Listen to this article
The return of the cape coincides with the rise of the classic top-handle bag, the only really acceptable tote to, well, tote when one’s outerwear does not include sleeves.
From Lady Dior bags boasting Andy Warhol’s signature heel sketches (£5,157), to Giorgio Armani’s black nappa structured box bag (£1,866) and The Row’s slightly elongated single-flap polished leather top-handle (£1,902), there’s a top-handle bag for almost every taste. Louis Vuitton’s new rigid Capucines top-handle (£3,000) has even been nicknamed “the finance bag” by store associates.
“A true woman’s work bag,” is how one described it, while Goyard has reissued its classic Sainte Lucie collapsible top-handle for autumn (price on request). Oscar de la Renta is debuting the Sloane (£1,515) in November, boasting a hand-knotted top-handle and hand-carved hematite semi-precious stone lock (one version, at £1,885, is embroidered with 30,200 sequins). And MaxMara is also placing new emphasis on accessories via its top-handle JBag (£896-£3,835).
Meanwhile, Hermès, whose structured Kelly arguably started it all, is introducing a new top-handle shape called the Maxibox, a suitcase-style bag available in grizzly and swift calfskin (£6,200) and a special order crocodile version (£15,470) featuring reinforced corners and a saddle-stitched handle that recalls classic trunks.
“It’s the new clutch,” says Beth Buccini, co-owner of the high-fashion New York emporium Kirna Zabête, where a large portion of their new 10,000 sq ft store is dedicated to an expanding handbag business.
At Harrods, Simon Longland, general merchandise manager of luxury accessories, also reports the top-handle as being one of the key styles for autumn, driven chiefly by the popularity of Dolce & Gabbana’s Miss Sicily collection (£1,515-£3,191).
Meanwhile, Hong Kong-based retailer Lane Crawford says it has reserved a significant portion of its bag order for the top-handle shape and is exclusively launching Delvaux and Mark Cross this autumn and next spring respectively.
“For the Chinese, there is a return to the sophisticated and ladylike styling in handbags,” says Irene Yu, divisional merchandise manager of designer footwear and handbags at Pedder Group, Lane Crawford’s parent company. She recently purchased a Delvaux Brilliant MM (£2,450) herself because “its simplicity means that it works with different styles, and transcends age”.
The lack of a shoulder strap can, of course, create problems: the too-heavy-to-hold issue that can come with cramming too many things inside. Amanda Harlech, who rotates between her Fendi Peekaboo £1,773-£2,933) and Anna bag (£1,869) says self-editing is key when it comes to top-handle bags. “Laptop and books have to go into a rucksack if you are travelling and make-up is reduced to a green eye pencil and kohl,” she says. “Form dictates function.”
Just ask Serena Boardman, for whom a well-edited top-handle bag – her go-to is a Hermès Bolide Bugatti she’s had since her early twenties – is an everyday essential.
“I love walking in Manhattan and only carry what is necessary,” says the senior global real estate adviser and associate broker at Sotheby’s Realty.
“A handheld bag has something special about it – it evokes memories of a kinder, less harried, gentler, more ladylike time.”
Health hazards of handbags
Although there have been no studies directly correlating carrying one’s top-handle bag and getting serious carpal tunnel issues, prolonged hauling of heavy handbags and the repetitive stress it inflicts on the ligaments and the muscles of the wrist inevitably accelerates strain.
“While holding a bag by its top-handle is always better than on the shoulder where one’s posture and shoulders are concerned, it’s important to lighten up your bag and only bring essentials,” says Dr Jason Goldstein, who runs the Oasis Chiropractic and Wellness Center on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. “Less weight, less pressure.”
Indeed, when it comes to handbags it turns out there are certain best practice guidelines to follow. Conventional wisdom says a woman’s handbag should not be more than 10 per cent of her body weight. Look for cushioned top handles that are contoured to fit the hand. Chain handles, which increase wrist instability, should be avoided. And remember the wider the bag, the farther out it will have to be held.
Dr Arnold Young, the owner of Park 56 Chiropractic in Midtown Manhattan, recommends a straighter handle to give more control over swing. “I would think a structured trapezoidal shape would best distribute the weight of the contents lower for stability,” he says.
The prolonged holding of a top-handle bag, with its uneven distribution of weight between shoulders, can also cause one shoulder to become lower than the other – straining the rotator cuff in the process. “Over time the postural issues become more noticeable,” says Dr Goldstein.
The solution can be as simple as raising your chest and letting your shoulders fall back naturally – set your mobile phone to vibrate five separate times during the day as a reminder – or remembering to switch bag-holding hands. “The bag will look just as good on the right hand as it does on the left,” he says.
Regular massage therapy sessions and chiropractor visits can also (not surprisingly) help relax muscle tension, though those on a budget are advised to do daily light shoulder and neck stretches and breath deeply when stretching to relax the muscles. Light rubbing of the wrist and arm muscles can also help.
Of course, both doctors say there’s no better way to carry a load than with a good old-fashioned daypack. But both also concede that, yes, looks do count.