The first thing we put away last March were bags. Handbags, shoulder bags, top-handle bags, whatever your preferred bag happened to be, suddenly you had no use for it.
Heels fell out of favour, but handbags crashed and burned, and some of us who generally like a backpack thought they might never return.
We were wrong. It turns out bags give women pleasure, even if they’re impractical, and we hadn’t fully appreciated the many benefits of the new kid on the block — the crossbody bag (CBB). Whether it’s purse-sized and hanging on a chain or bigger with a top handle and long strap, the CBB has elbowed every other bag out of the frame and now looks like the smart buy for summer.
British style expert Shane Watson, shared advice for embracing the crossbody bag trend this season. Pictured: Agyness Deyn with her Jil Sander bag
It has several things going for it. For a start it’s 100 per cent hands-free, unlike a shoulder bag or a tote which requires hitching up or gripping under your arm. This makes it ideally suited to our post-corona world where we all want to be less encumbered and more self-contained. Better still, a crossbody bag can make an outfit — and we’re not just talking about adding the finishing flourish.
The CBB plays its part, like a belt or a scarf, only more so. On one of those warm days in March I spotted a woman crossing the park in a tiered white dress with a yellow bag slung across it.
Just like that, the bag gave her look a zippy contemporary edge. Without it, the dress would have seemed too whimsical and white.
The bag sharpened up the dress, broke up the white and anchored the breezy silhouette. That’s a lot of benefits from a bag the size of a bag of sugar. For something similar you might try Mango’s yellow flap bag (£19.99, mango.com).
Since then I keep noticing all the things a CBB can do. A punchy coloured one slung across a plain tailored coat gives it dash and a hint of military swagger. A classic navy blazer and jeans look fresh worn with a burnt orange CBB (£39.99, myexquisiteshop.com).
And a puffy pink blouse, trapped under the cross strap of a red bag (£42, oliverbonas.com), looks twice as interesting.
These bags don’t have to be bright, but they are a super-easy way of adding a pop of colour, or clash, where you need it. And after the year we’ve had, no one is rushing out to buy a sensible handbag in black.
HANDBAGS: NEW RULES
- Go for colour or, if in doubt, olive or white.
- Get a detachable webbing strap in a pattern.
- Clash your bag strap with your clothes.
- Keep it roughly A5 size.
Zara does a plaited leather CBB in bright blue or yellow (pictured bottom row, £55.99, zara.com). If you prefer a chain strap, Essentiel Antwerp has a chain bag in green or hot pink (£130, essentiel-antwerp.com) and Accessorize has a compact style in pink, red and yellow (£17, accessorize.com).
With a CBB it’s all about the strap. So much so that many straps are now detachable, allowing you to switch them according to your outfit.
Whistles does a good soft pouch bag (£129, whistles.com) with an outside pocket that comes in seven colours with seven different webbing strap options.
If you want endless choice, head to Meg and Bee; the label does a huge selection of webbing straps in everything from Aztec patterns to camouflage (£20, megandbee.co.uk) to go with its neat pouch bags in 17 colours.
All are adjustable, so you can wear your bag under your ribs or low on your hip. I like the red and green stripe strap (quite Gucci) with the olive leather bag. Olive is a good place to start if you generally go for black or tan, and white is a no-brainer for summer, especially with a contrasting patterned strap.
Size is important. Between 18 and 22 centimetres wide is the sweet spot. You don’t want a big satchel clunking on your hip, nor do you want a minibag.
There’s every kind of shape out there, but a simple zip-up pouch or camera bag will look neatest. Oliver Bonas has a camera bag in a choice of four colours (£46, oliverbonas.com). Otherwise a small buckled flap bag, such as Mango’s in chestnut (£35.99, mango.com) is a classic, and you can swap the strap for something racier.
Alternatively, it does a baguette style with two straps — one short, one crossbody — in poison green (pictured top row, £19.99, mango.com). This is a style that’s all about flexibility, whatever works for you. Let’s have some fun with it.