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Small Purse and Handbag (A Complete Visual Guide)

A woman deciding which purse or handbag to use.

There’s a time and place for a large briefcase bag or work tote, but sometimes a small purse that has just enough room for the necessities is all you need. Whether you’re looking for a sparkly bag for a night out or a simple wristlet to use while you’re running errands, this visual guide to small purses and handbags shows you just how many options are out there.

1. Envelope Clutch

A close look at a woman carrying an envelope clutch.

An envelope clutch is a small flat purse that’s usually rectangular, but they can also be square. The main feature of this bag is the triangular flap that folds over the top of the purse, making it look like an envelope. The flap usually has a magnetic closure, but some use a stylish button or buckle instead.

This type of bag is carried in the hand, though they may also have a strap attached so they can be used as a wristlet. Some also have a delicate chain strap attached so that they can be carried as a shoulder bag.

A nice thing about envelope clutches is that their narrow design and small size make it easy to slip them into a larger back. Slip one into your briefcase or gym bag and pull it out when it’s time to go to happy hour.

2. Clutch Bag

A close look at a woman carrying a black leather clutch bag.

A clutch bag is similar to an envelope clutch in that they have no handle and are carried in the hand, but they come in a variety of shapes. Square and rectangular clutch bags are common, but you’ll also see them in circular or half-moon shapes. They’re made from a variety of materials and are often embellished with gems, glitter, or decorative stitching.

These bags are generally used for formal occasions and usually have a wrist strap or thin delicate shoulder strap attached. They’re generally meant to carry only a few essential things you would need at an event, like your cell phone, lipstick, ID, and keys.

3. Barrel Bag

A close look at a woman's barrel bag in red leather.

Barrel bags are shaped like duffle bags but are much smaller. They share the long, cylindrical shape and top handles and usually have a zipper closure, but they are not meant for carrying gym clothes or supplies for a weekend trip.

There are casual versions of this type of bag that are made of nylon, cotton, or polyester and look exactly like a mini duffel bag, but there are more stylish options available, too. You can find leather barrel bags as well as designs with cool embellishments and eye-catching details. Barrel bags can hold a little more than a clutch bag but are not in any way bulky.

4. Doctor’s Bag

A blue snakeskin doctor's bag.

These bags are styled to resemble old-fashioned doctor’s bags from back when physicians regularly made house calls and had to bring the essential equipment with them. They’re long with a flat bottom so they stay upright when you place them on a flat surface and have two large handles, one of either side of the mouth that come together.

The mouth of the bag features a collapsible frame that stays open when the handles are pulled apart. This made it easy for doctors to reach in and find what they needed quickly and comes in just as handy when you’re trying to find your keys.

5. Backpack Purse

A close look at a woman sporting a backpack purse.

This style of small purse is exactly what it sounds like, a purse that looks like a backpack. The main difference is the size. Regular backpacks are usually made of canvas or nylon and are used to carry books, gym gear, or even hiking equipment. A backpack purse is only large enough to carry your daily essentials, and they’re available in much more stylish materials.

Backpack purses have shoulder straps so that they can be carried on your back, which is useful in situations when you need both of your hands. The major inconvenience is that you have to remove the purse to get into it.

6. Duffel Bag

A close look at a red duffel bag.

Duffel bags come in all shapes and sizes. Small duffel bags are similar to barrel bags, but they’re not as structured. While barrel bags are often made of leather, duffle bags are commonly made out of cotton, canvas, or some other durable fabric. They feature a zippered closure, top handles, and shoulder strap. Many also have pockets on the outside.

Duffel bags are more about function than looks. Large duffel bags are often used to take clothes and shoes to the gym, but smaller options are more suited for regular daily use.

7. Crossbody Purse

A woman sporting a red leather crossbody purse.

This is a pretty broad category that overlaps with some of the other small purses in our guide, but a lot of women prefer crossbody purses, so it’s essential to point them out. Crossbody purses have a long shoulder strap that’s meant to be carried across the body, hence the name. This strap keeps the purse close and easy to access while keeping both hands free.

Some crossbody bags come with a removable strap so you can carry them in an alternate way. There are many styles available.

8. Baguette Bag

A close look at a tea green leather Baguette Bag.

Baguette bags are long, narrow, and thin. Typically, they have a flap that closes over the top of the bag and closes using a magnet or decorative buckle or snap. They’re available in a range of styles and are a nice alternative to a clutch.

The big difference between a baguette bag and a clutch is that baguette bags always have a strap, and it’s a lot more substantial than the delicate ones you might find on some clutches. The strap may be long enough to carry as a shoulder bag, or it may be shorter and carried in the hand.

9. Bucket Bag

A pink leather bucket bag with tussles.

Bucket bags are a little less formal than some of the other small purses we covered, but they’re stylish nonetheless. These bags got their name from their bucket shape. They have a solid, flat bottom for a bit of structure, but the sides are slouchy, which gives the style its informal appearance.

These bags usually close using a drawstring that pulls the mouth together. They’re carried with a long shoulder strap and can frequently be used as a crossbody bag.

10. Minaudiere Bag

A close look at a pearl white Minaudiere Bag.

Minaudiere bags are one of the most formal types of small purses out there. They have hard sides and a hinged frame and are usually round or boxed shaped. The sides are usually embellished with stones or other embellishments, and they can be quite elaborate. These clutch bags do not have a strap and are meant to carry only the essentials.

11. Saddle Bag

A woman sporting a white saddle bag.

Saddle bags are shaped like, well, horse saddlebags. They’re flat at the top and circular at the bottom and use a crossbody strap for carrying. Saddle bags have more structure than some other styles and don’t slouch or squish. Most are made of leather with metal hardware and decorative accents.

12. Satchel Purse

A pink leather satchel purse.

Satchel purses come in a wide range of sizes. Their defining feature is their structure. Satchel bags have a wide, flat bottom that stands upright and short, with wide handles for carrying. Some may also have a removable shoulder strap and can be carried crossbody.

These bags come in a wide range of materials but they are always sturdy. They don’t slouch or bend and so they’re good for carrying all kinds of things securely.

13. Messenger bag

A close look at a green linen Messenger bag.

Messenger bags are commonly thought of as a larger bag, but there are plenty of options available for women who prefer small purses. These bags are wide and thin and usually have a flap closure. They’re almost exclusively carried across the body and made with durable materials, like leather or waxed canvas.

A great thing about messenger bags is that they usually have multiple structured pockets on the inside. They’re great for staying organized.

15. Hobo Bag

A dark brown leather hobo shoes.

Hobo bags are crescent-shaped bags with short straps meant to be carried on the shoulder. They’re frameless and, when you put them down, they slouch and lose their shape, but they look quite neat when being carried. There are also some newer designs available that have a long, integrated strap that is meant to be used crossbody.

These bags got their name because of their lack of structure. They don’t usually have a lot of organizational pockets inside, though they may have a slip pocket on the front. Traditionally, hobo bags are made from soft leather, though there are cloth options available, too.

 

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