I’ve loved fashion since I was a kid. Pouring over copies of Vogue as a teenager, not quite understanding the editorial pieces but living for the fashion spreads, I guess it was inevitable that I’d work in the industry. The one thing that I dislike about it is feeling the pressure to have the latest brand or item. Often there is an IT bag or pair of shoes, they really make brands money not ready-to-wear. When I worked in the industry, I only bought designer handbags…it was a little The Devil Wears Prada. Thankfully I’ve slowly shaken that expensive habit off and I wanted to share my handbag journey and show you the best affordable handbags on the high street.
Don’t get me wrong, I do love investing in designer pieces when I’m able to. It’s undeniable, they feel special and for whatever reason, I always feel good carrying or wearing a special piece. The quality, cut, fabrics are always beautiful. I’ve bought each designer piece I own for myself and I treasure each and every one.
I still remember buying my first designer handbag. I was around 25 and I just landed a new job as Marketing Manager for a high street retailer. It felt like a big achievement and every so often I’d scour The Outnet for some way to treat myself. Then I found it…a purple (!) Marc Jacobs handbag with a big gold safety pin, harking back to his breakout punk collection. I treasured that handbag and actually, I still have it in my wardrobe.
Back then, I wore high street mainly with a sprinkling of designer pieces. Then I started working in luxury fashion and everything changed. It’s not like I was wearing top-to-toe Celine but I had a 50% discount which made buying designer goods much more accessible, plus I had the pressure of “looking the part”. During my four years working for that retailer, I picked up two Alexander McQueen bags for £350 each, around 75% off. I bought a Chloe bag for £400 and a Miu Miu purse for £175.
The thing is, it felt like keeping up with the Kardashians and everything had to be from a big designer. I looked at pieces from See by Chloe and a couple of diffusion lines but everyone at work turned their nose up at them and I felt self-conscious about wearing a “lesser” brand. It sounds silly but there was an intense pressure to fit in. The bitchy, snipey Devil Wears Prada vibe was very real and ultimately why I left the industry.
In reality, it feels totally absurd to spend £2,000 or more on a handbag. That’s a big chunk to put towards a flat deposit, a whole mortgage repayment or a hell of a holiday if you want to be ‘frivolous’. Today, I’m much happier shopping for affordable handbags on the high street, it feels less wasteful than dropping hundreds or thousands on a single piece.
The high street gets a bad wrap for being disposable and wasteful. But this is dependent on your intentions, which. I actually still have a high street handbag I bought at the same time as I bought the Marc Jacobs bag and I actually wear it more than the MJ bag! The high street can be affordable and sustainable.
My top tips for shopping for an affordable handbag:
This is my number one criteria. I always look for handbags made from leather as it’s much more durable and a lot nicer than synthetic materials.
A lot of high street retailers tend to make super blingy, busy bags. I prefer to steer clear of bags like thing in favour of simpler, pared-back designs which look a little more elevated IMO.
I usually go for classic colours or prints so I can continue to carry my handbag for years to come. However, don’t be afraid to go for bold colours, I absolutely adore this yellow handbag and have worn it to death!
- Sense check
I always check my bag will fit my essentials. For me, that means my phone, keys, cardholder and ideally my Laura Mercier compact and a lipstick.
Now you know what to look for, here’s my edit of the best affordable handbags on the high street right now:
Photography by Kylie Eyra.