Essentials - Bags and Shoes - une femme d'un certain âge

Essentials – Bags and Shoes

Earlier this week, I delved into my differences with some of the published stylistas about what constitutes a wardrobe must-have. Though they may be a good starting point, other people’s lists often don’t take into account lifestyle or climate, and we ultimately have to develop our own. It took me a lot of trial and error to suss out my own list, especially when it comes to bags and shoes.

Though I’m a notorious bagaholic, if I had to narrow it down to my “can’t-live-withouts,” they would fall into three categories.

First is the workday bag/briefcase substitute. This bag should be able to hold everything you’d normally carry, plus a files and/or a laptop. Handles long enough to sling over the shoulder or a shoulder strap are critical for me. I’d recommend a neutral color without a lot of trendy hardware or froufrou details, but it needn’t be stodgy. Look for good quality of materials and construction; this bag will get a lot of hard wear. Here are some options from Cole Haan that would do nicely:
Aerin satchel in Dark Aubergine, $425,

Or Dark Anthracite. Both of these are great neutrals.

This Box Tote ($475) has a nice bit of equestrian detailing, and also holds a laptop.

Category two is the weekend bag. I currently have a good variety of bags that I’ll rotate through, but if I had to pick one essential style, it would be a cross-body bag. When I’m out with the munchkin and/or dogs, having both hands free is a must. I also plan to take a cross-body bag on our upcoming Paris trip. When you’re on your feet all day, it really makes a difference, and according to my physical therapist, is much, much better for your back and posture.

Category three is a smaller, dressier evening bag. When push comes to shove, it has to be one I can wear over a shoulder. When you have a drink in one hand and a potentially messy canapé in the other, there’s nothing left with which to wrangle that clutch. Style mavens often insist any stylish bag wardrobe must include a Chanel 2.55, but I say Feh! They’re rarer than hens teeth and cost a bloody fortune. There’s a whole world out there of affordable evening bags, so find one that’s the right style and size for you. My advice is to skip the ones with excessive beading or other detailing; those will be the first bits to show wear.

Where shoes are concerned, comfort is non-negotiable for me. That doesn’t mean I chug around in orthopedic granny shoes; there are plenty of comfortable and cute options these days. These Ecco shoes are just about my favorite pair, combining great style and walkability.

A pair of great-looking, classic flats is another of my shoe-ssentials, and they don’t get any more classic than these Audrey mary janes from Ferragamo. Unlike a lot of the ballet flats out there now, these are very flattering on, and don’t make your feet look like Daisy Duck’s.

If black is too boring for you, Ferragamo offers this style in different materials and colors each season. I also have a pair in chili red patent. (And they are available in Wide widths!)

One area where I agree with the style book writers regarding must-have footwear is a black leather, pointy-toed, stiletto heeled pump. Now my style may be more conservative/classic than some, but this is the pair I turn to when I want to look casually elegant, regardless of what else I’m wearing. Spend good money for these, and if they have a leather sole, take them to the shoe repair for rubber half-soles (and a rubber heel if they come with a plastic one…it’s appalling how many pricey shoes do). My pair are Ferragamo’s again, and I know I’ll be wearing them for decades.
With our Mediterranean climate, sandals can be worn for several months out of the year. Mine have to multi-task.

These sandals by Sofft are dressy enough for the business casual office or an evening out, and comfortable enough to wear to walk the dogs.

But we do get some rain and cold weather, too. During those months, a pair of Stuart Weitzman short boots similar to these are my most frequently called-upon footwear.

Whatever shoes are must-have’s for you, my suggestion is don’t skimp on quality. Well made shoes will be more comfortable, will last longer, and can more easily be refurbished by a good shoe repair person. Think value, not price.

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  1. October 4, 2008 / 1:19 pm

    Maybe you can help me with my shoe problem. I have a j crew flip flop addiction. I love shoes and I buy them and then I don’t wear them. What brand do you think makes the most comfortable yet stylish shoes? I have some cute sofft shoes and boots, but I don’t really like boots.

    I think I like the fact that the flip flops are easy to slide on and off, and they are so comfortable. Every day I tell myself, ” I am not going to wear those again today.” I look around at all my shoes and somehow my feet just jump right into those black j crews.

    I am enjoying reading about your trip to paris and will live vicariously. I don’t fly and one day hope to get over that. Thanks for writing your great blog!

  2. October 4, 2008 / 1:27 pm

    I really like the look of those Eccos and I’m wondering how/why I missed them earlier — they look worth tracking down — cute and comfy without looking obviously so.

    Also interested in those Ferragamo ballet flats — do they have more support and more cushioning on the bottom than most flats? Could you walk city streets for blocks in these? I’m generally disappointed in ballet flat-type shoes, and maybe these are the answer.

  3. October 4, 2008 / 1:40 pm

    Hi Julianne – well, it’s tough for me to be objective here, because I really hate how ubiquitous flip flops have become. 😉 The Sofft sandals in this post are amazingly comfortable, and they also have many other styles. Do you have a Walking Company store anywhere near you? (they also sell online at ) They have lots of brands and cute styles that are quite comfortable, including some mules/slides if you like the ease of those. Brands that work for me are Sofft, Ecco, Stuart Weitzman (though you won’t find those at the Walking store). A lot of folks like Geox, which have a “breathable” sole. I have a wide foot with a high arch/instep, so what’s comfortable for me may not work for everyone. My suggestion is just to try a bunch of different brands/styles and see what you like. (You can always order from with free shipping and return what you don’t like.) But my orthopedist will tell you that those flip flops are not good for your feet or your back in the long run. As we age, our tendons and ligaments tend to lose some elasticity/strength and we need more support in the feet. End of lecture. 🙂

    Thanks for reading and for your comments!

  4. October 4, 2008 / 1:45 pm

    mater – the Ecco shoes are from last year. I was so sorry when I couldn’t find them online anymore; I was hoping to get a second pair in another color. You might try calling some of the retailers that carry the brand in your area.

    The ballet flats do have a little cushioning, but not have much support. I can walk around in them all day here, but walking on the gravel and cobblestones in Paris was too much with the thin soles. I’ve purchased Foot Petals arch supports, which help. But if you’re looking for heavy-duty support, these aren’t it.

  5. October 4, 2008 / 4:08 pm

    That Cole-Haan bag is gorgeous! As for shoes, I’m amazed at how many manufacturers are making shoes with very slick soles! Then, you have to take them to the shoemakers to get that fixed before it’s safe to wear them.

  6. October 4, 2008 / 4:18 pm

    Ooh, I can’t stand cheap, poorly made shoes. My whole day is ruined if my feet hurt.

  7. October 4, 2008 / 5:21 pm

    The shoes in the first illustration look a lot like these from Chie Mihara.

    And just to underline your point about having to come up with your own list of must-haves: I can’t wear pointy-toed stilettos at all. My legs are short and thick, and if my heel doesn’t have a bit more shape to it, I look like I’m teetering around. The wider availability recently of 20s-style sculptured heels has been great for me.

  8. October 5, 2008 / 12:52 pm

    Wendy, I’m seeing that slick sole material used on not-so-cheap shoes these days.
    Blume, I can’t wear stilettos either, I have no arch, so all the weight goes to the ball of my foot – agony!

  9. October 5, 2008 / 1:33 pm

    Thanks Deja,

    I also agree. I don’t dislike the flip flops, I am just tired of looking down at my feet and that’s what is on everyday. We don’t have a Walking company but I will check it out. I too, have a wide foot. I love the look of heels, but they are just so uncomfortable feeling to me. I guess I have just a bit of boho hippie left in me. I have some sofft but have never tried Stuart Weitzman. Thanks for the suggestions!

  10. October 5, 2008 / 2:06 pm

    I should clarify that my definition of “stiletto” doesn’t mean high, it just means a very narrow heel. Mine are 5cm, or 2 inches. I can’t wear the really high stuff either.

    rita – I do that with almost all of my shoes now (get the rubber soles added). And the heel tips replaced too.

    wendyb – me too. On my sidebar is the Coco Chanel quote, “Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury.”

    blume – oh they really do look like the Chie’s, don’t they? I love the chunky heels too, and have a couple pair. I still have on my to-do list to get over to Re-Mix Vintage to check out their shoes.

  11. October 5, 2008 / 2:11 pm

    cybill – glad you like it. Cole Haan is one of the most underrated bag brands out there, IMO: good workmanship and materials, styles that aren’t severely trendy, and at a great price.

    rita – Linda Grant at Thoughtful Dresser a few months back posted about purchasing a pair of designer shoes at a hefty price, and the soles were wrecked after the first wearing. Unbelievable the lack of quality at those prices!

  12. cybill
    October 5, 2008 / 8:36 am

    Now that is a series of good choices, particularly the first bag. Deja Pseu I think I may have to officially appoint you my personal shopper!

  13. October 5, 2008 / 4:09 pm

    I love your color choices of aubergine and anthracite for winter. I wear a lot of medium gray and charcoal and those are the perfect accent colors.

  14. October 5, 2008 / 2:19 pm

    julianne – if your style is more bohemian, check out these Picokolinos flats from Walking Company. Stuart Weitzmans aren’t comfort shoes per se, and tend to be dressier, but I have a few pair that are quite comfortable.

  15. October 6, 2008 / 11:50 am

    Another reason why a cross body bag is a good idea for touring is, in the rare case of snatching, you are far less likely a target- they’ll just go for the tourist with a bag over her shoulder: one tug and au revoir. I learned this the hard way, standing foolishly right by the door on a metro train. Could I have made it any easier for him?

    Great shoes, you know me… I keep buying Arche.

  16. Lin H
    July 23, 2014 / 11:04 am

    I’m planning a trip to Provence in October and, after searching far and wide for a “personal item” bag, found the perfect thing: the Lo & Sons’ O.M.G. (stands for overnight/medium/gym). It has room for everything I ordinarily carry in my purse, plus a fresh pair of undies and a knit top (in case my carry-on bag gets checked), plus an iPad and a small laptop. It also has a separate zipped pocket suitable for an umbrella or perhaps a pair of slippers (for a long flight) or foldable hat. I’ve already used it on a four-day trip and it worked wonderfully! At $275, it is not cheap, but it’s less expensive and much lighter than most other such bags. Once I was at the hotel, I pulled my small cross body bag from my carry-on so I wouldn’t be carrying a large bag all day while walking. Voila!

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