Chic and practical bags (that won’t weigh you down)

I’ll admit, I’ve always had a Thing for handbags. I believe that a well-chosen, chic bag can elevate any outfit.

Susan B. strolling in St. Germain, Paris.

And I’ll also admit that I do get spendy with some of my bags (as some of you have noted 😉 ). Back when I was working in my corporate job, I purchased several designer bags over the years. Since leaving that job, I’ve periodically sold a one or two of them to finance new purchases. And I’ve learned to check out resale sites like Fashionphile when I have my eye on a particular style. Often, a pre-owned bag will be a fraction of the price of new.

Practical & chic bags for everyday wear

But I know not everyone shares my passion for designer handbags…many of you just want a bag that’s practical, versatile, and stylish but not trendy. Here are a few of my recommendations:

Leather bags

This simple leather tote with a zip top has been a best-seller for years. And every time I see someone wearing one, I’m struck by what a good-looking bag it is. It’s also available in brown, and black with brown straps. You can also remove the leather cross-body strap and replace with a thicker canvas one if you like.

As I mentioned in an earlier post about the best handbags for travel, hardware, structure, and compartments will often add weight to a bag. But if you want a chic bag in leather that is both lightweight and has lots of organization, my top pick is this one:

The “Pearl” bag is my top pick for travel, but I’ve also used it as an everyday bag. You can also remove the strap and carry as a clutch, or use to shorter strap as a wristlet. It’s available in several neutral colors and gold or silver hardware options. The Nappa leather is softer, and a skosh lighter; the Saffiano leather is more structured and very durable. I have not seen the cactus “leather” in person.

(On a Paris trip a few years ago, through a friend I met a young Parisian woman who worked at one of the big fashion houses. I was wearing this bag pictured above, and over coffee she complimented it and said it was “very chic.” So yes, wear it in Paris!)

If you’re looking for something a bit more polished and elegant, you could do worse than this sleek bag (which reminds me a lot of the iconic Céline Box bag, but without the eye-searing price tag). It’s offered in over a dozen colors, too.

I’ve purchased a couple of bags from DeMellier in the past and found the quality to be outstanding for the price. Shipping to the US and returns are free. Their bags are ethically and sustainably produced, and for every purchase they make a donation to fund vaccines and medical treatment for children in need.

Also iconic, and probably one of the lightest leather bags you’ll find, this Longchamp tote with an optional cross-body strap is a winner. (This one in navy is currently marked down, also this one in dark brown.) If you need more organization, I recommend using small cloth pouches, or an insert like this one which won’t add much weight.

Non-leather bags

While faux leather has come a long way in recent years in terms of quality and durability, to be honest I have not yet seen a faux leather bag at a lower price point that I’d want to carry. If you want to steer clear of leather, I recommend canvas or nylon. I think a good quality nylon bag will be better purchase, both in terms of looks and durability.

MZ Wallace bags always get high marks for design and their light weight. This lacquer finish quilted nylon bag can go from day out to dinner.

I love bags that have the option to carry or wear cross-body. Navy is a nice alternative to black (but yes, it’s available in black too, and many other colors).

I often find the prints on coated canvas bags to be unappealing, but this basketweave print is subtle and good-looking. It has a zip top closure and removable pouch. 3 colors available.

Here’s a subtly updated version of the “OG” Le Pliage nylon tote. Love the little racehorse! Also in Navy with red accents.

What do you look for in an everyday bag?

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  1. I have two of the Lo & Sons Pearl bags (both leathers) and I appreciate how light it is and the sleek look. I find it is on the small side and for my purpose only suitable for those occasions where you streamline what you need to carry. The Napa leather is soft and less rigid and therefore a little more forgiving when you fill it. The Saffiano leather is more structured and tight. The bag is 9.5 x 7.75 x 3 – and weighs just under a pound – there are 3 compartments – the main compartment has a snap top and it is flanked by two zippered sections. I wish they would offer a version with just one compartment.

    The Longchamp Le Cuir is a favorite. I have a black and a navy and I keep trying to find the dark brown when it’s on sale but so far no luck. It’s a gorgeous rich color. And as you mentioned, having one of the inserts is very handy to keep it organized.

    I recently received the MZ Wallace Sutton that you showed and I’m looking forward to taking it on my next trip.

    Love the DeMellier bags – that may be my next splurge.

    1. After reading all the raves about The Pearl here, I purchased two different colors in the Saffiano (camel and silver) and have to agree that they’re a bit too small for most purposes, especially where I need to carry sunglasses while wearing my eyeglasses or vice versa. Even with just a small wallet, my iPhone SE (the smallest iPhone), a lipstick, and keys, it’s a very tight fit. They are beautiful, however, and I always feel chic using them.

      The camera bag is my preferred style these days, and I’ve started carrying a larger Coach Outlet style that’s just big enough for all my needs. (I have a canvas-coated plaid one I’ve been using for the cold weather and also bought a color-block one for spring.) I wish its inside compartment zipped, and the crossbody strap is a little rigid, but it looks good and has a roomy outer pocket for my phone, and I can’t complain for the very reasonable price I paid for each. I would imagine the regular Coach version has more bells and whistles, but I find a lot of their styles include too much embellishment and therefore prefer their Outlet bags in general.

      I’d like to try the Quince camera bag, as well, as it gets great reviews and is very reasonably priced. I think they are a softer, Napa-type leather and probably more conducive to accommodating a few extra items.

  2. Currently using a small Prada nylon pouch or Longchamp pouch. They hold everything I need!
    Link to basketweave tote takes one to the MZ Wallace lacquer bag!

  3. Getting a new handbag is on my radar. The problem? I’m not sure what I want! I have my eye on a pre-loved LV, a couple of Brahmins or maybe a sling… I like the Pearl bag you’ve shown–I don’t need a lot of carrying space these days and I like the idea of a changeable strap.

  4. Thanks to your post(s) on the Lo and Sons, Pearl bah, I now have two! I love them, and love your posts every day. I have even bought a pair of Ecco slip ons that realky work great here in my humid and constantly changing weather.

  5. I used the MZ Wallace Metro Quatro Tote on a cross-country trip last summer, and it was perfect for me. We were in a variety of situations on our journey, from national parks to downtown outings, and that bag felt appropriate in every situation. It was lightweight and easy to carry, even when we were walking around all day. I loved all the outside pockets for stashing my sunglasses, phone, and mask. I am a summer, and the color Dawn (navy) worked perfectly with my wardrobe.

  6. I have the Madewell leather tote in English Saddle and it is a nice looking purse. It is a bit stiff and scratches easily, but can be polished out.
    I hadn’t thought of switching out the strap for a canvas one so thank you for the suggestion.

  7. I also love designer bags and they last forever. My favorite travel bags are a nylon Prada and several Tumi handbags. Love the compartments in the Tumi. I have Jimmy Choo, LV, Gucci and more. When I travel to Florence, I always pick up a Gucci as the designer bags are so much cheaper than U.S. it is common to see tourists with small rolling luggage putting their purchases in them to take home.

  8. I’m very happy with the Nat&Nin bag I purchased in Paris last year. They also have a US web site. I think their bags are very practically designed and durable, while being stylish enough and at a reasonable price point for me. I like the little touches like a card holder for your transit pass.

    1. Agreed on Nat & Nin. Good quality at a reasonable price and stylish. I live in France and the brand is popular here. Another good French bag brand is Lancaster ( even though the name doesn’t sound very French!

  9. You asked what I look for in an everyday bag. In no particular order, because all these matter…It must be light. Carrying weight makes my shoulders ache. Rugged. I cannot be bothered with a bag that I have to worry about. It has to be able to be rained on and snowed on and fall onto the car floor. Dimensions. I am short so the overall height (bag plus handles) has to be such that I can carry it in my hand with my arm down and not have it touch the ground. And the handles have to be just the right length so I can move it up onto my shoulder with one hand. With many bags the distance between the top of the bag and the top of the handles is too short. My elbow has to fit through. Roomy. I need to be able to pop in a collapsible umbrella, a couple of little items I buy while running errands, receipts, a reusable shopping bag, sun glasses, reading glasses, keys, cards, phone, lip balm, my gloves and hat while I’m in the store. And no fussing. I can’t be bothered with having to meticulously place each item to make it fit. That said, I do like one zippered pocket for cards and phone and house keys. For colour, I like an accent since my clothes will probably be neutral and I can’t be bothered changing bags all the time. Red is a favourite. I use the same bag day in and day out. Suits me fine. I change from my everyday bag only for funerals and weddings and times I carry and evening bag.

    1. Gayle,
      I’m with you about the handles being long enough to move onto the shoulder with one hand! I call it my “elbow rule.” I have to be able to pick up the back with one hand and get it onto that shoulder without using the other hand! LOL!

  10. I love the Lo & Sons Pearl but find it a bit small for travel when you’re going to be out for the day and need to carry water, guidebook, wallet, phone, sunglasses. But the quality is excellent and I love the sleek look.

  11. I had a Madewell Transport tote a couple of years go and I found the quality to be very poor. The black leather was dyed and the color wore off quickly. Then the strap broke. I gave it away. I have had much better luck with my Hanna tote bag from UnoEth. I carry it almost every day and it’s held up beautifully.

  12. I bought a Longchamps vinyl city tote in Paris last summer and found it really practical for running errands; as I was by myself, I even had enough room for what I picked up at the market (including a bottle of wine).

    I do love the Pearl for everyday but am looking to replace it with something slightly roomier – I think I’m headed towards the Demelliers as I love their sleekness and the color selection (now, which one to choose?).

    Finally, let me second your recommendation of buying used bags. I just picked up a spectacular Mark Cross Grace Box bag in silvered python for about 25% of its original price; it’s in perfect condition! It’s the first but likely won’t be the last used bag that I buy.

  13. You got me hooked on Demellier, but that Pearl bag is a beauty too. I love it in red.
    I have many bags in different sizes, but you always have a favourite. Mind you, it depends a lot of the season (and the occasion of course).

  14. During the pandemic, I bought a Sidekick crossbody bag from Tom Bihn, everything is made in Seattle. It’s definitely what I call an outdoor aesthetic. It’s slightly smaller than the Pearl, lightweight and compartments for phone, eyeglass case, spare mask, keys, etc.

    I have a Pearl bag in Navy Saffiano; I agree with what Maire said upthread about having one compartment or perhaps 2 at most. Now lusting after the DeMellier bag.

    1. Thank you for sharing this. It’s not really Susan’s aesthetic, but it’s the kind of bag I lean toward most and I hadn’t heard of this brand before.

  15. That DeMellier bag may be exactly what I’ve been looking for – thank you for the introduction!

    I use the L&S Pearl on all my work trips, I love the convertibility. I use it as a crossbody during the day and then swap it to the shortest strap for a clutch look when I go out to dinner. It’s not quite as useful for long sightseeing walks, but it’s still more than paid for itself over the last five years.

  16. Jack Gomme a French designer is my go too, and I’ve converted many friends. The bags you feature are lovely but don’t work urbanites, in my opinion. Leather is too heavy when we walk 3-5 miles daily. Adjustable straps are really helpful.

  17. I am totally sold on sash bags. They are so not Susan’s aesthetic but they are out of California! Incredible to travel with, can be worn under a coat! Available in leather or a great faux leather and occasionally cloth. They probably appeal more to those who like a boho look but trust me they are workhorse bags. I hate cross body bags that bang on my hip and these are designed to sit flat like a…sash! No need to carry a wallet as the inside is tricked out so you don’t need to carry one. Just a great bag!! Especially for anyone with bad shoulders or if you feel vulnerable when shopping or travelling.

  18. I too have the L&S Pearl in saffiano, and while I like the look and I do use it, I agree that it’s a little small for everyday or travel use, particularly when carrying prescription sunglasses.

    Designer bags are just not my thing, so I focus my wardrobe budget elsewhere. I like Hobo bags a lot and have some that have lasted for ages. I sometimes like Fossil, and have a couple of summer bags from The Sak (on the more tailored end of their spectrum).

    1. Fossil bags are really high quality. I have a Fossil leather weekender bag that I have hauled all over the world and it’s still in perfect condition. Even the zippers have held up, which in m y experience are usually the first thing to go in bags & luggage.

  19. I heard about MZ Wallace on one of your travel posts some time ago. Now–I own two of them and absolutely love them. One is similar to the convertible tote you picture (has a different name on the website). I love it because my laptop will fit into it–perfect for travel. The other is much smaller, but surprisingly roomy. I am an MZ Wallace convert! One of my bags is navy and the other is black.

  20. An additional comment–Your link to the MZ Wallace bag is to the Small Sutton Deluxe. It is ALSO made in a medium size–and that is the size I have and love–into which my laptop will fit. It has an adjustable function which allows you to make the bag smaller when you want it smaller. It is the BEST travel handbag I have ever found. I also use it as an everyday bag.

  21. For ethically-made (and beautiful) bags, you might want to check out A Canadian company run by women.

    High quality and ethically-made (they work with a factory in Mexico where employment conditions are strictly monitored) so no slave-labour bags.