Real Talk

In Defense of the Happy Medium of Handbags

Weary of minis and maxis, we seek answers elsewhere.

Okay, full disclosure: every time I come across one of those Buzzfeed-adjacent titles like “I’m a Gen-Z Fashion Editor, Here’s What I’m Buying Right Now,” I can’t help but take an inordinate amount of pleasure in devouring them in great earnest.

After all, years of heavy-bag hauling might have given me the back of a fifty-something. Still, nothing says generational solidarity quite like agonizing over our crippling shopping addiction together, right?

What does disappoint me every time, however, is that these charming little listicles almost always and without fail manage to feature – aside from a trending yellow Adidas Samba or Onitsuka Tiger – a mini-purse in an eye-watering, dopamine-inducing colorway and a somewhat modest, stealth wealth-inspired maxi-carryall – usually in some combination of suede, beige, or worst-case scenario, both.

Now, it’s not like I’m complaining – we have our right to the ridiculously large, just as much as we do to the absurdly tiny. And Gen-Z fashion editors have a living to make (they have a shopping addiction to afford, after all). 

But one would think our chronic internet obsessions and nightly TikTok scrolls would’ve by now offered us a way out of this viciously cycling maxi-mini hellscape. If only there were a handbag size that was neither too big nor too small, that could save us (and our wallets) from ourselves.

That perfect medium – does it truly exist?

Mini-Maximalism or Maxi-Minimalism?

Trends come and go. That’s kind of the point of fashion. 

Plus, they aren’t always the easiest to escape – who amongst us can truthfully attest to not having been swayed by Zoë Kravitz’s casual cool as she lugs around the Tide Super Saver-equivalent of a YSL shopper or Hailey Bieber’s fatal seduction, in a slinky little outfit with an even slinkier baguette tucked under her arm?

Hailey Bieber with YSL ICare Shopping Tote
Hailey Bieber too sometimes opts for a giant carryall.

And designers, knowing full well our inclination to be influenced, continue to take advantage of this. The OG example of this is Cher Horowitz from Clueless, with a mini backpack we love but probably “wouldn’t skin a collie” for today (even though faux is totally in now). Or Regina George’s Multicolor Monogram Pochette in Mean Girls, which led to the onslaught of logo wristlets in the wake of the Y2K.

Today, Cher might have been replaced by a mini Jacquemus Le Chiquito-toting Kendall Jenner, but the microscopic bag’s cool girl cache remains unmatched.

And it’s not just maximalist mini-purses that have graced celebrity culture. Monsieur Jacquemus released a grande edition of the Chiquito not long after, taking cues from the big bag bubble (BBB) of the late noughties.

And, of course, Succession has since truly knocked the style out of the park, with a slew of understated maxi-totes in varying degrees of Kendall Roy-approved monotones in case you needed to go about your day with a kitchen sink (or two).

It’s us users, however, who are left in a position of perplexity with all the back-and-forth motion of trends. Do you go the oversized route – in keeping with the old adage, “the bigger the bag, the smaller your butt looks”? Or do you instead hop onto the mini-wagon and subject yourself to potential derision from the big baggers? 

Dior Micro Lady Dior
On the contrary, Dior’s micro-bags really went all out microscopic with this collection.
Dior Micro Vanity Bag 1

When is it socially acceptable to tow your tipping tote of troubles from work to happy hour, and when must you leave it behind in favor of a delegating-everything-to-the-assistant type of tiny top-handle said-tote marinating in the trunk of your car?

It’s a delicate balance to strike – not just as a buyer, but as a brand. After all, how big is too big in the (now) big business of big bags? Meanwhile, as a separate set of purses keeps shrinking season after season, does the joke eventually wear out? How much would you even pay for a comically small accessory?

In fact, within the mini-maxi lexicon, perhaps the only real solution is to have two bags ready to go – one of each, if not more (and for us, that number is often many, many more). But even aside from owning a ridiculous number of handbags, this trend cycle mandates that you switch between on a fairly regular basis.

And that means time. 

Time that, as Amy Odell writes in her Substack, Back Row, “many of us would rather spend reading a book, watching Below Deck, hanging out with our friends or kids, or even taking packages to UPS that have been sitting by the door all week.” Dressing up in itself can be a chore – should picking out your purse be one too?

… And on the Merits of the Medium

It’s perhaps for this reason. Lately, I’ve gone back to dragging my old saddle Proenza Schouler PS1 all around town – yes, with black outfits too, fashion rules be darned.

While large, it’s not overwhelming – certainly not Maxi. It fits just enough; my (smaller) laptop – a relatively recent acquisition – water bottle, umbrella, and the works. Plus, thanks to its years of use (and the occasional abuse), it looks right on board the chaotic bag trend that, Harper’s Bazaar writes, “appear like they are actually being used is what everyone is after.

Bags that … look like bags! In short, it, for me now, is not just the perfect medium but perhaps the perfect bag. A bold proclamation by all standards.

Proenza Schouler PS1 Sajid 2
My Proenza Schouler PS1, still as reliable as ever.

If trends have taught us anything, neither the messy bag movement nor the maxi-tote regime will last forever. Consequently, perhaps, neither will the definition of what the “medium” size really is. At this very instant, what’s a medium for me might be too large for one and too small for another – that’s simply joie de vivre, the thrill of the hunt.

Nevertheless, it’s also why the traditional medium – the Birkin 30, the Kelly 32, the Chanel 11.12 or the Reissue 2.55, and even perhaps the Neverfull MM – remain such bestsellers. They mightn’t be on trend per se, but they’re never not on trend, never unfashionable either. 

So, if you carry only a few things, some extra space is never unwelcome. And if you’ve got too much? Well, stuff it all in; that’s a style statement in and of itself!

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Sandy
Sandy
1 month ago

I use the size of bag that best meets my needs for the outing. I am not going to carry a ridiculously large bag because someone says it is fashionable right now. I believe that would make you a fashion victim. If you just love a really large bag and you carry around that much stuff more power to you!

scbarragan
scbarragan
1 month ago

I ingeniously thought that the size was not about fashion rather the personal needs, different works, type of transport, type of city, countryside where you live… I like reading your article.

I need 3 sizes and I classified in that way. My large bags are working bags, I have a weekly long-distance commuting by train so I cannot manage without space. I hate to push to get everything in. However, to go to make standard errant, the medium size bags are the ones that are more often used because will offer more versatility. I have small ones too, but never too small, and those got less frequency of rotation than the medium. I never check trends to buy my bags and the size, color and model that I need are the parameters to focus my search when I am looking for an adition to my collection.

Fae
Fae
1 month ago

Interesting read! To me, my perfect medium size is the small Hammock bag from Loewe. Lightweight, fits a ton if I need to stuff it to the brim (especially on unplanned grocery runs), has top handles and apart from being a comfortable crossbody that molds to the body, it could also be a shoulder bag just by changing the strap configuration <3 Truly an effortless, dependable bag and I’m still so smitten with it

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BTS6942
BTS6942
1 month ago

Love this! I’ve loved playing with proportions with very big and very tiny bags – but the ones that are the most practical for day to day use in my closet are always the medium size bags.

Charlotte B
Charlotte B
1 month ago

It’s simple. The obsession with useless mini-bags requires a big tote to carry the stuff that you can’t fit into the useless bag. Since the tote must be HUGE, you wind up carrying far more stuff than you need. This includes the mini-bag that you pull out of the equally ridiculous giant tote, on cue-just to show that you are completely on trend.