Wardrobe bootcamp: how to find the best everyday handbag

Editor’s note: This is regular series in which we help Styling You readers solve a particular wardrobe or clothing crisis with a little advice and some shopping suggestions. If you think you’d like to be considered as part of a Wardrobe Boot Camp post, then please email me (nikki@stylingyou.com.au) with a couple of photos and a brief run down of what specific help you would like.

Nardia is a regular reader here at Styling You. She’s returned to work after maternity leave and is on a new quest to find the best everyday handbag that can work for her on the corporate frontline as well as when out with her baby. She’s currently using three bags and wants to streamline that down to one.

Nardia and Billie

The plea

Since returning to work two months ago after seven month’s maternity leave, I have been on a quest to find the ultimate everyday handbag. I have handbags (many, many, many handbags) but I’m finding that all my favourites are now all too small to be able to transition from a corporate handbag to one that becomes filled with the needs of my bubba.

We’re a pretty low maintenance pair and I normally only take the bare necessities when we’re out and about anyway but sometimes I find having to take my wallet, keys etc from my “work” bag to throw into my nappy bag just another task that my poor brain can’t cope with (because it is true that baby brain sticks around long after the baby has arrived!). This results in trips down the street sans wallet or phone or nappies etc.

I prefer a slouched/style (ie not rigid), oversized bag so there is plenty of room for the extras like a hundred pens, trillion lip glosses, dozen USB sticks, couple of moisturisers, a magazine etc – you know, all the important stuff :).

I’m not into fads but am into unique elements that make the bag stand out a bit. Once upon a time I was the fad queen, but these days, quality is key. I’d rather pay a couple of hundred dollars for a quality bag that will still be stylish in a few years than go for the gorgeous new fad (as much as I might love it).

I want a beautiful quality piece that will last me a while, be all that I need and be able to reflect my personality somewhat. Surely that’s not too much to ask for!

These are the bags I’m currently using (see below):

1. Oi Oi Nappy bag: I really love this nappy bag. And when I know I’m out for the day on my day off or on the weekend it’s perfect. It’s big enough for what I need (I don’t use the change mat or bottle warmer which take up most of the space!), has a long strap to fling across my body if I’ve got my arms full and it’s a little bit different in colour than some of the more traditional style of nappy bag. But it’s not very corporate or practical for work.

2. Red KK bag: I bought this bag online on a whim thinking it was a lot bigger than it is. I don’t like it because the top opening is quite small – a real pet hate of mine! I tend to ditch the long shoulder straps on my work bags, but I definitely need enough room to be able to have the carry straps on my shoulder. Am a huge fan of colour but am also very fussy. In hindsight, this bag is not really me at all.

3. Black Jendi bag: This was given to me by a girlfriend for Christmas and I LOVE it. I sometimes fly from regional Victoria to Melbourne for day meetings and it’s the perfect size for an A4 notebook, a few files, a laptop or ipad and my personal items. It is also great as an overnight bag too (If I have to stay overnight, I use this as the overnight bag and take another handbag). I went to Melbourne about three weeks ago for a meeting and used this bag and couldn’t bear to revert back to the KK bag. The downsides – the tab over the top is really inconvenient on a day-to-day level. Without the files and laptop/ipad in there, it’s very cavernous and empty! Plus it’s very rigid which makes it seem even bigger (that said, I have walked to the supermarket in my lunch break and fit some baby wipes, a can of formula, a pumpkin, some carrots and zucchini and a couple of cans of tuna in there without having to carry a shopping bag back to work – LOL!). I’ve just got into patent leather recently, but even after a few uses, I’m seeing scuff marks and chips in the base which means it’s not going to last particularly long. I do love this bag, but again, it’s not what I want for an everyday bag.

Three bags

The tips

1. Searching for the perfect everyday bag can seem like an impossible mission. I claim I’m still trying to find The One … but that could be to justify ongoing handbag purchases ;). The good news for Nardia is that she’s only made one purchase that didn’t suit her needs. She can put that bag in storage until her baby is at school and she’s looking for an easy bag for the weekend – one that’s distinct from her Monday-Friday option.

2. Make a list of all the ideal components of your perfect everyday bag. Nardia’s reads: Slouchy, oversized, plenty of room for extras, quality, easy opening, straps that can go over her shoulder, something with some personality. Also take stock of what you actually want to fit into your bag everyday. Does it need to fit a tablet or laptop?

3. Measure up an existing bag that you’re happy with as a guide to finding a replacement online or in store. I need an everyday bag to have a width greater than 30cm but maximum of 42cm as then it’s getting into overnight bag territory and that’s a whole other purchase altogether.

4. Nardia’s Jendi bag will still come in handy for those trips away, so I’d hang on to that because I think if you travel you do need two types of bags – the one you carry each day and the one that has to work a little harder if you’re on the road. This My Best Friend is a Bag leather tote bag works for me when I travel as it perfectly handles all my stuff plus has a laptop compartment built in.

5. Buy the best your budget can afford. The word everyday means that it will be used everyday. That’s a lot of wear and tear. And a lovely cost-per-wear ratio.

6. Opt for a wide opening bag that also includes external and/or internal storage options. This minimises the handbag rummage when looking for a lipgloss or keys.

8. Beware of heavy hardware on your bag. I’ve been caught out with a new everyday bag weighing a tonne once I’d put my stuff in because it was already quite a weight in itself.

9. Want your bag to stand out from the crowd? Design your own. The Bag Department lets you choose the colours and trims on its three available designs.

10. Look for bags like Il Tutto’s After Baby bag. This is a bag that meets your weekday needs but can also easily adapt for weekends when you need to carry extra bits for a baby or kids. Love the outside pockets.

11. Invest in a range of handbag liners. These make my bag switch very easy – I’m a big fan of the Borne Naked liners as you can see what’s in them. That way if you want to revert to the nappy bag at weekends and casual situations, it’s a matter of swapping over the insert filled with essentials.

The shopping

how to find the best everyday handbags

1. Il Tutto After Baby bag $349 | 2. Trenery satchel $186.75 (on sale) | 3. Country Road hobo $269 | 4. Mimco handbag $450 | 5. Borne Naked trio pack of liners $79.95 (on sale) | 6. The Bag Department (design your own) tote $350 | 7. My Best Friend is a Bag tote $160 (on sale) | 8. Witchery carry all $139.95 (on sale) | 9. Trenery tote $246.75 (on sale)

Have you found the perfect everyday bag? What would I find in your bag today? Any tips for Nardia and her quest to find one that works for her working week?

Review* I was gifted the Il Tutto After Baby bag for review purposes and will be giving one away in my June multi-draw giveaway. Stay tuned.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/boda.sj Boda Una SJ

    Hey Nikki….where do I find this red one in the middle (in the first lot of bags), please…..I feel it has my name written all over it….. :)

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      I’m not sure, that’s Nardia’s bag!

  • Sharon

    I looked for ages for my “perfect everyday” bag. Finally bought a leather bag from The Sak, it’s called the Deena. Sold as a cross body bag but I just wear mine as a shoulder bag. I am amazed at how much stuff I can get in this bag! Mine’s a muted yellow “dandelion” colour and it just goes with so many of my outfits. A lovely pop of colour or contrast. Lovely. I picked mine up at David Jones.

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      Sounds perfect!

  • Jemma

    They’re all lovely. Also have a look at louen hide bags, they’re Australian. I won one of their bags last year and love it, it gets lots of compliments and it has the perfect amount if pockets.

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      Great tip Jemma – they are indeed great bags!!

  • sarah

    oooh LOVE the Trenery satchel!

    do I need another tan tote in my life?????? I so do not :(

    great post, love a bag, just love them xxxx

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      Hee hee … never say never … just like soft furnishings x

  • http://themummyautobiography.com/ Miss Pink

    I just LOVE Ju Ju Be nappy bags. They are so pretty, and as a cloth diapering mother they really just had plenty of space, which was important!

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      Thanks for your recommendation Miss Pink!

  • http://twitter.com/26YearsCounting 26 Years & Counting

    I only just went through this myself! I had a list a mile long and actually found one I love.

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      You can’t tease us like that … share!

      • http://twitter.com/26YearsCounting 26 Years & Counting

        haha sorry I think that’s the second time I’ve done that to you in a week!! http://wp.me/p2d5RZ-fS

        • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

          well, you know how to lure me in!

  • Amanda – from Borne Naked

    I love Il Tutto bags, so stylish and you can still use them after they have done there baby duty. I will have to keep my eye out for your comp in June as I’m in the market for a great baby bag and being the handbag addict I am of course I’m fussy!

    AND thanks so much for including our Borne Naked bag liners/organisers too. :-)

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      How did I not know this?! Congrats Amanda!!

  • Alli @ ducks on the dam

    I have multiple bags and change them around. My current fave is a Country Road bag that my sis gave me. It doesnt fit my diary though which is a downside. I just needed to say to Nardia that I love that photo of you and your bubba. She is gorgeous

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      Isn’t it a gorgeous photo!?

    • SunnyNards

      Thank you Alli! We think she’s pretty gorgeous! :)

  • Janie at BfB

    Thanks for including our Navy Leather Tote. Great timing as we are on sale and its a whole lotta leather bag for $160! The great thing about our bags is what’s inside. Just like a best friend, its whats inside that counts! Don’t want to use this great discussion on what makes a fabulous handbag to sell our bags but….we took everything that we really wanted, and needed in a great handbag into account when we were designing our bags. We have a video on our website that shows the bags in action. Its really worth looking at to appreciate why your best friend is a bag!

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      Thanks Janie – I can so vouch for that!

    • Julie

      I have one of these bags and it is fantastic. I never use any of my others now. This one fits everything but most important, I can find everything! Thanks Janie.

      • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

        Great to hear Julie – I love mine too!

      • Janie at BfB

        I’m so thrilled you’re loving you BfB bag Julie. When you’re running your own business you sometimes feel like you’re in a vacuum. Great feedback makes it all worthwhile!

  • Cheekie

    I can vouch for the latest Mimco bag (#4) in black in a relaxed style for a bit of funk and Oroton anything as an investment piece (may cost a week’s wage but still got some from 20yrs ago)

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      That’s so true … spending more on a bag is easier to justify than most other wardrobe purchases. Buy right from the start and it can serve you well!

  • Lisa Mckenzie

    Ooh this post is right up my alley I am very fussy with bags hence only owning 3 bags that I love and use and they were expensive but like you say Nikki cost per wear:) I like mine slouchy and a soft leather and not much hardware and they ideally have to have a pocket on the outside for keys and a lipgloss,though I will compromise with a little key hook inside that you clip your keys on to, searching for car keys when your hands or the shopping trolley is full,nothing worse and also the strap that goes over your shoulder has to be the right length ,I can’t stand those bags that slip off your shoulder.I love number 2 and number 6 and 9 they are what I like a bag to look like,no stiff/rigid/ structured bags,I hate them! The Borne naked liners are great even if Nardia only puts her baby things in them,I own one I use it all the time.I do like Nardia’s current bags.I would recommend having a look at Madame Mooi handbags as they are beautifully made in lovely leathers and have pockets and last well and a nice lining ,they are my current faves.the bag Department looks like a winner too!

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      Thanks for your tips Lisa … love your bag connoisseur ways!

      • Lisa Mckenzie

        Thanks Nikki better to be a connoisseur than not use them!

  • H

    Oh dear – Nardia I see only one solution….. you’ll just have to make a trip to handbag heaven in the big smoke. Please don’t forget to take your SIL.

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      Hahahaha! She should!!

  • http://www.jfgibson.com.au/ Jodi Gibson

    Who doesn’t love a good handbag. I’m the type of person that could shop all day for handbags. Admiring their beauty, the different styles, gorgeous colours. I found my latest pick of all places in a surf shop! It’s really a really funky bag in a neutral colour and is just the right size.

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      I too could browse for handbags all day! The words “not another bag” get bandied around here a little too much!

  • Flickster

    Love this article Nikki, my advice is also to make sure you treat your leather bag THE SECOND you get home. Not after the first wear, etc etc. It will make your bag last much much longer.

    Give it a good go over with a leather moisturiser and waterproofer, especially on the handle (both sides) where our greasy hands will make the handle all yuck. Most leathers are not treated before sale, so they look shiny and beautiful, but not very water resistant (except of course those shiny firm leathers with an obvious varnish.)

    I spent quite a bit of casholoa on a Mimco soft beautiful bag, and didn’t realise that the leather was incredibly porous. I still have it, but it looks a bit grubby, lesson learnt.

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      Oh, this is SUCH good advice. Just had similar question on the Facebook page and found this helpful advice on the Mimco site: http://www.mimco.com.au/product-care#LEATHER

  • KateB

    Ahha! So I bet I’m not the only mad-ster who pokes around handbag displays lifting them to assess their weight! Great advice as usual Nikki.

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      I’ve been burned once before. Never again. Was seduced by the “look” of the bag … then killed my shoulder every time I took it out!!

  • Kelly

    I went through this exact search a few months ago. I know it is not always possible but to be honest (when you are fussy like me) it really helps to touch and feel. Unless of course you can design your own. Love the suggestion about making a list of what you are looking for, it would make it a lot easier to put down that gorgeous bag that is not what you are looking for!! I ended up finding the two best options at David Jones. Good luck with the search.

    • http://www.stylingyou.com.au/ Nikki | Styling You

      I think it pays to be fussy when you need your everyday bag to work for you most of the week – glad you found two options ;)