Ask V: The Everyday Handbag

“Hey V, we’re going to be in Paris soon. Where should we go?” “Yo V, I’m coming to SF in two weeks. Where should I eat?” “V, I’m planning a birthday for my friend. Any ideas for what to do?”

Answers? I got ’em! Here’s the deal: In real life and Internet life, I’m often asked questions about where to eat, what to see (especially in SF), where to shop, how to cook, tips for entertaining, and more. I also get asked questions about work, marriage, therapy, all that good real life shit too. I thought it might be helpful to start sharing the questions friends ask, and writing about them here. So today, I’m excited to kick off a new series called Ask V. Think of it as the local advice column around these parts. If you have a question, lay it on me! You can comment below, or shoot me an email whenever:

Today’s inaugural column features a question from L, who messaged me last week with the following (and who cemented my idea for this new series!):

V, My nearly 5 year old Kate Spade is finally showing its age, so I’m looking for a good, classic handbag. Max budget of $500. Tote or a satchel style. Must have zip closure. Neutral as I never switch handbags. Large enough to hold a Kindle Paperwhite and a pouch for the million lip products I never seem to take out of my purse. The pouch doesn’t have to come with the bag, I just need room for it. Any good recs?

Ok, L, here’s where I landed:

V’s Notes

First things first. I’ll admit, L, this search was a challenge and tougher than I had anticipated! Finding neutral colors is easy enough, sure. But with current trends, a top zip tote or satchel that can also be dressed up or down feels like a rarer jewel indeed (you’ve probably noticed as you’ve been shopping around, but we’re deep in straw bag territory at the moment). And I feel you—if you’re the type of person who likes to find a handbag you love and then use it every day (for five years!), then picking something that’s classic is key. I’ve selected a mix of true totes and satchels; many have top zips, but I’ll cop to it, some rely on magnetic closures, flap closures, or a few interior zip pockets which I figured could be utilized to keep your stuff secure. If you carry a ton of stuff, a few of these bags are on the smaller side. But here, I also assumed you might not always carry your Kindle with you, and like something that felt a little daintier. A few options veer more casual too, if you simply need a workhorse bag. Here are some additional notes on my faves:

1. So here’s a perfect example of a bag that won’t close, but I was completely struck by. It’s from an up and coming accessories designer named Haerfest (pronounced Harvest), and if you’re into modern, clean lines like me, this baby is gorgeous. I love that you can use the shorter handles to carry the tote as a handbag, and the longer loops—which look really structural—can also be worn as shoulder straps. Bonus: the tote comes with its own pouch, and is available in 7 colors. Shop it here.

2. We talked mostly about totes and satchels when you asked me this question initially, but have you considered a hobo? When done right, I love this shape because it can feel very casual and relaxed, but with the right outfit, dressy and sophisticated. Option E is one pretty version (that long tassel is a pretty detail!); I also really love Option X.

3. Have you ever heard of the tote company Dagne Dover? About a month after I got to New York, they launched and I attended a big party for their unveiling. What I remember about the bags is how functional they are—these are a good option if you just need to carry a lot of shit around with you (laptop, water bottle, the works). The bags can fit a ton of stuff and come in a larger size and medium size too. One caveat: I seem to recall them being quite heavy, but the reality is that if you’re carrying around a laptop on the reg, you’re probably used to this. My friend Hitha really likes this brand, so check out her posts if you wanna see more of the bags in action.

4. Hi, have we met? You know I couldn’t resist putting in some really structural, modern options. I’m guessing this cognac tote will be a little too avant garde for any everyday bag, but isn’t it pretty? It has a zipper top! But really, I hadn’t seen anything quite like it. The other option which doesn’t have a zip top but I can vouch for as a surprisingly versatile bag is Oliveve’s Zoe tote. I have this bag in navy. It’s small enough to feel dainty but it fits a surprising amount of stuff. It also comes with a strap so you can wear it as a crossbody when you’re out and about. Shop more colors here.

5. We have to talk about Cuyana obviously. Have you ever tried their stuff? I don’t have a handbag from them, but I do have a wallet and I love it. It’s held up beautifully over several years. Cuyana offers several zip-top options, like this tote, this hobo, and this small carryall. These options are a little slouchier (read: more casual), but that might work for you? They also have a more structured work tote which always reminds me of Saint Laurent’s Sac de Jour. Great if you need to cart around a computer and more stuff generally.

6. This is an example of a non-zip top bag that I thought might still be a great option, because it offers two interior zip compartments. Add in your own pouch, and I think your stuff will be pretty secure! I have to say, if you’re into the saffiano leather look, Tory Burch or Kate Spade easily had the most options right now.

7. This is a super casual option, but I really love MZ Wallace’s totes. I have a small version of the Metro tote, and I use it all the time. It’s an awesome gym bag, beach bag, travel bag, grocery store bag…the list goes on! It’s easily washable, can fit a TON of stuff, comes with lots of interior compartments, and its own pouch. This version of the bag shown above is newer than mine, and comes with one feature I don’t have: the crossbody strap! I’ve had my tote from them for probably 4 years now, and it looks perfect.

8. Madewell’s Transport Tote is pretty well known at this point, but did you know they make a zip top version that also comes with a crossbody strap? If you need a simple, classic leather tote bag, this is a great option at a good price point!

9. Ok, so I’ll admit, this is my super selfish pick. I came across handbag maker Polène in my searches for you, L, and I’m OBSESSED. This bag doesn’t have a zip top, but it does have a secure flap which covers the contents of your bag. It comes in a TON of colors and different materials, and gah, it’s just so pretty. I love how easy and elegant it is. Plus, it has a crossbody strap! I’m kinda considering ordering it in the tan color…or maybe grey…or maybe sand…or classic black. If I had to get a new handbag right this second under $500? This would be my pick.


Hey friends, do you have a handbag rec for L? Comment below if you’ve seen anything recently that you think fits the bill for her! And don’t forget you can ask a question about style, food, music, career, life—anything!—and I just might answer it in the next Ask V column!

Shop the Bags

A. Loeffler Randall Dome Tote    ·    B. Haerfest Eva Tote    ·    C. Polène Numéro Trois Bag    ·    D. Theory West Mini Tote   ·    E. All Saints Kepi Leather Shoulder Bag    ·    F. Cuyana Small Hobo Bag    ·    G. Dagne Dover Classic Tote    ·    H. Ted Baker Anabel Satchel    ·    I. Ted Baker Bowsiia Bowler Bag    ·    J. MLoyve Flex Hobo Bag    ·    K. Oliveve Zoe Tote    ·    L. Cuyana Top Zip Satchel    ·    M. Tory Burch McGraw Triple Compartment Satchel     ·    N. Tory Burch Robinson Small Tote    ·    O. Kate Spade Cameron Street Lane Satchel    ·    P. Cuyana Small Carryall Tote    ·    Q. MZ Wallce Sutton Tote    ·    R. Madewell Ziptop Transport Tote    ·    S. Kate Spade Cameron Street Sally Tote    ·    T. Brahmin Melbourne Embossed Leather Satchel    ·    U. Madewell O-Ring Satchel    ·    V. Polène Numéro Un Satchel    ·    W. Cuyana Work Satchel    ·    X. Barney’s New York Slouchy Hobo


  1. 5.1.18
    Amanda said:

    BEST blog post ever! Thank YOU!

    • 5.1.18
      Victoria said:

      You’re welcome! I’m so happy it helped you :)

  2. 5.1.18
    Cory said:

    That Polene bag is beyond gorgeous. Thank you (I think?!?!) for introducing me to that brand.

    • 5.1.18
      Victoria said:

      Haha, that’s exactly how I felt when my friend asked me to send her a bunch of recs!! :)

  3. 5.1.18
    Victoria said:

    Major PSA update, friends! I just got an email from Cuyana that they’re about to restock their Tote Organization insert. You can put this into their Classic Leather Tote, Classic Structured Leather Tote, and Classic Leather Zipper Tote and it provides extra pockets to organize all your stuff. Sign up to waitlist it so you’ll get an email when they restock it! They said the last time it came back in stock, it sold out in 24 hours:

  4. 5.1.18
    shane said:

    Great post! Cuyana is definitely a great line. I can’t wait for their circle bag to come back in stock.

    Is Dagne Dover legit? I get served their insta ads all.the.time.

    Interesting tips on the rest – I have a weird thing with bags. I hate when they’re $$$ and made in china. It just bugs me. If I’m going to pay $$$ for a fancy bag, I want it to be made by either artisans or ethically. Is that snobby of me? Speaking of ethically-created bags, I also like the Everlane Petra.

    • 5.1.18
      Tammy N said:

      Yes! Dagne is great. I have their slim wallet and used to own their classic tote. The reason I stopped using my tote was because it was too heavy. They also expanded their line to include pouches, backpacks, and crossbodys.

    • 5.2.18
      Victoria said:

      Thanks, for your thoughtful comment @Shane! For the China thing: I’m mixed on this too and totally get what you’re saying. These days, for clothing at least, I don’t necessarily rule out “Made in China” as a deal breaker. After all, companies like Everlane are working with many Chinese (and other East Asian) factories and ensuring good working conditions and high quality clothing/other goods. Even if great quality materials are sourced in Europe, and then crafted in China, that doesn’t *always* bother me, depending on the company, the brand story, and the product. All that being said, I get where you’re coming from about high end accessories! But, speaking of Everlane, their bags are great too AND crafted in Italy (just definitely not zip top, so I decided to forgo for my friend!).

      Aside: I also wonder if sometimes we’re sold the romantic idea of the artisan in some Italian or Parisian workshop. Sure, it exists, but I wonder if it’s the exception versus the rule as far as European craftsmen go. I often think about when I (briefly) worked in the wine industry, how wineries sell the idea of the sunsets and the dog running through the vineyard and all that. When it comes to winemaking though, it’s not really like that at all!

      @Tammy Thanks for the Dagne rec! Interesting that their totes are still pretty heavy; I think they’ve received this feedback a lot. That’s really the only “bad” thing I hear about them. Otherwise, people seem to adore their functionality!

  5. 5.1.18
    Lisa said:

    So many good options! The Polène bags are gorrrrrgeous.

  6. 5.1.18
    Tammy N said:

    This series looks awesome!!! Excited to see more features. I absolutely love that your shared a diverse group of brands.

  7. 5.2.18
    Ristina said:

    Great post, V! A question for you: how to make a feature wall for your home? I have this huge unutilized wall in my apartment (in the dining area) and I’d like to decorate it. Painting and picture frames sound cool but I’m not sure how to start. Help!

    • 5.2.18
      Victoria said:

      Ooh, I have some ideas for you! Stay tuned…

  8. 9.21.18
    Grace Taylor said:

    Hi! I just found your blog via this post and your aesthetic is gorgeous. I’m considering purchasing a Polene bag but in a color. Any favorites? Red? Mustard? Green? I’d love your opinion. Thanks!

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