses).  And while color is better than black, choose more traditional shades (no neon hues).

As I mentioned, I believe wearing color is better than wearing black.  So many women wear black to cocktail events that you’ll just blend into a sea of schwarz if you also wear an LBD.  So try a little color if you want to stand out.

Lastly, choose comfortable shoes that aren’t too high.  First off, being comfortable will allow you to mingle with ease.  Secondly, I always recommend that women don’t wear heels higher than 4″ to these types of events.  It’s silly, but some people view high-high heels as being a symbol of someone who is high maintenance.  So I generally avoid high stilettos to work events.


Hi Belle!
I’ve been hearing that the mosquitoes and other bugs are going to be awful this summer, and I have a lot of evening outdoor events where I know I’ll get bitten up. Do you have any recommendations for a good insect repellent for sensitive skin? I’m trying to avoid the cheap, sticky bug sprays from the drugstore.
Thanks! Nicole

I like a product called Off! FamilyCare Insect Repellant with Smooth and Dry.  It isn’t sticky and it doesn’t have a smell.  I tried the organic repellants, but every one I tried was way too fragrant for me.  So I chose this spray, because while it uses DEET, it uses only 15%, which is far less than the usual 34%.



  1. BN says:

    OK this is a stupid question, but when you say “treat” the bag before you use it, what do you mean? Scotch guard it? I need the step by step here. Also, is there a solution if you don't want to take it somewhere to have this “treatment” done? Can it be done at home? Thanks!

    May 7, 2012/Reply
  2. Belle says:

    BN: At the very least, you should apply a water resistant treatment. Handbags can be ruined by rain, esp. softer leathers. Some places can also apply a scotch guard like product. The shoe department at Nordstrom has lots of different types of protectant, I use their spray on my bags for a touch up.

    May 7, 2012/Reply
  3. southernerinlondon says:

    These are really good insect repellents too: DEET-frees that have minimal odor and/or odorless

    May 7, 2012/Reply
  4. Andi says:

    It's fairly easy to clean smooth leather handbags at home, as long as they aren't badly stained or anything. You'll need:
    ~some small sponges
    ~a soft towel (and old hand or face towel is usually fine)
    ~a bar of Kirk's Castille Soap (check Whole Foods, MOM's, and other natural stores)
    ~a good leather conditioner specifically made for bags (I have one from Coach)

    To clean the bag, soak your sponge and then wring it almost dry. Rub it across the bar of soap until you get a light lather. Rub the entire handbag down with the damp soap sponge, making sure you never soak the leather. Rinse the sponge and give the back another once-over (or two) with the clean, DAMP sponge. Give it a thorough rubdown with the towel, and set it aside to dry (NOT near a heat source). Once it's dry (or mostly dry) apply a thin coat of conditioner and give it a few hours or overnight to soak in. If needed, buff with a microfiber towel to remove any excess conditioner and give the leather some luster.

    I learned this method from cleaning (expensive) leather horse tack and riding boots. Obviously it works well on nice leather boots and shoes as well! ­čÖé

    May 7, 2012/Reply
  5. S says:

    I use Collonil on all my Mulberry bags, and it's awesome. It keeps the leather supple, and also acts as a water repellent. I do it before the first use (as Belle recommended), and then again every 6 months. I also make sure to store them in their dust bags, and stuff them with paper to absorb any moisture and help them to keep their shape.

    May 7, 2012/Reply
  6. kim says:

    Most fraying bags I see are faux leather – they fray terribly on the handles. There's no good fix for that; possibly a cobbler? I just toss the bag. I tend to buy faux leather bags when I'm chasing a trend that will be dated in a year – coincidentally at about the same time that faux leather begins to show wear! To clean up leather bags I send them to a cobbler who also does bags.

    May 7, 2012/Reply
  7. R says:

    I am an avid reader of and consumer of high-end handbags. There is a special section on the forum for handbag cleaning ( Many users highly recommend Apple products for pre-treating or separately for cleaning. There is a nice description of which product to use when at the following website. (
    Hope this helps!

    May 7, 2012/Reply