Fashion: This Season’s ‘It’ Bag Is…Two Bags?

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From runways to subways, women are carrying one purse packed with work stuff, another with personal necessities. If done right, it’s chic—and might help save your spine.

AIDING AND DUETTING A model totes two sleek and practical handbags in Bottega Veneta’s pre-fall 2023 lookbook. BOTTEGA VENETA

By guest author  Katharine K. Zarrella from the Wall Street Journal Magazine

Updated July 22, 2023

I WAS a serial monogamist for most of my life…at least in terms of handbags.

Actually, just in terms of work bags. Though flirtatiously fickle when it came to evening clutches, I pursued only one great work-bag love at a time. My ideal mate was sturdy enough to hold it all: a laptop, notebooks, pens, a novel, makeup, the occasional baby elephant, etc. In 2020, I thought I’d found “the one,” a brawny, 35-centimeter leather Hermès tote.

But last fall I had back surgery, and when I returned to the office, lugging my fully loaded tote left me painfully destabilized. I needed a counterbalance. I needed to introduce a second bag into our relationship.

TWO-TIMER At men’s fashion week in Paris in June, a guest doubled down with two Hermès bags in different sizes. Photo: Getty Images

This quest for equilibrium is driving a trend for what you might call purse polyamory. While not novel, it is very in vogue—practiced by such unassailable tastemakers as Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett, who publicly paired up in January. Prada featured its Symbole double-triangle bag,  first seen for fall 2022, in its spring show. A model strode  down Givenchy’s fall runway  with a duo of metallic pouches. Coupled carriers appeared in  Bottega Veneta’s pre-fall lineup. And Coach’s fall catwalkers  brandished bags in each hand.

Invest wisely. Only buy bags ‘that can stand on their own.’

Two-timing is fashionable—and profitable for luxury brands who rely on pricey purses for revenue. But it’s also counterintuitively practical for women with aching shoulders and zero patience for fishing AirPods or a MetroCard out of a too-full tote. Some double-baggers stash personal bits in one vessel and work essentials in another.

In varying neutrals, this duet coos ‘chic.’ From left: Suede Clutch, USD 3250,; Cotton Tote, USD 150,

That’s Sophie Roche Conti’s approach. Conti, 34, relocated from Brooklyn to Bellport, N.Y., during Covid and now frequently commutes 90 minutes to see clients and staff at her eponymous Manhattan communications agency. “Sometimes I spend the night, so I need the perfect schlep,” she said. Currently, she carries professional possessions in a large vinyl tote and the rest in a subtle leather bag from the Row that’s appropriate for both meetings and evening events. At the latter, she often stows her big boy in the coat check. “One bag can’t carry it all,” she said.

Contrasting textures lend tactility to this black duo. From left: Leather Tote, USD 1450,; Nylon Tote, USD 225, Staud.Clothing

Sherri McMullen, founder of the Oakland, Calif., boutique McMullen, agrees. She relies on both a midsize “fashion” bag and a more substantial “work” tote. “The fashion bag is what I need to style my look. It’s what I take to lunch or a party.” The work bag is what “you’re going to hold your life in.” She suggests making that your primary investment. “You don’t have to spend a lot of money on fashion bags,” which she swaps depending on the season or her outfit.

To avoid appearing encumbered—or as if you’re hauling a “ludicrously capacious bag,” as Tom Wambsgans of “Succession” put it—New York stylist Cat Pope advises ensuring both picks are polished and considered, but especially the larger work repository. That one should not be overly logoed or obnoxiously recognisable. Amy Zurek, founder and creative director of New York handbag brand Savette, cautions shoppers to invest wisely. Only buy bags “that can stand on [their] own,” as well as with a buddy, she said.

If royals had to schlep, they’d carry these jewel-tone companions. From left: Leather Hobo, USD 895,; Suede Bag, USD 1250,

This raises the question: When you’re carrying two loves, should they match or contrast? Mixing silhouettes and textures—like a raffia fashion bag and a leather work tote—showcases personality, said McMullen, while coordinating different-size leather bags from a single luxury brand, such as Bottega Veneta or Khaite, conveys a knowing, “editorial” cool. But, she quipped, that route will “cost a fortune.”

A minimal matched set in buttery rouge calfskin. From left: Large Hobo Bag, USD 1750, Card Case, USD 590,

Before spending a dime, I wanted to know how a second bag would coordinate with my new metal lumbar spine. I asked Annie Gow, my licensed New York physical therapist, who said it depends. When you’re lugging a single heavy bag, your body contorts to compensate, resulting in poor posture. Preferable: Splitting stuff between two bags—one on each side—provided they’re of equal-ish weights. If not, division is basically pointless, Gow said. Then she delivered a style gut punch, recommending a backpack, which “distributes weight equally across your shoulders and is therefore more stable.”

THE SINGLE LIFE A stylish backpack for those craving hands-free equilibrium. Leather Backpack, USD 695,

I can’t do backpacks. Middle school was an awkward time and I’m not about to resurrect my tween accessories. So today, at 37, I hang the “work” Hermès on one shoulder and a black “fashion” bag on the other. It’s not perfect. But it’s not painful. And we make a pretty handsome throuple.

The Wall Street Journal is not compensated by retailers listed in its articles as outlets for products. Listed retailers frequently are not the sole retail outlets.



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