How to Choose the Right Handbag

As I was leaving church on Easter Sunday, talking to friends and seeing everyone in their Easter best, I noticed three women in quick succession who had made unfortunate handbag choices. I say unfortunate because while each handbag was beautiful, each also magnified a figure challenge on the woman who wore it. It’s an all-too-common problem.

The first woman was dressed in a lilac sweater, lilac trousers, and lilac high-heeled sandals, which was all very spring-like. Her confection-like handbag was completely embellished with pastel silk flowers, and was the focal point of her ensemble. The problem? The woman is tall – probably 5’10” or so – and her monochromatic ensemble and heels made her look even taller. Her handbag, unfortunately, was only about the size of a paperback book – too small for someone her size. The disproportion made her look bigger and her handbag look smaller – almost child-size, in fact. What could have been an eye-catching combination looked well, sort of weird instead.

Woman number two had a similar problem. She was sporting one of the miniature hobo-style bags. She had the short-handled bag looped over her shoulder à la Jennifer Aniston – but without Jennifer’s toned arms and torso.

Hobo bag

In fact this gal, who is about fifty pounds overweight — and as a classic V-frame, carries most of the extra weight in her torso — managed to make her upper body look even larger with this tiny bag. It wouldn’t have been as noticeable if she had carried the bag in her hand, but putting it on her shoulder threw everything out of proportion. The round shape of the purse also echoed the curves of her upper body.

Finally, woman number three was sporting a long-strapped shoulder bag that put the bag hip-height. Not a big deal for most people, but this gal is a petite A-frame (pear shape) with a long torso, short legs, and a few extra pounds around her hips. This style of bag further exaggerated her shape.

Now I know most women don’t think about their body shapes when they go looking for a handbag. They think about things like acceptable style, appropriate color, and whether it will hold all their stuff. While these factors are certainly important, the evaluation shouldn’t stop there.

Here are some other things to think about when buying a handbag, shoulder bag, or clutch:


The size of the bag should relate to the size of your body. If you’re large or tall, you need a larger bag. If you’re small or petite, you need a smaller bag. Otherwise, a small bag will make a large woman look bigger, just as a large bag will make a small woman look smaller.


The shape of a bag should be the OPPOSITE of your own shape so as not to further emphasize it. If you’re tall or thin, opt for a bag with curves; if you’re curvy, opt for a bag with straighter lines. Otherwise, the shape of the bag will emphasize and exaggerate your own shape.

Long bag Round bog

Which shape is right for you?

Strap Length

Where the bag falls against your body can have a HUGE impact on how well the bag works on you. If you’re top-heavy, opt for straps that put the bag waist-height or slightly lower. If you carry extra weight in your hips, look for straps that put the bag waist-height or slightly higher. Otherwise, putting the bag against the bulkiest part of your body will only make you look heavier. If you can’t adjust the straps of your bag, ask your favorite shoe repair shop for help in adding or cutting material.

Shoulder bag with long strap

Watch that strap length

Strap Width

If you tend to carry a lot of stuff in your bag, look for straps that are wide enough to carry the load comfortably. Narrow straps will dig into your hand or shoulder; wider straps won’t. If you have back problems, stay away from shoulder bags as they’ll only exacerbate the situation.

Finally, ALWAYS “try on” a bag standing in front of a full-length mirror. This may involve traveling a bit in some stores in search of a full-length mirror, but it’s VITAL in helping you make the right decision. You’ll be able to check the proportions and the shape and see where it hits on your body.

If it doesn’t work, don’t buy it – even if it’s the hottest bag of the season and EVERYONE is wearing it. Remember, not all styles work well on all bodies, so don’t waste your money on pieces that don’t make you look your best. If you can’t find the right style, remember that there’s always next season.

Whatever you do, DON’T ignore the basics of shape and proportion, as the women I saw apparently did. The only thing worse than wasting your money is looking bad because of it. So don’t. Put your handbag through the paces BEFORE you buy it – so you can look good whatever the occasion.

Need some other tips on buying the best handbag styles for you? Download a copy of ACCESSORY MAGIC to see how easily you can use accessories to define your style and stretch your budget.

Accessory Magic

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