Which would you choose, a neutral or colorful bag?

While we often think of handbags as a functional necessity, I believe a well-chosen bag can complete and elevate an outfit. Once you have a sense of what handbag style works for you, how do you choose the best color?

How to choose the best handbag color for your outfit.

One of my readers recently asked for some guidance on choosing between two colors of the same bag, one bright and one neutral. Both were appealing, and I could see how it would be a tough decision. I offered some things she might want to consider in making a choice, and thought I’d expand upon them here. If you’ve ever stood staring at a row of bags (or other accessories), unable to pick a color, I hope this might be of some help.

How to choose a handbag color

First, you want a bag that will be harmonious with the rest of your wardrobe. Knowing your seasonal color palette will help you build a cohesive wardrobe where everything works together (including your accessories). But if you don’t know your palette, take a quick scan of your wardrobe, especially the clothes you wear most often. Are most of the colors cool? Warm? Neutral? Soft? Bright?

Then, think about the function of the bag. Is it something you’ll be using every day or most days? For social occasions only?

And finally, what’s your comfort zone when it comes to wearing color? The more the merrier, or in small doses only?

You might choose a neutral bag if…

Colorful wardrobe in Winter palette with neutral bags.

scarf | cardigan | tee | blouse | tote | pants | pants | shoulder bag | sneakers

👉Your wardrobe is mostly colorful. If you wear a lot of color most days (and especially if you wear multiple colors), you may find that a neutral bag is much easier to coordinate. If your wardrobe is mostly cool, stick with cool neutrals like black, gray, white, silver. For warmer colors, a neutral like brown, camel, ivory, bronze or gold will coordinate well.

👉You prefer an all-neutral palette. Some people prefer to stick completely to neutrals. You may want to pay attention to the texture and details on the bag to add visual interest. A subtle metallic bag can add a nice “pop” to an all-neutral look.

👉You work in a professional environment with a sober dress code. (Though I have to say, if you want to buck the rules, go with a red bag, which can read as both bold and serious.)

👉You plan to use the bag for travel. When I travel, I prefer simple, neutral bags. First, they are easier to coordinate. Second, they don’t call as much attention to themselves as a target for thieves. (My top pick HERE.)

A colorful bag can be a good choice if…

How to choose a handbag color: neutral wardrobe with a colorful bags.

cardigan | bandana | tee | shirt | bag | pants | jeans | tote | shoes

👉Your wardrobe is mostly neutral. If you wear mostly neutrals, use a colorful bag as an accent and to create visual interest.

Tip: cool colors will coordinate better with cool neutrals, warm with warm.

👉You are comfortable wearing multiple colors in one outfit. If you have built a wardrobe around your seasonal color palette, you’ll find that most of the colors will coordinate and look in harmony.

👉You want to begin adding more color to your wardrobe, but in baby steps. Accessories like a bag or scarf are a great way to introduce color without a huge commitment.

👉 You have plenty of neutral bags and want more variety.

Do you wear colorful bags or stick to neutrals? If you do wear colorful bags, how do you choose colors?

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  1. Red purses, red shoes and red cars that’s what I like. I’m retired now but still wear black & white or neutrals. I think red goes with just about anything. I do enjoy your posts, thanks!

  2. I love colorful bags but after purchasing always find myself wishing I’d bought the same bag in black to go with most everything. I guess you can call it “Buyer’s Remorse.” This spring in Rome a lot of women were sporting bags in bright pink or grass green. Some were designer bags like Bottega Veneta ( went into the store and every style bag was featured in grass green ) but some less expensive types such as Zara were also brightly colored.

  3. I bought a bright pink Kate Spade bag a few years ago and found it was way out of my comfort zone! I still own it and feel guilty for not using it but every time I do I can’t wait to get home and put it back in the closet.

  4. I LOVE bags…both in color and neutral…usually neutral if traveling and a clutch with personality. Some bags just “speak” to me…On a recent trip to Delaware, I gifted myself a bag that looks like a chicken…It just makes me laugh and people smile when they see it…I SWEAR, it’s chic!! 🙂

  5. Favorite bag of all time was a mustard yellow! I always received compliments about it, and it coordinated with every outfit! I used it until it fell apart, and then I couldn’t find another to replace it. Oh, I miss that bag!

    1. One of my favorite colors too! Just put “mustard yellow leather handbags” into Google, click on Images, and you’ll get a ton of options. I’m now seriously tempted by an “almost perfect” option at Portland Leather! 🙂

  6. I like a punch of colour with my handbag, or tote. Now that I am editing my closet to reflect my best colours ( soft fall) , I am seeing that my small collection is on point with that. Taking your advice regarding a neutral bag, that’s what I have packed for this road trip from coastal BC to Alberta to meet a new baby. Summer linens , from White Stuff ( Edinburgh) all coordinate , so it was a breeze to pack .
    No need for a colourful bag, so have a soft leather in tan , which holds essentials for this navigator.
    When wearing neutral colours, a bag with colour ( red, olive, denim) does look great.

    I am enjoying your blog since I discovered it early last spring… especially your travels. And seeing how you are transitioning to your best colours is so inspiring, Susan.

  7. I love bags in great colors and haven’t bought a black or beige one for many years. I love a yellow leather bag for summer. It goes with everything. For fall, my leather bags are orange or cobalt blue or red. I have a red plaid one I love for winter and the holidays. In the spring I get out my turquoise bag, or coral. Once in awhile the color clashes with what I’m wearing, but not too often, and when it’s coat season, the bag just adds a great pop of color. I’m not one of those that changes bags with every outfit, but because I have quite a few, I will change bags every month or two just to get more use out of what I have.

  8. This blog post came at the right time for me. I wear a lot of black, white and blue. There’s a b/w polka dot Kate Spade tote in the Nordstrom sale that is SOOOOO tempting. Polka dots always make me smile. But I need another tote like a hole in the head!!

  9. Some of my closet regrets are these big dramatic purges of clothing and accessories I like to do, often mistakenly thinking they will magically change my life. A mistake! And what I really regret getting rid of are my colored bags and wallets that I carefully collected over the years. I wear fairly neutral clothing, and today I long for many of the colored items I’ve given away or sold, which served as focal points for an otherwise sometimes boring outfit. In particular, I had a beautiful silver leather clutch from Italy that I’ve never seen anywhere else — I gave it away during the pandemic, thinking I’d never use it again. Grrr! I miss it! Silver was my ideal neutral, as it went with everything in my closet. Yes, I’m a winter!

  10. A real estate office in my community holds an annual sale of donated, gently used, bags and scarves . It’s a fund raiser for breast cancer. I have purchased brand name bags in green, purple and red. What bag do I actually use? A basic, black leather crossbody.

  11. You mentioned coordinating cool and warm neutrals with cool and warm clothes. Would you consider giving some visual examples of these in accessories, please? I’m a winter, but I believe other seasons might appreciate this as well. I think the neutrals that give me the most questions are the beige/khaki/tan and brown/chestnut zones. Thank you!

    1. Hi, the first collage is an example of cool (Winter) clothing and cool neutrals. I’ll work on more for future posts.

  12. I want them all haha. I tend to buy solid colour bags but now and then I’ll buy one with a bit of pattern or some piping or a second colour.
    I am just a lucky person who can afford to have more then one. I hardly ever get rid if my bags so I might be hopelessly out of fashion.

  13. I have purged the bag closet but primarily of the larger ones that were so essential to my work life years ago. I never bought the really big ones but still- who needs to carry all that weight around. Agree that the one non-negotiable need is the dark neutral cross body – I have a few small shoulder/ cross bodies in color pops that I enjoy for changing things up. I did buy a duplicate/ replacement MZW in a leopard print that I do not use- it just doesn’t go with my stuff.

  14. This was very helpful. Thank you for explaining this clearly. As a person who wears a lot of color, I tend to stick to neutrals or metallics in shoes and bags. Patterns dominate my clothing choices, so bags and footwear are always solid colors. Neutral accessories stand the test of time. I was fascinated by a handbag in the green trend color this year, but resisted the temptation. I would have tired of it. A leather bag is more costly than a trend color in a T-shirt.

  15. So I think the solution to the burst of color bag is to get one that matches a color that you wear and like in a basic piece. I bought one of the long cardigan sweaters (Halogen) in a beige-pink a few years ago and a large tote to match. They were both in one of the season’s trending colors. If you don’t get the color in the season where it lives, you may have a heck of a time coordinating later. Anyway, the two pieces always feel at home together. No disharmony in trying to find out what matches back or accents.

  16. I really like a red bag but in summer I usually stick with neutral. I think because I wear more colorful clothing.

  17. I love a red leather bag and own a couple. If I find a style I like, I’ll buy it in a second or even a third color. Neutral first and then a great color. I do think there’s nothing better than a metallic bag, which I believe you turned me onto several years ago, Susan. I have The Pearl in both camel and silver Saffiano leather. I wish it was a tad bigger to accommodate my glasses and phone, but it’s a wonderful little bag.

  18. I bought the Lo & Sons bag that you had featured in a 2020 article to take with me to London – and finally did so in 2022! I got it in a beautiful shade of green that doesn’t seem to be available anymore. I haven’t switched back to my boring black Fossil purse, partially because it’s looking a little peaked these days. I have a few others, including one gorgeous blue bag I bought in Vegas in 2018 at a conference, but I find that the crossbody strap detaches randomly. I need to shop my closet and see what I have.