Everyone has one bit (OK, at least one bit) of the old normal they never want to go back to. Three-day hen weekends, maybe, or gym equipment filmy with the sweat of strangers. For me, funnily enough, it’s a fashion thing. What I never, ever want to go back to is carrying an overspill bag.
For years I was a committed overspill bag woman. You know the type – wallet, phone and lip balm in her smart handbag or crossbody bag but with a lumpy tote bag slung over one shoulder. This bag might contain, say, my gym trainers and a garden trowel I needed to return to a friend, or a book I was determined to finish before book club and a plastic tub of last night’s risotto to eat at my desk while finishing said book in a 15-minute microlunch break.
When I worked only from home, I didn’t need an overspill bag. I barely needed a handbag. Now I am back in the office some of the time, I am unwilling to go back to spending every commute looking like my luggage broke on the way back from a weekend minibreak. I want to at least aim for balance – and saying goodbye to a cheap, uncomfortable bag that gives me back pain is a start.
In the era of hybrid working, what is the perfect hybrid handbag? I’m backing a structured tote. Something roomy, but soft and lightweight. This is where you’re thinking: OK, that’s fine, I’ve got loads of fabric tote bags stuffed in the kitchen drawer …
I’m sorry to tell you that’s not what I’m talking about. Those floppy fabric things? Nope. That’s a tote, but it’s not the answer to your hybrid prayers. Your hybrid handbag needs a certain gravitas. It should help you feel like your day is manageable and your schedule is under control. Leather or what the youngsters call “vegan leather” (fake leather to oldies) is good.
The Telfar Tote, otherwise known as the Brooklyn Birkin, gets a lot of eye-roll reaction by those who think it’s too-cool-for-school hype, but in its lightweight fabrication, comfortable handles and well-thought-out pockets, it is damn near perfect. Kurt Geiger’s recycled square shopper, made of quilted recycled black nylon, has a pleasingly Prada-adjacent vibe for a fraction of the cost.
You don’t want lots of bells and whistles, but a few punctuating details – a little hardware, perhaps where the straps join the bag, like on All Saints’ Edbury shoulder bag – is good. Boden and Jigsaw are good labels to try. Rather than shell out for a logo, think about investing in your own initials. There are excellent monogrammed leather totes to be had on Etsy.
I don’t have a label snob bone in my body, but a strap that breaks can derail a whole day and a bag that has been thought through – comfortable straps, secure inner pockets – is essential. Preloved is a no-brainer. That gorgeous, porridgy leather that Mulberry uses looks more refined the older it gets – the Dorset tote, with postman’s lock for security, is worth stalking on Vestiaire Collective or wherever you get your preloved fashion.
The right bag is simple, really. It should feel as natural to pick up on days when you leave the kitchen table only to pop out for a pint of milk as it does in the meeting room when you swing by the office. It should help you feel properly dressed in a restaurant and be comfortable enough that you can walk home, shoes permitting. It should do everything – without trying to do everything all at once. Can we make that the new normal, please?