10th Commandment: June 21

Jun 21, 2013

Can we have a quick chat about the importance of casual handbags?  A few weekends ago, I saw a woman wearing a v-neck slub-cotton tee, knee-length khaki shorts and flip-flops while carrying an $800 black leather work satchel.  The absurdity of the juxtaposition hit me like a Fendi purse to the head.

I understand that despite my encouragement to bump up their casual wardrobes, some women just want to wear shorts and a t-shirt on the weekends.  But if that’s your chosen wardrobe, do yourself a favor and buy a casual purse.  Because when you carry your nice, structured, leather work handbag with uber-casual clothing it not only looks funny, it emphasizes just how relaxed your attire is.  And while most women are committing this mild-faux pas unconsciously, some are doing it on purpose.

Years ago, when I was working at a tanning salon on the weekends, women would come in on Saturday mornings with dirty hair and no makeup, wearing yoga pants, a tank top and flip-flops and throw their designer purse on the counter like the expensive handbag somehow excused their outfit.  It drove me mad to see how poorly they were presenting themselves and how they would use their expensive purses to try to deflect judgment.

So what do I mean when I say a “casual” handbag?


IIIBeca Gryson Tote ($178)

How about a simple leather or canvas shopper?  I own a bag very similar to the IIIBeca tote above and it’s a great casual bag because it has structure and style but is perfect for running errands or going to brunch on the weekends.  Looking for a bag that costs under-$75?  I like this faux-leather BCBG bag and this textured one from JPK.

Crossbody bags are also perfect for the weekend because they hold the essentials without being too big.  I like the stylish and highly recognizable Cambridge Satchel Co. crossbody (or this inexpensive knock-off from Nordstrom). I also like this Marc New York bag and this Steve Madden number with decorative zippers.  But my favorite is probably this simple, equestrian-inspired bag from Fossil.

If you want something higher end, this Frye hobo is fantastic, as is this Tory Burch tote.  But my favorite is this amazing bag from Rebecca Minkoff made from a really interesting textured material.

Whether you choose a crossbody, a hobo, a shopper or some other style, a casual bag pulls your outfit together and stops you from looking like you’re going to the park but your purse is headed to the office.

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  1. Becca says:

    I’ll start this off by says that I know how you feel about logo designer items but… The only time I carry my LV Speedy is on the weekends. I had to have it when I was in college, I was in love with it and I saved up to buy it. I still love it, but I don’t feel that it’s an appropriate bag to carry into a courtroom or big meeting. So, now, the only time I carry it is when I’m running around on the weekends with occasionally dirty hair but always some concealer.

  2. Allison says:

    Is this real life? Because this is ridiculous.

  3. mg says:

    Yeah, I have to say this is one of the few times I disagree with you. I mean, there are certainly bags that are overly formal and not appropriate for casual settings (satin, sequins, etc), but I buy nice, everyday handbags for that reason…to use everyday. And I’ll even admit, sometimes I do appreciate the fact that my massive LV bag distracts from the fact that I’m wearing workout attire and no makeup.

  4. E says:

    Completely agree. i have a nice ivory canvas and leather tote I got from J. Crew Factory for about $30 that is perfect for the summer. I normally carry a Merlot-colored Marc Jacobs hobo for work, but it looks too heavy and formal if I’m wearing cutoffs and a tshirt on the weekends. Doesn’t have to be expensive. The super designer handbag with the grungy sorority girl look just looks like, well, a sorority girl who is trying too hard.

  5. Jenn L. says:

    I’m with Belle on this one. It makes you look ridiculous. It is one thing to have a slightly nicer bag than the outfit you’re wearing, but really, that bag that was first mentioned was $860. And someone carrying a few-hundred-dollar bag while wearing a ragged tee and sweats looks absolutely ridiculous.

    Here’s what that says (to me): “Yeah, look at my purse, isn’t it great? I spent all my money on it so I can’t afford to dress myself now.”

    Irresponsible. Tacky.

    • Belle says:

      The price is part of it, but it’s more about style. Even a $100 bag is it was a black, structure leather work tote would look strange next to khakis and a t-shirt. But the “look at my purse” attitude has always been a source of frustration for me.

      • Jenn L. says:

        Oh, I suppose you’re right. I’m still building my wardrobe, and I am not particularly crazy about handbags, so I can’t imagine having one for every occasion…but I see what you’re saying, and if they have multiple bags (and most women do), that is an odd choice.

  6. Mara says:

    Oh Belle, you’re so odd. They’re not wearing the bags to ‘deflect’ anything. They’re the type of people who have enough money to carry a fancy designer purse as their ‘casual’ bag, at least the folks at your tanning salon.

    • Jenn L. says:

      If they aren’t intentionally deflecting, then that’s EVEN WORSE. Like I mentioned in my comment response there, I’m not the chick with a million handbags. I’m not going to have a perfect match for every occasion because it isn’t practical for me and that’s not what I choose to spend my time on…

      Think of it like wearing a pair of Jimmy Choos with sweats. It makes no damn sense.

      • Jenn L. says:

        Or rather, not what I choose to spend my money on =)

      • Except that picking one pair of shoes over another requires no effort whereas moving everything from one bag to another does. I end up carrying a fairly casual cross body to work unless I have a meeting just so I don’t have to switch regularly – and I am that chick with a million handbags. I just don’t have the time to switch them up constantly.

  7. Anne says:

    Ladies, is your real issue here someone carrying a super expensive designer bad with casual clothes or a super structured work bag with casual clothes?

    Is it that bad to carry an expensive bag with a pair of shorts and a tee? My go-to weekend outfit is a pair of colored chino shorts and a striped tee or knit dress. I’m “guilty” of owning a monogrammed designer bag like a few of the other women; mine is an open top tote. While I don’t get dolled up for weekend errands I do make sure I’m presentable, you never know who you’re going to run into. Is it the fact that I carry an expensive bag, or the connotation you put with the monogram on it that bothers you about such weekend wear?

    Saks carries a Ralph Lauren tote that looks very similar to the IIIBeca Gryson Tote that Belle features but for almost ten times the price. So clearly price alone shouldn’t be the answer to this question. I do agree with Belle about an overly structured work bag not being a good fit with a very casual outfit, but is it about the price or the style to you?

  8. Andrea says:

    This is one of the more inane posts I’ve read on this site.

    • Billy says:

      If you don’t like Belle’s blog and think it’s “inane,” why are you here? I don’t agree with Belle all the time, but there seem to be a number of people reading this blog who genuinely don’t like but keep coming back. Gluttons for punishment, perhaps?

  9. Fed up says:

    Okay, I never comment but feel compelled to say something after reading some of these comepletely unhelpful, snotty comments which are clearly meant to contribute nothing to the conversation but are a personal attack on Belle. If you don’t agree with a post, and want to leave a thoughtful comment in response, fine. If you just don’t like a post, or think it’s inane, hit that red “x” in the top corner of your screen and move on. I am increasingly bothered by the mean girls comments I see in the blogs I read. Do the people who leave such caustic comments speak that way to people face to face? I doubt it. I hope not.

    I don’t know Belle, but I assume that she’s a human being. That’s all I need to know. It means I treat her with respect. Even if I disagree with her. Golden rule, people.

  10. BN says:

    How should a person dress for going to a tanning salon? The few times I’ve spray-tanned, I’ve gone after work and felt ridiculous in my business casual attire and worried about getting fake-tanner on my nice clothes. Yoga pants, tank top, and flip flops sounds right to me… and I was always told to take off my makeup immediately upon arrival, so what makeup should one wear to a tanning salon?

    • Jenn L. says:

      I don’t think tank/yoga pants are inappropriate for the tanning salon, but it does seem a little silly to carry a very expensive designer handbag that is stiff and structured to run errands like that. Of course, if you’re going straight to tan from work (I do, sometimes), then that’s understandable.

      I think the point Belle is making is that people come in COMPLETELY disheveled – filthy hair, etc. You should shower before you tan anyway, if you can, (showering immediately after is neither good for spray or traditional tanners). If you don’t have time, dry shampoo isn’t that difficult or time-consuming. And no, you shouldn’t wear makeup to tan. =) The point is, and I’ve seen it, is that many people are acting like they’re better because they’re carrying a purse and that that purse somehow gives them a pass for dressing for the public.

  11. Kat says:

    Seriously? I’ve found your work posts helpful, but this is ridiculous. A lot of people probably just don’t want the bother of switching purses, especially as many women already have to dress up and match things 5 days out of 7. And to judge people for what they wear to a _tanning salon_ is just…

  12. HH says:

    Ah, Belle – I knew this post would get some people’s hackles up. Love it.

    I am guilty of both sometimes carrying a purse that does not belong near my tee/work out capris/tennies errand attire (and don’t kill me for wearing that to run errands, Belle) AND for using my purse to intentionally deflect from said attire. And, I agree with Belle’s post. I think her main point about it being a style mismatch is spot on.

  13. Kim says:

    I’m going to have to add to the comments that this rant is extremely odd. I would never have thought that these women were trying to “deflect judgment” through their expensive purses. After reading your tanning salon example, my first thought would have been that they were busy and in a rush (since they didn’t have time to put on a nicer outfit and completely style their hair) and thus didn’t have time to switch everything over to a different bag and certainly weren’t trying to “deflect judgment” from someone whose opinion they probably didn’t care about to begin with. Personally, I have had to run to a yoga class and didn’t have time to switch purses. So there I was daring to be out in public in my yoga clothes with my black work purse. I can tell you, the reason I was still carrying my black work purse wasn’t because I was trying to make some kind of statement that even though I’m in yoga clothes, my bag is still nicer than yours.

    • Jenn L. says:

      It isn’t just a matter of whether or not the hair is styled. I, PERSONALLY, could give a damn if it is styled, but filthy? You shouldn’t go out to places like tanning salons with filthy hair, being as that you have to lay down, or if you’re spray-tanning, someone is gonna be in very close proximity to you..

  14. KPL says:

    I started reading this blog four years ago, and I thought Belle was the biggest bitch out there. I stopped reading after her rant about Uggs because I wore mine on my commute and I felt like she was judging me. But what she said got into my head, and whenever I put them on, I couldn’t stop thinking about her post. I quit wearing them and like a month later my Chief told me how pleased she was that I had “grown up” enough to realize that Uggs weren’t appropriate for the office. She hated that I wore them but wouldn’t say anything because she didn’t want to upset me.

    Yes, Belle is harsh. And yes, sometimes she’s a bitch but I think she’s just saying things that other people are probably thinking but aren’t saying. I don’t know if that’s right or wrong of her, but in my case, I needed her to be the bad guy.

  15. Belle says:

    I was writing this post mostly for women who might not ever think about how their structured work bag looks when paired with a really casual outfit. For me, it always looks a bit like they’re not thinking about the whole outfit or it re-emphasizes how casual the clothes are, so instead of looking intentionally casual, you look a bit like you’re not trying.

    As for the designer bag comment, I got off on a little bit of a tangent and it wasn’t terribly helpful for the purpose of the post, since they are two separate issues.

    Most women who carry their nicer bags with their workout attire are heading to the gym after work or just not thinking about it because they’re in a rush. I guess I have some lingering PTSD from working in a place where 22-year-old college students with dirty hair and sweatpants often treated me and the other employees like crap because we worked in a tanning salon. The fact that every one of them seemed to be carrying a designer bag that they would plop down on the counter with a thud whenever they thought they weren’t being helped quickly enough created a bad mental connection for me.

    I admit that I was on my high horse about this issue and wasn’t entirely fair. I stand by the comment that women who want to wear really casual clothes should invest in a casual bag to pull the outfit together. But I should have made more of an effort to be constructive instead of critical.

    • Anne says:

      Well said, Belle! And this is why I continue to be a loyal reader of your blog even when I (infrequently) disagree with one of your posts. I appreciate that you thoughtfully and politely respond to critiques of your posts.

  16. MG says:

    You make a whole lot of odd, wrong, judgmental and weird assumptions here. My guess is that most women – like myself – who carry expensive or work-worthy bags on the weekends or with their casual clothing just prefer to not be as high-maintenance as you. I almost never change purses, unless a new season has arrived or I’m going to a formal event. My purse is not an excuse for or a deflector of my yoga pants or my shorts. And, by the way, I proudly wear those and am just fine dressing in whatever I find most comfortable on the weekends. I have no desire to switch all the items out of my purse just to please a few judgy people like you.

    Also, if I buy an expensive purse, I believe in actually using it. Whenever I want. Not just for special occasions or times when it won’t get dirty or scratched or rained on or whatever. I think nice things are meant to be used, not coveted. So, I’ll wear my nice purses and my diamonds and whatever else I want with my yoga pants. And maybe you can spend a little less time hurling incorrect assumptions towards other women.

    • Belle says:

      If a woman walked into her office wearing a black business suit and carrying a straw raffia purse, almost everyone would think that looked odd. I don’t think it’s any different when a woman is wearing very casual clothing with a large work bag.

      As for hurling accusations and assumptions, there’s a lot of pot meet kettle happening here.

  17. MG says:

    And one other thought… most of you make really ignorant and odd associations between certain types of clothing and what supposedly goes together. There are yoga pants that cost even more than some of those purses that go “thud” on the counter. There are flip flops that cost $700. There are casual bags – even bags made of canvas – that cost THOUSANDS of dollars. You can get a gardening bag from Hermes for a few thousand. There’s no correlation between cost and when a woman should wear something, as long as she can afford to wear that thing and is willing to risk damage. You may have no idea what costs the most on a woman’s body, even when she’s at at a tanning salon.

    Please let’s stop judging women so much. And let’s stop projecting all of your issues onto them. I think it’s liberated and awesome if a woman has the confidence to go out looking exactly like she wants to look and being as comfortable as she wants to be. And I hope she grabs the bag she wants to grab rather than choosing one to please random women who are ogling her.

  18. Rachel says:

    Belle, you’re totally right. I come to your blog for your well-spoken honesty, and I appreciate your reminder to to us all that handbags, LIKE ANY ACCESSORY, should match the occasion and the rest of the outfit. I can’t understand why people are so upset by this notion.

    Keep up your great posting.

  19. m says:

    Aha! I recognized that IIIBeCa tote bag and it’s fabulous. 😉

    Team Belle here. I used to teach at a university where the girls would come to class literally in PJ pants and bedroom slippers and carrying LVs.

    And to the naysayers, it’s not about the money or the cost — it’s about looking well put together. Carrying a LV when you can’t put together a proper outfit just makes an otherwise classy bag scream “Hey, look at me! I’m rich!” On the filp side, if you can help it, don’t carry your nylon Longchamp or your canvas flea market bag to a black tie event.

    A bag should be appropriate for your outfit, just like your shoes or your belt should complement the rest of your attire. This is all part of being a well-put together grown-up.

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