Maybe it’s because the Y2K fashion revival continues to rear its head, but I've been thinking about investing in a shoulder bag of late. Memories of It-girls like Paris Hilton and Lindsy Lohan walking around Los Angeles and New York wearing their smallest baguette-style bags have been all over my Pinterest boards—but, because I am most definitely not an early-aughts socialite, I’ve been considering what the best shoulder bag might be like for 2023. My conclusion: Shoulder bags that are a little more practical for everyday use than their Y2K counterparts, but have that vintage appeal.
Like a work bag or laptop bag, a great shoulder bag is only great if it's versatile to style and easy to use. The term itself implies that the bag is hands-free, and will hold all of your essentials securely under your arm. But there's one big decision you have to make when shopping for a shoulder bag: Do you want one that’s better suited to hold only your credit cards, keys, and phone on a night out, or do you want one that’s great for holding your daily essentials for your next errands run?
"The more neutral and minimal styles can become a closet staple that works with everything, while the louder more colorful options live more in the trend category," says Ariel Tunnell, a celebrity stylist who has worked with Melissa Fumero and Stephanie Beatriz. "There are so many options for every price point, so they are accessible without being a major investment. "
So, consider the following before you buy: the function you want the bag to play in your life; your desired aesthetic; and which brands are going to get you the best value for money in the long term. If you’re thinking about investing an entire paycheck in a shoulder bag this season, consider options from retailers like JW Pei, Coach, or Madewell, all of which make editor-approved shoulder bags that retail for less than $500. I also spoke to an expert from Rebag, a site specializing in the buying, selling, and trading of designer accessories, about which retro silhouettes are trending this season, and the brands you should consider.
The Best Shoulder Bags
"If you've seen me at all since October 2022, I've probably been carrying this bag from STAUD. It took me months to find the perfect everyday shoulder bag for my collection, and I had lots of specifications. It had to sit comfortably under my arm without causing it to jut out, had to have interior pockets for my wallet, had to be big enough to stash a makeup bag or bag, and had to be able to withstand my daily wear-and-tear. Shockingly, this does it all. It's made from a patent leather that's virtually impossible to scratch, and looks just as good as when I bought it despite literally carrying it day and night." — Julia Marzovilla, E-Commerce Editor
"You're likely familiar with Mansur Gavriel for its leather bucket bags, but allow me to introduce you to its equally trendy sister style, the M Frame Baguette. It offers structure yet sits comfortably on your shoulder, with the purse's down-slope nestling perfectly into the crook of your underarm. While it comes in a range of colors, from chestnut brown to rich emerald, I scooped up the bubblegum pink style and can attest to the mood-boosting power of the bright hue." — Emma Childs, Style Editor
"This ladylike bag isn't just a show pony—it's compact enough to stay out of the way but roomy enough to hold your essentials and then some. The adjustable shoulder strap allows this sleek structural bag to fit directly under your arm for easy transport, while gold-plated hardware and a cool key-like closure give this shoulder bag the vintage appeal I'm always searching for." — Sara Holzman, Style Director
"If you want to achieve Elle Wood vibes this spring, check out the Calpak Haven Laptop Tote in Petal. Chic and professional in any color, there's a removable laptop sleeve that snaps in and out of the main compartment. The large shoulder strap and handles make carrying this large yet lightweight tote a breeze for work and travel." — Tanya Klich, Senior Editor
"I love carrying brands that symbolize more than luxury, and Silver & Riley, a BIPOC-founded brand, carries an empowering message. Lola Banjo—VP of strategy at Salesforce by day, CEO of Silver & Riley by night—launched the bag label in 2019 by blending her background in materials engineering with her love for fashion. It started with Silver & Riley's best-selling large tote, the Convertible Executive Bag, which blends functionality, accessible luxury, and timeless style. She took the same design principles and extended the line with other items such as its smaller New Yorker Bag, for the commuter-on-the-go. I love that the removable and adjustable leather shoulder strap allows me to wear it as a top handle, a shoulder bag, or a crossbody. I also love that the soft Italian leather accessory costs less than $1,000. It comes in Astoria Black, but for the summer, why not punch it up with Soho Red or Tribeca Blue?" — Tanya Klich, Senior Editor
Smaller shoulder bags like this one from Zara are great if you're looking to channel the sleek accessories aesthetic of the 90s and early aughts. The pale blue hue makes it great for styling with lighter summer shades like white, cream, and tan, but it also comes in four other shades, too, including a very on-trend silver shade. While others on this list are great for carrying all of your daily essentials in, this one is great for going out on a date or out with your friends.
"I love JW PEI for cheap, yet great quality bags. When I need a fun new accessory to spice up an outfit, this is the brand I turn to. I’ve had my eye on this Eva style for a while, and although the metallic silver style I wanted is currently sold out, I’m more than happy to settle for this black version. I am obsessed with the stitching detail on this bag—I just know I’ll feel like a badass every time I wear it." — Brooke Knappenberger, Editorial Fellow
This bag is one of Tunnell's favorite affordable shoulder bags because "it's a puffy style that holds more that other styles, making it a great everyday option," she says. Plus, "it’s made from recycled water bottles and is 100 percent vegan and is right around $100—so a great price point for a super functional bag!"
"I love this Tabby bag. I own it in black already but this creamy color is on my list for spring and summer. I love it because despite the fact that it comes in a neutral colorway, the puffed silhouette—which kicked off the inflated fashion trend—upgrades it beyond the point of a simple shoulder bag. Plus, the leather is soft yet easy to clean and shockingly durable. I carry it just about everywhere." — Julia Marzovilla, E-Commerce Editor
Looking for a new beach bag? Consider this one from Longchamp. The brand's range of Le Pliage bags are bestsellers for a reason, and this summery pick is great for trekking all of your essentials to the pool or beach on vacation this summer. It comes in eight colors Including hot pink, sunny yellow, and light blue, but the simple black hue guarantees that it'll be easy to clean (or to keep looking clean) as you carry it throughout the season.
I have a penchant for bucket bags this season, and this bag from Lindquist has something to do with it. The barrel shape is the best mix of structured and soft. The top clasps together with a small clasp at the top. It comes in two sizes and is monogrammable, making it a timeless investment. The pebble-textured leather is super durable and scratch-resistant, too.
We know that Madewell makes great bags that last (see: Marie Claire's roundup of the best laptop backpacks). This smaller leather shoulder bag—available in three neutral colors—is like your tote's bag cuter, night out-approved cousin. It has one large interior pocket with a smaller side pocket for your wallet or cards.
"I’ve been on the hunt for a new “everyday” bag that can go with most of my wardrobe and carry my essentials with ease. I’m happy to report that this bag does all of that and more. The simple design of this bag goes with just about everything I wear and it surprisingly fits so much. I also love how the gold hardware makes it look so much more expensive than its $149 price tag, not to mention it's made of genuine leather." — Brooke Knappenberger, Editorial Fellow
The Best Designer Shoulder Bag Brands
Brands like Prada and Hermés hit the best of all three categories, at least according to Rebag’s 2022 Clair—or Comprehensive Luxury Appraisal Index for Resale—Report, which uses millions of data points across pricing, demand, and trends to provide users with a definitive list of the best bags and brands to invest in now. So, it makes sense that shopping an iconic bag from either brand is a good idea. “If you envision yourself reaching for an easy, everyday style, opt for a fuss-free Prada Re-Edition 2005 Re-Nylon bag that comes with a detachable pouch to store keys and credit cards,” says Elizabeth Layne, the Chief Marketing Officer of Rebag. The Re-Nylon bag specifically is marked as the best bag to buy from the brand because it holds between 99 percent and 112% percent of its value on the secondary market.
Or, “should you prefer a design that is as well-suited for the office as it is for Sunday brunch, the ever-popular Hermés Constance is as versatile as they come,” she continues. The Clair report found that Hermés bags tend to retain 103% of their original value, meaning that they’re even more valuable on the secondary market.
Meet The Expert
Elizabeth Layne is the Chief Marketing Officer of Rebag. Prior to Rebag, Elizabeth was the Chief Marketing Officer of London-based retail / real estate startup, Appear Here, where she supervised all marketing and creative functions, as well as launched the business in Paris and New York. Previously, Elizabeth was Marketing Director for one of the US's fastest growing menswear brands, Bonobos, acquired by Walmart in 2017. At Bonobos, she had primary oversight of performance, brand and retail marketing.
Elizabeth’s work in retail began while at Harvard Business School when she joined Birchbox to launch their marketing efforts. She began her career as Business Development Manager at the global advertising agency, Ogilvy & Mather. She earned her MBA from Harvard Business School and her BA Magna Cum Laude from Brown University.
Ariel Tunnell is a Los Angeles based celebrity stylist and accessory lover. Current clients include Stephanie Beatriz, Rachel Bloom, Poppy Liu, Lauren Ash, Melissa Fumero, and Abby Elliott.