How to wear... the top handle bag
Looking for a fresh start this September? A new accessory can help to bring that back-to-school feeling. Ditch the backpack for a more stylish, grown-up shape, writes Meadhbh McGrath
It's back-to-school time and even years later, a new bag can inspire that fresh, new-term feeling. Instead of a bulky backpack, however, this season's offerings are considerably more grown-up. In the autumn-winter collections, it was all about extremes, as designers presented XXL totes and comically teeny mini-bags, such as Jacquemus' viral Chiquito. But in the middle, you'll find a stylish compromise in the ultra-chic top handle bag.
It's a vintage-inspired shape, neatly structured with an elegant handle that looks ladylike and polished. Hermes' iconic Kelly bag arguably started the love affair back in 1956, but this season, designers have found ways to bring a modern finish to the classic accessory.
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There were cubic styles, such as Oscar de la Renta's tapestry-covered number and Brandon Maxwell's clear acrylic box bag with sleek brass handle, while at Chloé, the petite C bag continues to rule the runways, this time in a lush croc-effect in forest green, scarlet and chocolate brown, along with gleaming electric blue and dusky pink leather. It's a street-style favourite carried by fashion editors and celebrities alike, including Juliette Binoche, Kendall Jenner and Kaia Gerber.
You can choose from a variety of colours and textures at the Chloé shop in Brown Thomas, and be guaranteed a style that has instant 'It' bag status, but is also destined to be a cult classic. If you're after something more wallet-friendly, or the logo hardware is too indiscreet for you, the high street offers a range of lookalikes, such as Accessorize's textured faux-leather style with ring lock.
Kate Spade's latest bag, with heart-shaped twist lock closure, was designed by Antrim-born creative director Nicola Glass. For autumn-winter, it comes in two-tone pastel and vibrant pinks, as well as shiny croc-embossed green, pink and burgundy.
There were more formal iterations of the shape too: Gucci offered a new flap-over bag with a top handle wrapped in a silk scarf for a maximalist take on Sloane Ranger style.
At Prada, there were trim frame bags with bar closures in timeless shades of red, green, grey and black, which nodded to the more dressy style of the 60s. There were also playful satin bags embellished with 3D roses, sure to be popular (and much-copied) come party season.
Of course, the top handle bag's most famous fan is the Queen, who is rarely seen without her black Launer style. But the younger Royals have shown themselves to be fans of the look too, choosing pieces by trendy designers: Meghan Markle has stepped out with DeMellier's Mini Venice, while Kate Middleton favours Aspinal of London's faux-croc mini bag.
Many of the more affordable, contemporary brands, such as Danse Lente, Wandler and newcomer Boyy, propose unexpected riffs on the classic shape.
Gemma Chan was seen with Boyy's Insta-favourite leather tote during a recent press tour, illustrating how well a retro bag can be refreshed with a statement detail such as Boyy's signature oversized buckle.
Whether you go for the timeless, Kelly-style work tote or a more 2019 mini box bag, there's a top handle style to suit every taste. You can lean into the formality with a tweed coat and kitten heels or a skirt suit, á la Kate Middleton, or play against it with jeans and trainers.
In an age of overload, when many of us cart around a super-sized bag and a tote filled with the daily 'essentials', a handheld bag reminds us of simpler times. And while many of these styles come with a detachable strap to transform into a hands-free cross-body, why not be kind to yourself (and your posture) and carry only what is really necessary?