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It’s always a good time to buy a bag. At a minimum, shopping the staple is a mood booster. And at maximum, pulling the trigger on a piece that’s intended to tote essentials around town is also a practical move.
Enter: The shoulder bag, a hands-free carry-all that you can pull onto one shoulder, with no limit on size or shape to hold any item that you deem essential. Of course, not all shoulder bags are created equal, and the key to finding the right one has to do with both your personal style and sense of comfort.
“I think the key to a shoulder bag is that it needs to comfortably fit on your shoulder,” says fashion expert and illustrator Jenny Walton, who, prudently enough, looks for shoulder bags that will fit effortlessly over her outerwear. “I have a lot of big coats that in the winter it’s hard to carry shoulder bags with because the armhole of the coat is just too low. And there are few things worse than a shoulder bag that constantly slips off of your shoulder.”
Through our research, testing, and conversations with experts—including Walton and fellow street stylers Alyssa Hardy, Iman Hariri-Kia, and Sophia Cohen—we were able to determine the best shoulder bags on offer this year and detail some advice on how to care for your wider collection of handbags.
For Byrdie’s roundup of the best shoulder bags, read on.
Meet the Expert
- Jenny Walton is a fashion director and illustrator based in Milan. She graduated from Parsons School of Design with a degree in Fashion Design and has worked with brands like Pretty Ballerinas, Kate Spade, and Miu Miu.
- Alyssa Hardy is a fashion journalist. She has held editorial positions at Teen Vogue and InStyle and is the author of “Worn Out,” which is expected to be released in fall 2022.
- Iman Hariri-Kia is a writer and the Deputy Editor of Her Campus. Her debut novel, “A Hundred Other Girls,” was published in August 2022.
- Sophia Cohen is a New York City-based blogger and influencer under the name Soco. She has worked with fashion retailers like REVOLVE.
Best Overall: Gucci Horsebit 1955 Shoulder Bag
Introduced for Cruise 2020, the Gucci Horsebit 1955 bag was recreated from an archival design. The flap shoulder bag features the signature horse-bit detail and a special snap-button mechanism that allows you to adjust the length of the strap to carry it as a shoulder bag or convert it to a cross-body bag. “This is kind of your perfect bag size because it’s not too big or too small—[it's] just right,” says Walton, who prefers the solid red, brown, or corduroy versions of the bag.
Material: Leather and microfiber | Dimensions: 9.8 x 3.1 x 7 inches | Drop: Can be adjusted from 9.8 to 17.7 inches
Best Budget: JW PEI Gabbi Bag
Celebrities are obsessed with this budget pick, and frankly, it’s not hard to see why. The bag is designed by AAPI-owned brand JW Pei, is sustainably made from recycled plastic bottles, and is very easy to wear. It has storage for all of your essentials, like a cardholder, a phone, some lipstick, and a set of keys. It also has a magnetic closure, so you don’t have to worry about items flying out or a zipper getting jammed. At around $80, we wouldn’t blame you for stocking up in a slew of colors that have been seen on the likes of Emily Ratajkowski, Gigi Hadid, and Megan Fox.
Material: Vegan leather and faux suede | Dimensions: 9.6 × 2.4 × 4.7 inches | Drop: 5.1 inches
Best Classic: Prada Cleo Brushed Leather Shoulder Bag
The Prada Cleo bag is based on an archival design from the ’90s. Its sleek curved lines and sturdy brushed leather make for an ultra-modern hobo bag that you can team with anything. While the exact drop isn’t listed anywhere online, Walton confirms that it fits comfortably over the shoulder, even with thick outwear. “The strap is a little longer [than Prada’s Re-Nylon] and the top of the bag shape curves [downward],” she says.
Material: Leather | Dimensions: 10.7 x 2.4 x 8.7 inches
Best Contemporary Classic: Celine Triomphe Shoulder Bag
For a contemporary take on a classic pochette bag, there’s Triomphe by Celine. The small flap shoulder bag has an understated, elegant motif that blends in and stands out, without contradiction, to complement virtually any look.
Material: Leather and canvas | Dimensions: 8 x 2 x 4 inches | Drop: 8 inches
Most Versatile: Telfar Medium Shopping Bag
Telfar bags are the affordable “it bags” of the moment, and it’s no wonder why. Coined by the brand as “an everyday bag for everyone,” it’s roomy enough to fit all the essentials that a tote bag would, like a laptop, a wallet, and eyeglasses. Hariri-Kia says she has one in navy and loves wearing it over a giant coat, with trousers, sneakers, and a baseball cap to run errands.
Material: Faux leather | Dimensions: 15 x 5 x 11.25 inches | Drop: 5.5 inches
Best Vegan: Nanushka Valerie Bag
Vegan brand Nanushka makes the perfect shoulder bag that you can wear guilt-free. Its angular silhouette, gentle ruching, and knotted top handle encapsulate the ready-to-wear label’s modern-bohemian approach to fashion design.
Material: 60% polyurethane, 40% polyester | Dimensions: 13 x 2.5 x 6.5 inches | Drop: 7 inches
Best Leather: Gucci Jackie 1961 Small Leather Shoulder Bag
Jackie is a leather bag, but not just any leather bag. Like the horsebit, the hobo style has a place of honor in the heritage label’s history, being that it first was its first hobo bag and a favorite of Jackie O. (As its name suggests, it originated in 1961.) But perhaps most significantly, at least for the purpose of this description, Jackie transcends time and trends as a classic leather buckle bag that would make the drabbest outfit look polished and chic.
Material: Leather and microfiber | Dimensions: 14 x 1.8 x 9.8 inches | Drop: 7 inches with an additional 20.5-inch handle
Best Beaded: Staud Tommy Beaded Bag
A great beaded bag, like this style from Staud, will bring you compliments left and right. Though, perhaps the best part is that it won’t cost you more than $250. “I think the Staud shoulder bag is an amazing middle-tier option,” Cohen says. “The shape is perfect and they come in all different colors and prints depending on your style.”
Material: Glass and rayon | Dimensions: 10 x 2 x 5.5 inches | Drop: 9.5 inches
Best Croc-Embossed: BY FAR Mini Rachel Croco Embossed Leather
BY FAR is a cool and affordable brand that specializes in sleek ’90s-inspired shoes and accessories you can’t help but love. Since it was founded in 2016, the brand’s printed leather pieces have pervaded social media and become celebrity staples—Kendall Jenner and the Hadid sisters are just a few who have been photographed carrying a mid- or mini-size version of the croc-embossed shoulder bag, the latter of which the brand promises is just big enough to fit an iPhone.
Material: Leather and cotton | Dimensions: 7.5 x 1 x 3.5 inches | Drop: 5.5 inches
Best Slouchy: Bottega Veneta Teen Jodie Shoulder Bag
Bottega Veneta’s Teen Jodie is a splendidly luxurious statement bag that combines innovative design and fine Italian craftsmanship. It features the brand’s signature “intrecciato” detailing of finely woven leather strips on the style’s slouchy silhouette.
Material: Lambskin and calfskin leather | Dimensions: 14.2 x 5.1 x 8.3 inches | Drop: 7.1 inches
Best Moto: Balenciaga Neo Classic Small HandBag
As Vogue’s Liana Satenstein reported in September 2021, Balenciaga’s motorcycle bag is back in style. And really, it isn’t hard to see why; like your favorite vintage moto jacket, it’s defined by studs and zippers, with a relaxed leather construction that lends itself to wearing well over time. Make use of the whipstitched top handles to wear the bag on the crook of your arm, or sling it over your shoulder using the longer, detachable shoulder strap. For a more sleek and polished look, try the croc-effect leather version.
Material: Leather | Dimensions: 13 x 6 x 8 inches (small) | Drop: 19.5 inches
Best Nylon: Prada Re-Nylon Re-Edition 2000 Mini-Bag
In line with many designers’ reinterpretation of archival accessory designs, Prada’s Re-Edition 2000 mini bag makes us nostalgic for decades past. Though, unlike the old model, this version is made from recycled materials, so you can feel even better about your purchase. A die-hard Prada fan, Walton says she uses this bag in the summer, as it’s too difficult to slip over a coat in colder months.
Material: Nylon from recycled materials | Dimensions: 8.5 x 2.5 x 7 inches
Best Sequined: Simon Miller Sasi Bag in Silver Sequin
An elevated version of the infamous sequined hobo bag that graced the aughts is reborn via the Sasi bag by Simon Miller. Its chic silhouette is emboldened with a leather strap and circular metallic sequins that together make it the ultimate party accessory.
Material: Plastic, polyurethane, and leather | Dimensions: 10 x 6 x 1.4 inches
Best Minimalistic: The Row Terrasse Leather Bag
The Row specializes in basics that are luxurious yet functional. This is essentially why Walton loves the brand’s grained leather bag; the tubular straps fit very comfortably over the shoulder. And given its simple construction, the style teams well with just about anything.
Material: Leather | Dimensions: 13 x 7 x 8 inches | Drop: 29 inches
Best Pink: Jacquemus Le Grand Chiquito Handbag
Jacquemus’ Chiquito flap bag will feed your desire for a visual splash of rosé. The super structured form is crafted from smooth leather and complete with a circular top handle and a long, flexible shoulder strap for versatility.
Material: Leather | Dimensions: 9 x 3.5 x 6.7 inches | Drop: 21 inches
What to Look for in a Shoulder Bag
Consider how much you’d like to fit into your shoulder bag as a way to inform your buying decision. If you’re only interested in a bag that will hold small essentials like a cardholder, gum, and lipstick, then a pochette would suit you well. For any larger items, you’ll need to opt for a roomier bag that will hold whatever it is you have in mind, be it an iPad, cosmetic bag, or water bottle.
As Walton suggests, it’s also important to take note of what you’d wear with your prospective handbag. If it’s wintertime, and you’re wearing a mix of oversized wool toppers and puffer coats, you’ll need a bag with a bigger drop or longer length between the top of the handle and the zipper.
How do you care for a handbag?
Whether you’ve made a designer investment or opted for something very affordable, your handbags are worthy of TLC. Doing so will extend the life span of the piece, which is the most ideal scenario.
“For starters, make sure you don't leave anything like crumbs or pens in the bag and use a microfiber cloth to wipe it down when you're done using it,” says Hardy, who learned how to care for her handbags through sellers like Rebag and Fashionphile. “My tip is to put lipstick in a little plastic baggy or something sealed so you don't accidentally get [it] all over the beautiful lining.”
“I try to stuff purses with tissue paper when I'm not using them to retain their shape,” Hariri-Kia says. She, Hardy, and Walton suggest keeping the pieces in dust bags to shield them from the elements.
Can you restore a luxury handbag?
Why Trust Byrdie
Hayley Prokos is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor focused on fashion and lifestyle. She contributes regularly to Byrdie’s commerce section and has a passion for sourcing chic and practical pieces with long-term wearability. After hours of researching and chatting with our experts, she’s gathered enough insight to determine which bags are worth investing in.