Classic Bag Styles Under $500 | une femme d'un certain âge

Standout Bags With Staying Power

Brahmin Duxbury satchel in black. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

Over the years I’ve become pretty picky about my bags. They have to be functional, lightweight, well-made, and good-looking. These days I’m more into simple designs and classic bag styles and colors rather than this season’s It Bags. In fact, I’ve learned to wait a few seasons before purchasing a new or popular style to be sure it will have longevity. And quality is key; the simpler the design, the more that shoddy materials or workmanship become apparent.

Top: Croc-embossed satchel from Brahmin. I think these bags are an exceptional value. If you stick to simpler styles and classic colors, they have a timeless appeal.

A few of you took issue with the price of the bag I showed in yesterday’s post. I won’t argue that a few of the bags in my collection are spendy. Bags have always been my “thing” and I think a bag can make (or break) an outfit. And I’ve always been a curator. The bags I love I keep and use for years and years. The ones that didn’t work out have been re-sold to help fund future purchases.

Everyone will have their own threshold for what they are comfortable spending on a bag. For this post, I’ve stayed under $500 for leather bags (and most are substantially less than that). I feel these choices offer good value for the money. Spending more is an option, but not an imperative for good-looking and high quality bags.

To help preserve your bags, always store in a dust bag or pillowcase away from heat (and that includes avoiding the top shelf of your closet). To retain shape of more structured bags, store upright and stuffed with tissue paper.

Here are the styles of bags I find myself using most often. The specific bags I’ve linked to are either styles I’ve examined in person, or are from brands I’m familiar with.

The Convertible Satchel

Beige leather Longchamp Le Pliage bag. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

Really one of the best all-around bag styles, IMO. I was so happy when Longchamp began adding a shoulder strap to both the nylon and leather versions of the classic Le Pliage bag. They don’t get much lighter than these.

More Satchels

The Brahmin satchel shown at the top of the post is a favorite; I have versions in both black and Pecan.

Elizabeth and James | kate spade (classic shape, ) | Cole Haan | Matt & Nat (vegan)

The Camera Bag

Crossbody camera bag with tassel from Cole Haan. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

For day-to-day use, I often find this size bag sufficient. It’s also great for casual evening wear, or days where I know I’ll be on my feet for hours. Above, an outside slip pocket, tassel detail and wider shoulder strap are all features that make this bag worth a second look. I’ve always found Cole Haan bags to be a good value. This style is also available in nude and sky blue leathers.

More Camera Bags

Cuyana (nice size and quality, great price!) | A.P.C. |
Michael Kors (the silver metallic is much prettier in person) | J.Crew

Shoulder Flap Bag

Sandro Bianca shoulder bag with top handle in Burgundy. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

The most versatile styles will have an adjustable strap so they can be worn either on one shoulder or crossbody. I picked up a Sandro bag in Paris last fall and it’s been an excellent addition.

More Flap And Saddle Bags

All Saints (understated design, nice leather) | Cuyana | Matt & Nat (vegan) | Brahmin | A.P.C

Are there any styles of bags you find yourself wearing year after year?

Stay in touch.

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  1. March 13, 2018 / 3:28 am

    Thank you, Susan, for featuring some lovely budget-friendly bags and a vegan option. I love the company Matt & Nat and their attitude : “It’s important for us not to use leather. Simply put, we don’t like hurting animals and we care about the welfare of the planet.” I’ve just bought a crossbody vegan handbag by the French company Lollipops. I find small crossbody bags the most practical.

  2. Vicki
    March 13, 2018 / 4:17 am

    Hi Susan,
    I’m a handbag girl myself and my close friends and family know it.
    I make no apologies for what I ‘treat’ myself to when it comes to handbags.
    I enjoy them and they make me happy.

    • Lisa B
      March 13, 2018 / 8:38 am

      Hi Vicky, Totally agree! Even when you’re pants don’t fit or the new “trend” doesn’t work for you, a good bag makes up for it!

  3. Adele Miller
    March 13, 2018 / 4:32 am

    I love beautiful bags, but find it very hard to purchase without trying them on. Need to make sure that they will stay on my shoulder and feel very comfortable. Also, now that I wear glasses almost all the time, I like to see how 2 pairs (regular and sunglasses) will fit in, although if my new transitions pair work out, that might not be necessary. Hard to tell the size of the Sandro bag from the centimeter-to-inches conversion, but I think it’s just a tad too small.

    Do you find the Longchamp pliage purse a little short when worn crossbody? I have a nice black medium size neo-fabric one in the style you show above, and even though I’m pretty short, it seems to hit me in a weird spot. Question: where should a crossbody bag lie?

  4. Susan
    March 13, 2018 / 5:19 am

    I have a very arthritic neck, so I have packed away or sold heavy, leather bags and have replaced them with the Le Pliage. For day use, it is usually a cross body bag, more for security reasons and practicality. I like my hands free and unencumbered when shopping and helping my very elderly mother in and out of the car. I used to have a cupboard full of high end designer bags, but the older I get, the less interested I am in ‘designer’ brands, but certainly do not begrudge anyone who still enjoys splurging on them.

  5. March 13, 2018 / 6:16 am

    I suppose a foldable, reusable nylon bag could fit into these; single-use plastic shopping bags have been banned here and we need those as well. I need a larger (but lightweight) bag to carry things I need around, but realize that is not the case for everyone. There are attractive eco shopping bags from Germany; I’m trying to think of the make.

  6. sophia montgomery
    March 13, 2018 / 6:37 am

    I am a vintage purse kinda gal but have my eye on a Brahmin Duxbury for an updated every day, going to work bag.. Still using a Monsac from yearssssss ago. A great leather purse is an investment piece as long as the lines are classic.

  7. March 13, 2018 / 6:46 am

    Hi Susan, as a woman who adores bags & appreciates the craftmanship of a high end designer one I have to say those negative comments in your previous post completely missed the point.
    Some people see value in spending a lot of money on a car, I don’t.
    I could go on with endless comparisons of how differently women choose to spend their cash but that would be insulting your intelligence. After a certain age most of us have a pretty sizeable disposable income & we should be free to part with it in whichever way we choose without fear of criticism or having to defend our choice.
    If you were talking about adding another Hermes to your collection of 50 (like VB) then yes I’d agree that is frivolous at best, obscene at worst & downright disgusting when people are sleeping rough & children are homeless. So let’s get real here & cut the jealousy. I say good for you, the bag is stunning! Furthermore it’s a smart & versatile buy in my opinion, you’ll wear it forever….literally 😉

    • Jane2
      March 13, 2018 / 8:26 am

      Couldn’t agree more. I have friends who think I’m terribly frivolous for getting all my footwear from France, yet think nothing of spending $$$ on their cottages, SUVs and other things that don’t terribly interest me.

      To each her own. The handbag from yesterday’s post looked fabulous.

      • Lisa B
        March 13, 2018 / 8:51 am

        Agree!! I purchased 2 CHANEL bags a couple of years ago to celebrate my 60th. A splurge, but it was my birthday, my business, my money and I was at a point in my life where I could afford it. My friends were happy for me and I could care less what other people thought. Jealousy is a beast. Ignore them. People have a choice to read your blog and what you post. I love your blog and have found it so useful for traveling, styling tips and definitely shopping my closet, Keep on keeping on, Susan!

    • March 13, 2018 / 1:17 pm

      I agree with everything you said except “most of us”. A great many older female workers are really struggling.

      But of course people are free to use their funds as they wish, and even expensive handbags cost less than expensive sportscars.

    • Kristin
      March 18, 2018 / 4:18 pm


  8. Catherine
    March 13, 2018 / 7:19 am

    Like Michelle, I also adore bags and appreciate the craftsmanship of higher-end designer bags. I live in Chicago and find myself wearing a mostly tailored / minimalist wardrobe of black and other neutrals. I indulge in nicer accessories: i.e. handbags, scarves, coats, shoes, and bracelets. That’s how I choose to spend my money. I generally do not shop with girlfriends, but, when I do, I find that I am the one who goes home with only one thing (or none): a new pair of shoes, a new scarf, etc. My friends, I think, are secretly horrified at what I paid for that one thing, but, in all honesty, I probably spent less than they did that day. And, I am still wearing my purchase(s) years later. So… keep doing you…

  9. Lyn
    March 13, 2018 / 7:58 am

    Your “comfort level” comment is right on point. Each of us have a certain internal limit on what they think is reasonable for different items. I’m not a handbag person, so my comfort limit is about $100. (That Brahmin bag is tempting, however.) On the other hand, my collection of sweaters absolutely appalls my children, especially since is live in Florida!

  10. SusanG
    March 13, 2018 / 9:07 am

    Quality bags and shoes cost money and take up room, so long ago I decided I’d either be a bag or a shoe person. I chose shoes.
    Most of my bags come from consignment shops/sites or charity shops. My only “it” bag is an Issey Miyake Bao Bao-I love it! I keep a strict inventory, so they don’t over run my house.

  11. nosherium
    March 13, 2018 / 9:19 am

    I’ve been considering the Cuyana camera bag for a while. My only concern is difficulty of access with the wrap-around zipper. I have two Lo & Sons Pearl bags in saffiano – light grey and their lovely red. Next up is a black bag, I think!

    • March 23, 2018 / 5:34 pm

      I received the Cuyana camera bag as a gift and I love it. Like you, I wasn’t sure I would like the wrap around zipper, but it is not a problem. I don’t always zip it completely, the guusetts keep everything inside. And, I can fit my large Vuitton wallet inside, and my iPhone 6plus fits in the exterior slip pocket.

    • Jacqueline
      March 10, 2019 / 3:23 pm

      I also have two Lo & Sons The Pearl (navy saffiano leather, and black Napa leather). They are my everyday go-to bags, comfortable and light weight. I have a collection of Coach hobo bags that no longer work for me because of a shoulder problem. I love them but I am going to hand them off to my daughters.

  12. amidprivilege
    March 13, 2018 / 9:48 am

    Hobo bags! See, the little cross body bags drive me nuts in my short drive suburban world. I get in and out of the car several times in one outing, so the ease of shouldering a hobo wins out. In the city I use the small messenger all the time. And, when I’m walking, a dorky little lavender Jansport backpack that I love.

    • amidprivilege
      March 13, 2018 / 9:51 am

      Also, despite my Bottega Veneta handbag habit, I drive an 11-year old Toyota Rav4 and have owned the same small ranch house for over 30 years;). It’s exactly as you say, we all have our priorities, and our comfort level, and our budget. As I said previously, I do think it’s fair to ask those of us who have resources to participate in charity of some sort or another, but I don’t think it’s reasonable to insist that a style blogger review those charitable decisions on their style blog.

      • Kathy
        March 13, 2018 / 5:42 pm

        Bottega Veneta, yum. A very good friend handed down to me one of those huge, black leather,slouchy, bags, and I purchased a very small shoulder strap style at a consignment shop. Love them. And like you, I have lived frugally in many ways.

  13. Maureen
    March 13, 2018 / 10:19 am

    My accountant husband assess high-end items on a cost per wear formula (or cost per use). In the end, I saved money over the years for an expensive handbag than a cheaper bag that might not last two years. We use the same formula when buying vehicles. Everyone has a different spending limit and that also applies to bloggers. Items posted on this blog should be used as a reference for style and function that can be found at different price points.

    • Pamela
      March 18, 2018 / 5:52 am

      My husband has a Masters in accountancy and he costs major purchases like cars rigorously. We select cars that are well designed and made, comfortable, easy and safe to drive and reliable. He does not replace them every two or three years. We keep them for years and look after them. According to his costings we’ve saved at least $100,000 this way over the years. I’m not talking high end cars, just mid-market range. My parents (father was an accountant) brought me up to save up for what I wanted and to buy a few good quality rather than lots of cheap things. I still do it and it works. These things last. I have friends who buy cheap as chips clothes that look great because they chose nice looking things carefully – but they do so knowing they’ll dispose of them at the end of the season. Have never done this myself as I don’t like the idea of buying for one season – it somehow seems wasteful. But they go on lots of cruises with their cruise friends and they say they need to have different clothes all the time so they don’t show up in the same clothes for the next cruise. At the end of a cruise, they and their cruise friends decide which cruises they’ll all book onto next. Cruises are not our thing – probably just as well. Best wishes, Pamela

  14. varya
    March 13, 2018 / 10:55 am

    “Your money,your rules,your life” type gal,here. I spend on certain items because I know what I want (took some time to get here!) and I keep them forever. Sorta like my choice of husband. Thank you for sharing what works best for you.

  15. March 13, 2018 / 11:31 am

    Purses. I have many. Never can seem to let them go.

    Although I like all my purses, the ones I use most often are (1) crossover bags (they’re small, easy to walk with, and don’t hold so much I get a kink in my neck) and (2) messenger bags (this winter I gravitated to a 20-year-old Coach black leather messenger bag that I’ve carried more than any other purse in my closet).

    Regarding the “what’s worth spending money on” question, I spend more money on shoes than other clothing categories because well-made shoes feel so much better and last so much longer and look so much better and make me feel so much more put together than anything I could purchase for a small fraction at Shoe Sensation or JCPenney. And yes, I do sometimes buy shoes at those stores, too.

    I’m a free range shopper. 🙂

    • March 13, 2018 / 7:03 pm

      It is very important to buy and wear high-quality shoes if you can possibly afford them (though alas there are also high-quality shoes that destroy feet and backs in the name of fashion).

      I really think of bags as utilitarian things to carry stuff (including computers and groceries) around in, but try to get plain ones that can pass as professionals. I do have friends who have the bag bug, which I simply fail to understand unless they were handcrafted works of art.

  16. Daniella Karo
    March 13, 2018 / 12:45 pm

    One can be in tattered jeans, simple t shirt but a great handbag, shoes and the perfect hairstyle with smart eyeglasses will make you visible at any age. Can’t beat that!

  17. Angela
    March 13, 2018 / 1:27 pm

    One thing is very certain; when we finally work in a holiday to the US from New Zealand, you can be sure that I’ll be making luggage allowances for purchases of handbags. The shipping costs can be prohibitive, if in fact available, but this will never stop me enjoying your posts. Your blog style has given me many ideas which I have learned to adapt to our market. Thank you.

    • March 13, 2018 / 4:27 pm

      Angela, a quick shoutout from the US to say that IMHO you live in the most beautiful country in the world. My dear husband and I have visited New Zealand three times, and I look forward to more trips there. I wish you happy shopping in the US when you make it here. 🙂

      • Angela
        March 13, 2018 / 10:23 pm

        So glad to hear you love our paradise. Susan’s blog has been instrumental in my desire to more extensively travel around the US having only previously experienced the theme parks of Florida and LA many years ago. Looking forward to our grownup adventures.

  18. Pamela
    March 13, 2018 / 4:22 pm

    Good quality well designed and made leather bags last the distance. Cheap bags rarely look good after a couple of years and frequent use. I have one bag bought over 30 years ago and it still looks good and I would still feel well dressed wearing it out at night. So normally you get what you pay for. As I’ve got older I’ve discovered I can’t wear the beautiful shoes I used to love – I still buy good quality but nowadays it’s all about comfort and security, so I spend less as I’m no longer attracted by lovely shoes I can’t wear. My preference now is for handbags, scarves and chunky silver jewellery. For daywear, cross body bags have become a must – once not easy to find in smart styles, now nearly all designers seem to offer attractive choices. Some of the Louis Vuitton cross bodies are really good – practical, light weight and strong. I love my mid size messenger bag, it’s a fairly casual style in the chequerboard pattern as I don’t like to wear obvious logos, and it’s so reliable. The colours look great with black, white, grey, beiges and autumn tones. Also have a wonderful Sonia Rykiel cross body in navy quilted nylon set with small studs – it’s compact and light – and is great with jeans and navy and reds. It’s so light it can easily be squished into a suitcase as an extra bag. However, I also have a great selection of light weight totes to sling on an arm to fit what the crossbodies are often too compact for: mini umbrella, a real cashmere pashmina, a small makeup purse and other odds and ends. My favourites are the Vanessa Bruno cabas, specially in linen. They come in a great range of colours – lots of beautiful neutrals and then there are the different seasonal colours they bring out each year. You can usually find the last season’s colours well reduced in the end of June sales in Paris. For travel I always take a couple of Longchamps nylon pliages (different sizes) with the zip-up tops. You just have to be careful in airport lounges when you put your typical black nylon Longchamps bag (but never use it as a handbag – only as a tote) down on the floor or a seat next to you as so many women carry the identical bag and they could easily be mixed, including at security. I usually tie a coloured ribbon on the handle temporarily when travelling through airports to distinguish mine immediately ( I do the same for suitcases too of course).

  19. RoseAG
    March 13, 2018 / 4:35 pm

    I really like lightweight nylon bags.

    As a dedicated shopper I also like seeing bags that are outside my financial comfort zone. Once you get an eye for these things it’s not hard to “see” them in offerings that are in your price range.

    • March 13, 2018 / 7:39 pm

      Yes, I do too. I use them for shopping; i mean for groceries and other essentials, with a smaller fold-up bag inside for garment or books purchases. I’m always on foot, public transport or cycle. Have panniers for the cycle.

      I’m not in the slightest offended by seeing high-quality bags and other accessories I can’t afford; no more than any other beautiful piece of art or craft I can’t afford. I am offended by bling bling, but that is a matter of vulgarity, not economics.

      We may remember the novelist Linda Grant, who spearheaded this current of blogs. Whatever you or I might think of her – many were annoyed about the blog closing down after she had material for the relevant novel – I think she was right about the sharp criticism of women’s “frivolous” spending, when men spent far more on high tech and fast cars.

  20. Linda
    March 13, 2018 / 6:41 pm

    I have very few handbags, though I love them. My favorites are Brahmins, especially the pecan croc, though I also like the Crane (black and white color blocking). I have had some of them for many years. I teach school, and many teachers buy quantities of cheap bags that fall apart. Yet they think they cannot afford a better bag. Over time, I’ve felt well dressed yet spent very little.

  21. March 14, 2018 / 9:32 am

    I always admire the bags you carry. I usually wear some out there basket bag. I’ve never gotten used to carrying leather bags. They seem so grown up. I figure at 77 I still haven’t grown up yet. Love your style though. I always think when I’m with you that I must grow up and get a great looking bag, One day! Love what you show us.

  22. Carolyn
    March 14, 2018 / 2:31 pm

    Lagatta, I agree…let’s not forget how much a round of golf costs!!!

  23. Muireann
    March 15, 2018 / 7:56 pm

    I own a variety of high-end bags, mostly bought in France, including Longchamps and vintage Chanel. I say that only because your commenters will otherwise accuse me of jealousy. Having established my bona fides: The mean-girl quality of some of these comments ought to give you pause. Is this the kind of community you want to be known for having built? Myself, I’m unsubscribing.

    • Susan B
      March 15, 2018 / 9:08 pm

      I’m really not sure what you’re reading as “mean girl” (and having read through all of the comments on this post again, still am not seeing it). But if you’re uncomfortable that’s certainly your prerogative.

  24. Cher
    March 16, 2018 / 5:52 am

    Once I discovered Brahmin bags, most others paled in comparison. I mean, Brahmin knows how to do bags on every level. I’ve often wished for a way for us Brahmin fans to have a place to trade with each other. These bags don’t wear out and I always want another one. But at some point, one must go before another one can be bought! My husband even bought a Brahmin item for me for Christmas! Wow! And they are made in America. Another plus!

    • Sabrina Lozano
      June 23, 2018 / 7:08 am

      I love Brahmin bags too. I bought my first Brahmin a few months ago, a pecan duxbury satchel and fell in love with the style, functionality and quality. I also love how lightweight it is and how well it goes with my professional outfits at work. My next purchase was a crossover Margo in Sapphire. Another amazing bag that I use on the weekends since I often wear jeans and khaki jackets. And yesterday I bought a mini-duxbury in toasted macroon for the summer. I own many coach, m. kors and kate spade bags but after discovering brahmin, I found my eye attracted to the style, color and appeal of these bags.

  25. Tamara Agarwal
    March 17, 2018 / 5:18 am

    I would love a post on the more expensive bags that you feel will stand the test of time. I’m willing to pay more for a classic, good quality, forever kind of bag, but could use tips on determining which bags would potentially be worth it!

  26. cynthiahattersley
    March 18, 2018 / 11:19 am

    Hi Susan are the handles on the longchamp bag long enough to tuck under your shoulder without adding the cross body strap?

    • Susan B
      March 18, 2018 / 12:05 pm

      Not really, no. These styles are more of a hand-held or crook-of-the-elbow carry.

  27. Pat
    March 20, 2018 / 12:16 pm

    I have been looking at Brahmin bags for a while, but I was unsure if they were worth the expense though I loved their look and feel. You convinced me! I purchased the Medium Emerson Melbourne satchel in Pecan from Macy’s. I love it. I know it will be a well-used bag. Love your eye – I have purchased several shoes and bags and French Kande pieces you have showcased on the blog. I look forward to your blog, and I’m planning a fall trip to Paris.

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