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Handbag Glossary: A Comprehensive List of Purse Types Defined and Explained

Posted by Accessory Insanity on

The original meaning of the word “purse” was a small bag for holding coins. In the UK, this definition of purse still stands and the term for a larger bag that holds more than just money is referred to as a handbag. In North American English the terms purse and handbag are considered to be synonymous. In modern day fashion, a purse is defined as a small, medium or large bag of trendy design, often used by women, to hold personal items. Thousands of shapes and styles are available on the market, however if you want the best combination of functionality and design, this complete list of the many different styles should help.

The Crossbody:

This type of bag refers more to its adjoining strap than the shape of the purse. While most other types of handbags will hang straight down from a single shoulder, the crossbody has a long strap that is meant to be worn (as the name suggests) across your body. This allows for your hands to be free to snap a few selfies while out on location or carry your children or groceries with ease. Due to our busy lifestyles, this "cross the body" feature has made this style of purse very popular of late. Crossbody bags typically have long adjustable straps, although some can have linked chains or even non-adjustable cotton straps.

The Tote:

Also known as the "beach bag" or the “shopper’s bag,” due to its larger size. The tote bag is a very popular choice of bag that comes in handy when you have a lot that you need to carry. This bag is typically worn with both its medium length straps upon one shoulder, and has a simple, almost square structure that creates a sleek appeal that prevents the bag from looking bulky when it is full. Although the tote comes in a variety of sizes, it is typically seen to be on the large side. A classic canvas tote is perfect for running your weekend errands, while a sleek faux leather tote is ideal for carrying your files from meeting to meeting or your notes from class to class.

The Messenger:

From the old days of the mail carrier to the modern-day bicycle messengers, the messenger bag has earned its place in history. Utilizing the classic crossbody style, it has grown to become a very popular style of bag for both men and women alike. Many women have taken to carrying a fashionable messenger bag on campus in lieu of the sporty backpack and to the office in lieu of the dated briefcase. Typically made of durable materials like faux leather or canvas, the messenger bag has a thin but wide structure with a flap over the top that secures with some sort of clasp. It has a long adjustable strap that is meant to be worn across the body, often with the bag resting on the side of the hip. The messenger bag is almost exclusively worn for its function with the shape making it perfect to carry notebooks or a laptop for the on-the-go scholar or the thriving executive.

There are many convenient features that make the messenger bag convenient and practical. First, it is generally larger than the typical handbag which allows for greater storage of contents. It can also be worn across the body pressed against the pelvis, hip or back. This helps to decrease the stress load on the body when carrying heavy contents like books and laptops. These bags also feature strong adjustable straps which provide unparalleled support and comfort. They may even feature padded straps. In today's busy world, the messenger bag is not only valued for its convenience but for its stylish appeal as well. As a result, there are many designer that have created unique fashion lines of messenger bags which have caught on and started to trend among handbag enthusiasts.

The Clutch:

These purses are typically fairly small in size and can usually only hold the bare minimum. Small exotic bags were originally used by members of royalty and the upper class as a symbol of high esteem and status. A clutch style purse is meant to be carried by the hand, but it can be looped around your wrist by a short strap as a wristlet. Some come with a detachable shoulder chain to be worn over the shoulder when the need arises. This purse is lightweight and small to medium in size and can be used in both casual and formal situations.

The Hobo:

The inspiration for the hobo bag was originally a “bindle” sack, a piece of cloth tied on a stick carried over the shoulder by cartoon “hobos.” Legend has it that a late fashionista took note from these cartoon characters and tied her belongings in a stylish handkerchief, giving birth to the hobo bag. Since then, the hobo has taken on a slight crescent shape with a medium-length strap to be worn over the shoulder. It’s wide, loose shape affords a lot of room to stash all of your fabulous goodies. Sometimes this bag will come with an optional long shoulder strap to convert it to a crossbody style which can allow it to be more versatile and safe to wear. The modern day hobo has great versatility, being able to transition from day to night with ease while adding a touch of bohemian chic to any outfit.

The Evening Bag:

The evening bag is a type of clutch that is designed specifically for more formal occasions. Certain fancy attire can not accommodate a large bag slung over the shoulder or across the body, essentially ruining the look or line of the outfit. This is where the evening bag comes into play. Sometimes called the "Minaudière", it is a smaller handbag that can be metal plated and oblong or rectangular in size. Small enough to be held within the hand as a dainty accessory. The overall look of this bag can be either uncomplicated in design or flashy. Simple and undecorated or covered in sequins, small beads and crystals. These simple little handbags can add a decorative accent to your outfit, making it perfect for any black tie event.

The Satchel:

The satchel purse is often considered the most versatile of the bunch. Some consider it to be the preeminent of all bags, the most distinguished and surpassing all others in style and versatility. It can take the form of a mini messenger bag or brief case or it can have a classic ladylike look with a handle on either side of a top zipper enclosure. Additionally, this popular handbag style often comes with a detachable long strap to wear the purse as a crossbody, allowing for even more versatility. Satchel handbags are often structured with a flap over top with buckles or clasps to close and a flat bottom so it can maintain its shape and stay upright when set down.

The satchel is a favorite shape of many luxury brand name designer handbags as the design can be adapted to accommodate either women or men. If you’re looking for a medium sized purse that comes with multiple options and a touch of glamour, the satchel may be exactly what you’re looking for.

The Backpack Purse:

The unique look of the backpack purse is intentionally intended to resemble a school yard backpack and can be used as a typical handbag or worn as a backpack. Some backpack purses are not actually functioning backpacks, but rather created to have the funky look of a backpack. While others come with the detachable straps to convert it from a handheld purse into a backpack. This bag can be great if you’re looking for the ultimate hands-free accessory to sling over your back instead of over your shoulder where the weight of such can adversely effect your spine. It can come with a variety of different closures: zippers, straps, magnetic clasps, drawstring or buckles. The backpack purse is essentially perfect for any casual event, whether you are chasing your kids around an amusement park or simply making a unique statement while out for drinks with your girlfriends.

The Bucket Bag:

The bucket bag was originally created in 1932 by Louis Vuitton specifically for a champagne producer to transport bottles of bubbly. More recently the bucket bag has come upon an new renaissance in trendy fashion and has been spotted on the shoulders of celebrities like Kate Bosworth and Alexa Chung. This handbag can be large or small, but no matter what the size, you’ll find that its shape is deceivingly roomy. The deep, wide-bottom frame and the roomy bucket style interior make it perfect to carry everything you need. Many bucket handbags have a drawstring closure with an additional magnetic clasp on the inside of the bag so you won’t have to worry about your goods spilling out. Many also feature an optional crossbody strap for convenient, hands-free carrying. One can also find some pretty cool bucket bags that come with attachable backpack straps to convert it from a bucket bag into a backpack purse. The slouchy structure and unique shape makes this bag ideal for more casual ensembles, adding a relaxed bohemian vibe to any outfit.

The Saddle Bag:

Inspired by the shape of actual saddle bags and historically used by equestrians, this handy accessory was originally intended for storing a few vital items while trotting into town. It was initially attached directly to the horse’s saddle. This great equestrian trend was welcomed into modern day fashion for both its practicality and its unique look. The saddle bag is easily identified by its rounded corners, buckle closure and crossbody strap. It features a rounded fold-over flap that matches the bag’s shape and often boasts unique stitching and emboss printing. 

The Fold Over Purse:

This bag can come in any shape, size or silhouette because the defining factor of the fold over bag is the fact that the top half of the bag literally folds over the bottom half. This versatile handbag becomes smaller when folded over, but if you find that you need a little bit more room, you can transform it into a larger bag by simply unfolding it. Depending on the design, these purses can come with a short handle, a long crossbody strap, or both. Quite  commonly, the fold over purse is seen with no handles whatsoever and carried as a clutch. No matter which silhouette you choose, the fold over purse gives you the perfect opportunity to store some extra treasures, when needed.

The Full Flap Purse:

Not to be confused with the fold over purse, this bag does not "fold over" per say, but rather has a solid front flap that closes the bag securely using a clasp, buckle or strap. Full flap handbags have a chic appearance wherein the buckle or strap become an intricate part of the overall look of the design. While some have a flap without much detail or design work, others may have a fanciful stitching lending the purse extra contour and contrast. Full flap bags come in a wide array of sizes ranging from small clutch styles to oversized totes and a variety of strap lengths ranging from short handles to long crossbody straps.

The Barrel Bag:

This classic shape of the barrel bag originated in the military with soldiers needing a large duffel type bag to carry their equipment. Ingeniously, designers have once again “borrowed” for inspiration and incorporated the shape of this bag into their own style of fashion purse. The barrel bag is shaped exactly as one would expect, based on its name. It has a cylindrical silhouette that resembles a barrel and typically has a stiff frame that won’t lose its shape. It is built with a top zip closure and two short handles on either side. This small, yet fashionable bag is perfect when you are looking for a unique accessory to add to your wardrobe.

The Mini Duffel:

The mini duffel bag is a bigger, more casual type of barrel bag that is also military inspired. It has the same horizontal shape, but unlike the barrel bag, it is usually a little less barrel shaped and leans a bit more towards "doctor's" bag shape with a round body and slightly more flattened sides. The mini duffel bag will still have the same zip top closure and twin handles that the barrel bag has. This extremely roomy and functional bag is often referred to as the "weekender". Its spacious interior makes it ideal to carry around clothes and toiletries when traveling yet it can still be a fashionable handbag for the ladies that like to carry a lot of stuff on a daily basis.

The Doctor's Bag:

The barrel shaped, flat bottom, hinged top doctor’s bag was traditionally used by doctors to carry around their medical gear when making house calls. Today, you will see fashionistas everywhere carrying around this handy and roomy purse. This bag has kept its original shape and still looks very much like a doctor's bag. Similar to the barrel bag and duffel bag, its flat bottom and slightly elongated shape makes it ideal to haul around everything you need. It comes with two short carry handles and a magnetic flap, buckle or clasp closure. Most doctor’s handbags have very few embellishments or detailing, making it look simple and professional. Made famous by the likes of Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Guess, this chic bag style is a designer fave and perfect for everything from an important business meeting to a casual day of shopping.

The Hinged/Frame Bag or Kiss Lock Purse:

Frame purses refer to a rectangular or triangular shaped handbag that has a metal hinge top opening with a clasp closure or a "kiss lock" closure, which consists of two metal round balls that interlock, snap together and “kiss”. This type of closure is reminiscent of antique handbags or vintage coin purses from the 1920's flapper era. The metal frame offers a sturdy structure while the rigid shape gives the purse a clean, stream-lined, classic appearance. If you’re searching for a purse that follows the most recent trends, many designers including Marc Jacobs and Coach are now introducing frame handbags that have a modern twist, including studded embellishments or a slightly slouchy and relaxed structure.

The Baguette:

The baguette purse is long and narrow and aptly named after the French baguette loaf due to its similar size and shape. After Fendi first introduced the style in 1997, it gained its iconic status when Carrie Bradshaw's character from Sex and the City was frequently filmed with it slung over her shoulder. Because of its frequent role in the show, the baguette bag cemented its status as the “It Bag” of the 90’s.

The baguette bag has a petite structure, similar to the clutch, but it has a short strap that is meant to be worn over your shoulder and tight to your body. From patent leather to sequins, the baguette bag has innumerable options as far as styling. The baguette bag is known to be a statement piece that adds a bold pop of style and is an easy addition to a night on the town or a romantic date night.


Modern day handbags have evolved from previous eras of economic depression, fundamental need and societal influence. Today's bags have been designed with the intention to impress women of all walks of life. Whether at work, play, leisure, travel or business function, this new era of fashion must rise to a new standard. With a much more discerning eye, we shop for the most suitable purse to complement a certain look, occasion or need. While trends come and go, classic shapes and styles remain. And the desire to look unique and stand out in a crowd will continue to grow in popularity. 

For the great selection of unique bags, shop our Trendy Purses and Handbags.

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