Perhaps you’re new to Hermès bags, hoping you’ll get an offer soon. Or, perhaps you’re a longtime customer, waiting for the latest addition to your wardrobe. Either way, you have some important decisions to make when buying a new purse.
Since we’re talking about Hermès, we’re probably talking about the Birkin and the Kelly (and also the Constance, but that’s a completely different bag which deserves an article of its own!). Although both are very popular, each has a different structure, and each has its own milieu of fans. Both designs are produced in a variety of leathers and colors every season. While many Hermès collectors wind up buying each style at some point, many have a preference for one over the other. Let’s examine the structure and the pros and cons of each design and size.
Editor’s Note: This is part two of a two-part series, be sure to read part one for an in-depth overview of the Hermès Birkin.
The Hermès Kelly
The Kelly, while at times considered less popular than the Birkin, is just as desirable, and in some ways is more functional and elegant. A more feminine, top-handle bag which, like the Birkin, also has a flap, sangles and clochette, it has somewhat of a more vertical design, with a base slightly wider than the top. It also has the rear zip and slip pockets on the interior. The Kelly, however, is distinguishable in that the flap is structured and cannot be tucked in. It also comes with a matching shoulder strap (and Hermès also produces other shoulder straps which can be used interchangeably on the Kelly) so that it is not just a hand/arm carry bag like the Birkin but can also be worn on the shoulder, and, with one of the longer straps, cross-body (depending on the bag and strap size).
Pros of the Kelly
With a classic, more elegant (vertical) shape than the Birkin, the Kelly, especially in the smaller sizes, can lean formal, but still works on casual days as well. The flap pretty much needs to be closed, which is very secure and – unlike the Birkin – the Kelly comes with a shoulder strap, which makes the bag more versatile. Note that even though the Kelly is more vertically proportioned than the Birkin, I don’t find it more difficult to find my things in one over the other (and again, if that’s a concern there’s always a bag organizer).
Cons of the Kelly
The flap of the Kelly cannot be tucked in and, if the bag is left open, it has an awkward appearance. Often people find the strap-and-turnlock closure “fidgety” (for want of a better word) and inconvenient, and so many owners “compromise” by tending to just pop the flap over the turnlock and twist the turnlock without putting the straps on, which makes it easier to get into and out of the bag, but is not great for the bag structurally (it puts too much of the weight of the bag on the turnlock, rather than displacing it via the straps through to the structure of the bag.
Sellier or Retourne?
Do you want your stitching on the inside or the outside of the bag? That’s essentially the difference between the two structural versions of the Kelly: Sellier, which has the stitching on the inside, is the stiffer, more structured version (it used to be called Rigide), and Retourne, with the stitching on the outside, is the softer version (formerly Mou, although a Kelly Mou was a specific type of Mou bag). The structure you choose will dictate some of the details of this bag: certain leathers are used for each (currently Sellier is usually made in epsom leather, and in chevre in 20cm or via special order; it used to be available by order in togo as well, but not for the last few seasons; it is also produced in the exotic leathers), and concomitantly certain colors are only produced in certain leathers. More importantly, the different structures each give off a different vibe, whether formal (the Sellier) or casual (Retourne). Also bear in mind that the more relaxed structure of a Retourne bag allows it to hold more than the Sellier – but that eventually the Retourne will also slouch (the amount of slouch depends on the leather used and how careful you are with it), while the Sellier will not.
Like the Lakis?
While the Kelly Lakis is becoming harder and harder to find (occasionally a push offer, then relegated to Special Orders, the Lakis unfortunately seems to be nowhere to be found this season), it’s one of the more fun iterations of the Kelly, with front and back zipper pockets. Wayward Kelly designs also include the Kelly Elan (think Kelly Danse without the waist straps), the Kelly Flat (with a strap that ties instead of turnlock-and-straps), the Kelly Sport (slimmer and only bearing a shoulder strap, no top handle), Kelly À Dos (backpack), the Kelly Longue (the longer, original version of the Kelly Cut, which is rare but still in production), and the So Kelly (bucket bag version of the Kelly, also with no top handle), among others.
Which is the best size for you?
20cm (a/k/a The Mini Kelly or Mini Kelly II): Out of all the bags I am going to discuss in this article – and most if not all are very much in demand and hard to find, to varying extents – for whatever reason, this is currently the “hottest”, most in demand, and hardest to find bag. I have had more than one Sales Associate tell me that these come in only rarely (one said the Mini they’d just sold was the first they’d seen at the boutique since 2019; another said their boutique has only received one, ever***). We are still at the peak of the mini bag trend, and that, along with the mentality of many Hermès customers who are used to acquiring the impossible, has led to ever-increasing demand at a time when production is still just starting to ramp up again after the lockdowns in France.
– The Mini Kelly only comes in the Sellier structure and it is the perfect little evening bag. It fits only the necessities and absolutely nothing more. Proportionally, it is very visually attractive, appealing to us in the way that perfect little dollhouse furniture and baby animals are attractive to us: tugging at our innate instinct to have the cute little small things, whatever they are. From the sweet little turnlock to the perfect little strap, it’s adorable and fully functional. Perfect as a bag for formal events (unless you’re of the ilk that won’t carry a leather bag formally), it’s great for dinner, and I have even seen it used as a very small daybag for travel.
– The thing that you need to know, however, is this bag is small. It’s tiny. It’s – to use an old word – wee. It does not fit very much at all; in fact, when carrying this bag one’s austerity skills, of necessity, become an art form. You can fit: a calvi, a mini hand sanitizer, a mask, maybe a lipgloss, the smaller iPhone, and, if it’s not big, a key. That’s it!
25cm: This size is very popular, and works well for both day and evenings (whether Sellier or Retourne) and dressier events (generally Sellier).
– Again, it’s a great everyday size, if you don’t carry much. Using the strap makes this bag pretty easy and convenient
– This bag is still on the small side, with the same watch-what you-carry caveats advised for the 25cm Birkin; you’re going to have to play a bit of Bag Tetris to get this to work, especially if you are new to smaller sizes. You need to be thoughtful when carrying a 25cm Kelly, although maybe a bit less so if it’s Retourne; a Sellier is not going to fit much more than a small wallet, keys, phone and small pouch.
– Bear in mind that due to its proportions a Kelly will always hold less than the Birkin of the same size, and (as previously stated) the Sellier will always hold less than the rRetourne.
28cm: This is what many people currently consider the “sweet spot” for Kelly sizes, although it’s a tough call between this size and the 32cm; like the 30cm Birkin it holds most of what you would need, but perhaps not quite, depending on how much you tend to carry (especially if it’s a Sellier).
– the 28cm Kelly is possibly the best day-to-evening size where you don’t have to seriously compromise what you need to carry (not too much of a Bag Tetris quotient here).
– It is incredibly elegant in this size as a Sellier, and very pretty yet slightly cooler in this size as a Retourne.
– You may note I’ve been dropping pros and cons in this section for each size, but I really can’t think of any “con” to put here for the 28cm Kelly – which, I suppose, says it all.
32cm: Formerly the “sweet spot” prior to the great bag downsize trend, the 32cm is still a fabulous size, especially if you need to carry more or are a bigger/taller person. While the original Birkin was 35cm, the Kelly was made in both the 32 and the 35cm sizes.
– The 32cm Kelly is great (though maybe just a bit on the small side) for work and fabulous for travel. It will fit quite a bit while still remaining elegant (as a Sellier) or super cool (Retourne).
– A 32cm Kelly is perfect for everyday and proportionally suits most people.
– Regardless of structure, this is definitely more of a day bag.
35cm: Once you get to the 35cm Kelly, the proportions do start to get rather large by current trends, however these proportions work fabulously in their own way.
– For a 35cm Kelly Sellier, it may appear like a briefcase for many average-sized women. This does make it a great and elegant bag for work or light travel. You can either “go with it” and be formal, or dress super-causally, which highlights the lines of the bag and makes it work in an entirely different way.
– The 35cm Kelly Retourne reads quite differently; with the size and the slouch, the larger proportions seem to give the bag an even more casual appearance, like a tote.
– Many fans of the 35cm Kelly describe it as a “casual cool” size.
40cm: Again, this size is harder to find, like the 40cm Birkin.
– While these have been made in both Sellier and Retourne, they are harder to find than the other sizes, and currently seem to only be available in retourne.
– While it could definitely be used for business or travel, I still find the 40cm Kelly very attractive, especially as a super-cool slouchy bag.
– This is also a great size for taller people, or those who need to carry a lot securely.
– Just be aware that this bag can get quite heavy, especially when full.
Kelly Danse: The Kelly Danse was re-released recently and has become popular again.
– It is essentially a waist bag, although the straps can be configured for backpack or shoulder carry; however the shoulder carry option is awkward.
– Similar in size to a Kelly Pochette, it can hold more than a Mini Kelly and due to the straps has a variety of carrying options (or can be used as a clutch).
– I was on the fence about including the Danse as an option on this list, mainly because it does not have a handle at all and I wonder whether generally one would consider this when going through the Birkin/Kelly decision-making process as opposed to just choosing a secondary bag (for evening only, or hands free, or travel, etc). However, this bag has become very popular, and for some may even be the best option because of the strap versatility.
Kelly Pochette, Cut, Dépêches Pouch 25, etc.: These bags are, in their way, not really a part of the decision-making process here: these bags are “Kelly” due mainly to the closure, but are not really alternatives to a regularly-sized Birkin or Kelly.
– Each of these pieces is Sellier only.
– The Kelly Pochette and the Cut are evening bags, competing only with the Mini Kelly; the Pochette has a flat bottom while the Cut, which is longer lengthwise, but thinner widthwise, does not.
– Each will hold a more than a Mini Kelly, and although of the two the Pochette is possibly more practical due to the flat bottom, neither has the option of adding a strap (although people get creative by adding a twilly or necklace under the flap to allow for shoulder carry, this will eventually damage the bag).
– The Kelly Dépêches Pouch 25 is considered a men’s bag, although I find it a great unisex option; a very elegant wristlet with a detachable strap, it works fine as a clutch too (like the Kelly Danse).
– Although as a men’s bag it is only offered in neutrals, the Dépêches Pouch 25 is also much easier to find for purchase (it’s often available on the Hermès website).
Comparison Photos of the Various Kelly Sizes (and a link to a thread of what fits in them):
Birkin and Kelly Comparison Photos – to help you decide (or obsess)!
Click this link for the PurseForum thread of photos.
*** Full disclosure: these two quotes were both said to me by my Sales Associates (I shop at two boutiques and they are both aware of this); each told me this with regards to the Mini Kelly I was purchasing at the time. Check out my fun Mini Kelly unboxing video!