Your Handbag, Your Self

Meredith Stebbins

What your purse is saying about you.

To assess a lady's character, look no further than the handbag she carries to work. "It is an absolute indicator of who they are and what their style is," says Rachel Zoe, celebrity stylist and entrepreneur. Since a purse's size and shape isn't limiting like a pair of skinny jeans, a bag is an easy way for a woman to express herself -- especially in the workplace. "For the majority of women, the handbag is the most important part of the outfit because it doesn't have to do with your body type," says Kate Schelter, a New York-based stylist and brand consultant. Perhaps that's why the global luxury handbag and accessories market is about $24 billion, according to Coach CEO Lew Frankfort.

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Whether it's an oversize carryall or structured satchel, a bag's details -- right down to the buckle -- reveal clues about its owner. Not to mention that "how you wear the bag is just as important as the bag itself," adds Schelter. Slinging it across your body sends a different signal than nestling it on the crux of your arm. Having your assistant tote it for you says something, too.

In order to decode the language of work-bag-speak, Bloomberg Businessweek called on a panel of fashion experts, including Zoe; Schelter; International Best-Dressed List Hall of Fame honoree Amy Fine Collins; and handbag designer Rebecca Minkoff. Next time you're in the elevator, think twice about rifling around that mammoth hobo for your ID badge: You're giving off a disorganized vibe.

The Eternal Prepster

Price: $135

A woman who totes Longchamp's classic Le Pliage canvas bag to the office is conservative and traditional, yet secretly relishes carrying a status symbol. "She is wearing plaids and pearls," says Zoe. Adds Minkoff, the owner is "practical and loves a bag where she can carry all her essentials at once."

©Illustration: Walter Newton Photography: Davies and Starr

The Upwardly Mobile Do-Gooder

Price: $60

The legions of young urbanites who cart around burlap bags designed by FEED, a philanthropic organization whose mission is to curb global hunger, are "obviously concerned about the world and the environment," says Zoe. She's "a little crunchy but brand-aware," adds Collins.

©Illustration: Walter Newton Photography: Davies and Starr

The Lady Who Luxes

Price: $1,030

A ladylike Louis Vuitton bag is the standard arm candy of a woman who has feminine -- and expensive -- taste. "This woman is a label freak," Collins says. Adds Zoe: "She has a job, but she may not need the money." Minkoff notes: "You'll never find her outside her house without the 'It' heels."

©Illustration: Walter Newton Photography: Davies and Starr

The Multitasker

Price: $595

A young gal who wears many hats in addition to her 9-to-5 job favors an expandable bag with many pockets. "She was voted Most Likely to Succeed in high school," Collins says. "She's a little bit safe in her dress, but in a cute way." The purpose of her tote "is to allow her to be hands-free," says Minkoff.

©Illustration: Walter Newton Photography: Davies and Starr

The Brooklyner

Price: $258

A vibrant print bag is the sign of a city-dwelling hipster who doesn't care about dress codes. "She isn't too worried about her bag matching her shoes matching her belt matching her outfit," says Zoe. "It's for the style blogger," says Schelter. Collins adds: "She doesn't get her hair blown straight."

©Illustration: Walter Newton Photography: Davies and Starr

The Power Mom

Price: $295

The leather shopper was made for working moms. She "needs room to keep all her necessities in place while running around in between meetings and playdates," says Minkoff. Its wearer likes labels, says Collins, "but doesn't need to show them." Schelter adds that its price makes it "still a treat."

©Illustration: Walter Newton Photography: Davies and Starr

The Pantsuit Executive

Price: $1,150

A leather handbag from a luxury house such as Mulberry completes the no-nonsense executive's professional look. "With the power women of today, they want to be taken seriously," Zoe says. "They also want to look fashion-forward." Schelter: "It is very easy to put files and a laptop in here."

©Illustration: Walter Newton Photography: Davies and Starr

The Party Girl

Price: $295

A crossbody bag that doubles as a clutch screams "work hard, play harder." The owner is "still young enough to go out at night after work," says Schelter.

©Illustration: Walter Newton Photography: Davies and Starr

The Early Adopter

Price: $825

A purse designed by an of-the-moment fashion darling suggests the wearer isn't referring to real machinery when talking about hardware. "This bag doesn't have a lot of functionality," says Zoe. "You make it work because you love it." Adds Collins, "People think she's on the cutting edge."

©Illustration: Walter Newton Photography: Davies and Starr

The Hoarder

Price: $395

Massive oversize bags show "that maybe you're not as focused as you need to be because you can't edit what's in your handbag," says Schelter. "If you go to a job interview with a bag the size of your body filled with crap, they're going to be a little nervous," says Zoe. Collins agrees: "She is kind of a mess."

©Illustration: Walter Newton Photography: Davies and Starr


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