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How to Choose Purse Bag Handles

Posted on 18 July 2016

Whether you’re replacing the handles on an existing bag or creating a custom number, there are several factors to consider when choosing purse handles. The shape and style of the bag as well as its size will whittle down your choices considerably, while the color and material leave plenty of creative wiggle room. But no matter what, in the end, make sure that the finished bag will fit your lifestyle as well as your personal style.

Look at the Bag’s Shape

The shape of the bag plays the biggest role in what type of handles you should choose, but nothing is a hard and fast rule. More structured bags tend to look best with similarly structured handles – avoid soft, drapey straps; likewise, slouchy bags look best with more flexible handles. But this ‘matching’ method doesn’t apply across the board – bags with a more squared off shape look best with rounded handles, while rounder bags look best with flat handles and/or those with a squarer shape.

A semi-structured satchel style bag looks stunning with flexible handles.

Keep Proportions in Mind

Ideally, look for handles that are about one-third the height of the bag (this tends to be an easy, go-to proportion that’s always aesthetically pleasing). When a bag requires shorter handles, you can always add a shoulder strap to wear the piece cross body or sling it over your shoulder easier. Some bags look best with handles so short they only fit comfortably on the crook of your arm. In this case, an added strap can make the bag more functional.

Wide bags look sleek with shorter handles.

Determine the Best Material and Color

You’ll be hard pressed to find a separate handle that matches the color of the bag perfectly, unless you’re building a custom bag from scratch. But don’t worry – straps and handles do not have to match the material of the bag’s body. If you prefer a simpler look, stick with neutral handles: black, gray, white, or brown. In general, black looks best with cooler tone purses, like blue, green, and purple, while brown looks best with warmer tones – think orange, red, or yellow. That said, brown straps with a black or gray purse, or black straps with a beige number, look striking.

Match the handles to the bag’s trim for a seamless look.

White and gray go with just about anything, but keep cleanability in mind here – the handle gets the most use, so lighter shades will probably appear dingy if you don’t clean them often. And of course, you can always go bold with a colorful handle that coordinates with a colorful purse or pops against a neutral.

When it comes to the material of the handle, you can go classic by pairing leather with leather or canvas with canvas, but feel free to mix and match the two. Leather, faux or real, handles can make a basic fabric bag look more chic, while fabric or woven handles can make a leather or faux leather bag a bit more casual.

Consider Your Lifestyle

The finished look of the bag isn’t the only thing to consider – how you use your handbag is important, too. If you prefer to sling a bag over your shoulder, make sure the handle is big enough to do so comfortably. Likewise, if you prefer to carry your bag by hand or on the crook of your arm, you can get away with something shorter. If you tend to carry half of your personal belongings in your bag at any given time, look for sturdy straps: thick, well-made, and in a style that will be comfortable if it’s digging into your skin a bit. If you travel lighter, you have more leeway here – a daintier strap will typically do just fine.

Comfort is key – always consider how you like to carry your bag when choosing handles.

Quick Tips and Tricks

Don’t relegate yourself to basic cloth or leather. Unique handles make a purse stand out.

  • Always look at your bag’s hardware to make sure that the handles you’re choosing will work for the bag. 
  • Get material swatches or take the bag with you to look for new handles. This lets you see, in person, what the combinations you’re considering will look like in real life. 
  • Don’t be afraid to get creative. By choosing handles for your bag rather than letting a designer or manufacturer do it for you, you’re creating a one-of-a-kind piece. You don’t have to follow any rules: if you love the look of a floppy, bright yellow handle on a structured white leather bag, do it! 

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