Purse pro: Tips to picking 
out your next handbag

Black leather with muliple zips and pockets by Hobo Bags, $367, Main Paige, 542 Main St.

Woven vinyl Market Tote by Designs by Erika, $99, Main Paige, 542 Main St.

Glitter pink Ling wristlet by Nina, $26.95, Benge’s Shoe Store, 514 Main St.

Custom-made, Italian full-grain leather Joanna bag by Vin Baker, $348.95, Benge’s Shoe Store, 514 Main St.

Coral leather with laser-cut lattice by BUCO bags, $234, Main Paige, 542 Main St.

Leather Jillian backpack in raisin by Osgood Marley, $217.95, Benge’s Shoe Store, 514 Main St.

Glazed Italian leather Sadie hobo bag in cognac by Ellington Handbags, $216.95, Benge’s Shoe Store, 514 Main St.


Hot Handbags

■ Everyone’s loving the stylish backpack right now, said style consultant Ashley Martini. While fashionable, be thoughtful about when and where you wear it. If you’re in a city, some backpacks are easy targets for thieves.

“Personally, I think (the backpack) is more for someone who is going on a hike,” Martini said.

■ Oversized clutches also are popular. “Everyone is kind of over trying to fit everything into a tiny bag,” Martini said.

The larger clutches are functional for events and you don’t have to leave things behind, she said. Some come with a cross-body strap, so you can be hands-free and don’t have to leave your clutch on a table where it can “walk off.”

As you sashay down the sidewalk of life, put your hand in your purse to retrieve your cell phone and find instead that a blue pen has leaked all over the lining and everything else in your handbag.

That’s one way to get to purse heaven or hell.

Or you could watch helplessly as a drink spills down the side of your purse, creating a ruinous stain.

Or you realize one day that your handbag is just plain shabby. It has seen too many toddler hands and toys.

So, for one reason or another, you end up purse shopping.

For some, this is a delight. So many purses to choose from! Hurrah! Smell that supple leather, look at those bright colors!

For others, this could be a level of Dante’s “Inferno.” So many purses to choose from. Sigh. Should I commit to leather? Should I go with bright colors?

No matter where you fall, a purse accident is a good time to take a look at the handbag on your shoulder (or in the trash can).

“Your handbag is an extension of you and, in a way, a little sanctuary you can take with you anywhere,” said Ashley Martini, a Florida-based style consultant and founder of Martini Fashions (ashleymartini.com). Martini recently released the book “Styletini: Shake Up Your Style, Stir Up Your Confidence.”

A purse doesn’t need to be boring, but it does need to be functional, said Martini, who has done style consulting with business figures and celebrities across the country.

A handbag completes a look and, if you’re going to carry it every day, it should be a thoughtful purchase, Martini said. It also should be durable and make your life easier.

So, before you step out to shop, consider these tips from Martini for finding a fashionable and functional purse:

Size things up

A handbag needs to look proportional to your height and complement your body type. Be sure to look at yourself in the mirror while holding any purse you are considering purchasing.

If you are petite, “you don’t want to carry a bag you could fit in,” Martini said. Look for a small- to medium-sized purse. If you need something larger, go for a tote style.

If you’re plus-sized, look for a structured bag that will complement your curves, such as a structured bag with a top handle and a pattern with character, Martini said.

“I wouldn’t go with something slouchy,” she said.

Besides, on many people, the oversized, slouchy hobo bag looks sloppy. “The girls on the runway pull it off because they are tall and thin,” Martini said. “Most people can’t pull it off. It’s frumpy, not cute.”

Carry with purpose

A handbag’s shape must reflect its function. If you need to carry files or a tablet, shop for a tote or a messenger bag, Martini said.

Then consider getting a smaller purse — one that can hold your phone, cash and lip gloss — to tuck inside the larger handbag. If you need to meet someone for lunch, take the smaller purse.

The two handbags used together are multi-functional, Martini said, enabling you to be ready for various situations.

Consider the practical aspects of each purse you purchase. “If you’re spending more than a couple hundred dollars, make sure it’s something you’re going to use every day. It’s an investment,” Martini said.

If it is a handbag you’re not going to use all the time, or is only for the occasional evening out, then spend less, she said.

Rely on it

“For the everyday bag, go with leather or an exotic skin,” Martini said.

Those materials wear really well and longevity is something you want when splurging on a quality bag. When a handbag looks worn or overstuffed, it’s time to move on. “Bags with bulge aren’t cute,” Martini said.

But leather likely isn’t the material of choice for travel or farmers market outings. For those, consider a good-looking tote bag that can be used for errands or natural outdoor settings. Tuck in your wallet and the tote can transition to a casual dinner out.

Love that color

Durability is important, but so is color and patterns. Black, brown, taupe and gray are the basic purse colors to consider, and you’ll likely want more than one of those depending on what you’re wearing.

Profession also plays a part in purse color choice. Emphasize on your credentials, not your colorful handbag. In some professions, “the distraction can be too much. And perception is reality,” Martini said.

For example, if you’re a lawyer, you’ll probably want to want to stick to a neutral-colored, more structured bag for work, Martini said.

For other professions, more color and pop are OK. “By getting a print or color, it’s a way to show off your personality, a way to show off who you are,” Martini said.

But be mindful of your setting, and that includes evening events. “Make sure the evening bag complements whatever you’re wearing,” she said.

If you’re wearing a jeweled gown, carry a simple clutch. If you’re wearing a simple cocktail dress, carry a sparkly wristlet.

Color in a handbag is sexy, Martini said. So play it up when you can. Carry a red purse and coordinate with your lip color, she said.

A handbag is “an extension of you and something you take with you everywhere. It’s personal,” Martini said.


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