We have all seen our fair share of distressed leather handbags. From Rebecca Minkoff’s fan-favorite MABs and MACs, to the Alexander Wang Rocco, or Chanel’s super high-end Reissue, the popularity of aged-leather is undeniable. And its appeal is easy to see too. After all, who wouldn’t love a bag that doesn’t need to be babied, can carry your daily load, and yet look stylish?
But a certain line must be drawn regarding distressed bags remaining chic. Case in point, how often have you come across a bag in such a sorry state that it appears to be “in distress” itself? Maybe one that’s hanging by the literal threads from the handles? Or its color has faded so badly, it looks fresh out of the washing machine! Perhaps it’s got a stain that bodes a happy hour gone horribly wrong?
Well, that would certainly suck.
Now, as much as we’d all love to squeal in delighted horror at the state of other people’s bags (like on this PurseForum thread), more often than not, our very own closet houses that one abominable bag we just can’t seem to get rid of. Maybe it’s got a lot of sentimental value attached to it. Or perhaps it’s your work-hauler that you wouldn’t hesitate to throw your cat in either. But it’s there, alright. And here, dear readers, lies the concept of a “beater bag.”
So, what is a beater handbag?
Once upon a time, we used to have just one bag for all our worldly needs. Functionality was all that mattered. So, owning more than one purse seemed like a luxury reserved for the elite. Fast forward about a century or so, and all of a sudden, we must have one bag for taking the kids to school and another for walking the dog at the park. And let’s not even get started about how we wouldn’t be caught dead with the same bag twice on girls’ nights out, right?
But as much as we yearn for simpler times, that’s just how sophisticated modern-day marketing has become – to the point that a pop-up advertisement you clicked on two months ago continues to chase and compel you into a purchase!
Nevertheless, even if the materialistic ways of the world have inadvertently led us to become proud owners of extensive handbag collections, few of us have the time or energy to change our purses every day. As a result, despite having closet-fulls of handbags, we end up schlepping all our essentials in one giant purse. And when you specifically set out a purse for this exact purpose – to haul all your things for the rest of its existence – without any particular regard to the health of the bag itself, we call it a beater handbag.
In other words, a bag that’s meant to withstand a lot of use!
What bags make the best beaters?
Honestly, there aren’t really any rules. It’s as diverse as the individual carrying it! Thus, something as small as a Chanel Caviar Wallet-on-Chain can be the bag (or, erm, wallet) you blindly rely on when going to parties, parks, and other messy places. Its convenience, hands-free carry, and the interlocking-C logo check all the boxes one needs for a carefree outing. It might even be a clutch like Purseforum member Rachel965 says in this thread:
“I have a Michael Kors black leather clutch kind of bag that’s like a side chick. I don’t even really like it but I keep going back to it out of convenience. Its put up with a lot of bs over the years and it still shows up to the party.”
On the other end of the spectrum, the Louis Vuitton Neverfull tote is just as popular as a WOC. The tough coated canvas, gigantic capacity, and lightweight, not to mention worry-free colorways like Monogram print or Damier Ebene, ensure that you can carry everything but the house with you, all day, every day.
So, how do you specifically choose if you are searching for one? Well, first, do a quick run-through of your requirements:
- How much do you actually need to carry?
- What method of carrying do you find most comfy – crossbody, on-the-shoulder, or by the top handle?
- How heavy can the bag get once loaded to the brim (because it probably will)?
- Based on that, what material would you choose – nylon, canvas, leather, or something else?
Based on these, you could choose to purchase purses that are specifically designed to withstand the struggles of daily life – like a Longchamp Le Pliage or a Tumi. Or you could go the chic route and opt for a Balenciaga or a Vuitton. Bonus if you can score one you like on resale – you probably won’t feel as bad overusing something already broken in, especially with designer bags (more on this later).
Or do you have a slightly-scuffed early-aughts carryall accumulating dust in your closet? Maybe you needn’t spend more on a different purse – just whip your old one out and go wild! Y2K is back, after all!
Luxury or Contemporary – Which to Choose?
Given today’s fast-paced fashion world, a new brand is popping up every day, whether premiere, contemporary, or high-street. And with every new trend that appears on the horizon, each design has multiple iterations and imitations from each fashion house. As a result, one has endless options for any given silhouette when it comes to choosing brands, and the real question then becomes how much to spend on a bag that’s meant to take on years of beating.
And the truth is, there isn’t a clear answer as to which one you should opt for. Many buyers tend to prefer contemporary brands, such as the Michael Kors Jet Set range of totes, which have become popular due to their large capacities, organization options, choices for zipped or open interiors, and durable Saffiano leather. The reasoning behind going the affordable luxury route is obvious, too – one needn’t feel the urge to be as careful with a relatively inexpensive purse as much as something that costs several thousand dollars. Plus, once they wear out after two to three years of consecutive use, they can be easily and affordably replaced. And all this while, your more pricey pieces can be safely tucked away in your closets, only to be whipped out when you feel fancy.
On the other hand, we have those (like me) who prefer to use a high-end purse for extensive periods of time. We’ve discussed the concept of getting cost-per-wear at length before, and that’s the primary reasoning one uses to justify spending large sums of money on handbags. It is also widely accepted now that designer purses provide some semblance of better quality compared to their high-street counterparts. And with our busy work schedules that require us to be at the top of our style-game all the time (as well as to save us the embarrassment of our purse publicly falling apart), buying a luxury carryall is, at the very least, an investment in our personal style, if not sound financial advice.
The Most Popular Workhorse Bags
Just like that, we’re back to the subject of Balenciagas. I simply can’t stop harping about BBags recently and for a good reason. Very few bags are meant to look chic-er with age and use! So, for bag-lovers worldwide, the Balenciaga City has become notorious as a reliable “beater” that users can turn to for style! And these aren’t my words either; if you need some distressed BBag style inspo, turn to Mary Kate Olsen’s wine-splotched pistachio City, that W Magazine profiled as, “The version she’s carrying today was originally mint green, but it’s so dingy, covered with stains, pen marks, and even a chewed-up piece of gum, that it looks almost grey.”
Besides Balenciaga, a few other bags that reportedly wear like iron are Marc Jacobs’ and Givenchy’s older designs – the Stam, the Pandora, and the Nightingale. All come in multiple colorways, sizes, and distressed as well as smooth and grained leather options that can cater exactly to your needs and right now are quite affordable on resale. Snap ‘em up before the next hottest archival revival!
But perhaps the biggest advantage of using a luxury bag as a beater is the opportunity of getting it repaired at the brand’s bag spa. No wonder Ms. Birkin loves to stomp on her Birkin, emblazon it with stickers, charms, and prayer beads, or use it as a cat-bed. At the same time, Mary Kate Olsen, famous for her style, bashes around her vintage box Kelly like “the overstuffed briefcase of a used-car salesman.” They can simply send it back to the Hermès Spa and, for a price, get them back good as new!
Beater bags are all about comfort and convenience. It signals that you already have enough to do in life, so your purse is the last thing you want to be stressed about. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be stylish. Rather, using a designer bag to death exudes a sense of confidence to the wearer – that you’re not afraid to use your precious carryall and are not the person to pamper and pet.
To put it rather romantically, every dent, every scratch on your purse is reminiscent of something in your life – perhaps a good time with family, a dreary work day, or a fun trip with friends. And these little sentiments add tremendous value to the bags we originally purchased merely for their functionality or aesthetics. As Vogue writer Liana Satenstein says, “relax – take pride in your beat-up handbags,” it’s about time that we got over our obsession with spotless, clean, and pristine bags and actually start enjoying them for what they are – objects of our happiness.
As for me, while I’m on the hunt for a Balenciaga, my current beater is my Proenza Schouler PS1, which withstands not only the weight of my books and other daily miscellany but also the harsh tropical climate, unpredictable rain, and even mold, and still manages to gain admiring glances. True, it’s gotten a little tanned, and there is a slight dark stain on the back from that time I wore an all-black denim outfit. But these give it more character, and I love it all the more!
So, what about you? Do you have a beater handbag? Share your stories with us!