Purses vs. Handbags: What's the Difference?

It’s a common misconception that you can use the terms “purse” and “handbag” interchangeably. While they may share some similarities, their respective sizes and functionalities make them distinct.

We’re here to set the record straight on the differences between leather purses and leather handbags. Get ready to make up your mind about which to wear, as well as learn how to style each accessory.

Key Differences between Purses and Handbags

Purses and handbags are not the same thing, although people use them in similar ways. Here are some of the major areas in which these two types of accessories differ.


A purse is much smaller than a handbag. A purse is a compact bag that holds essential items, such as wallets, keys and makeup. People often use purses when they need to carry minimal items or travel light.

By comparison, handbags are larger and more spacious. They offer ample room for carrying larger personal belongings, such as tablets, books or even a change of clothes. The larger size makes a handbag ideal for everyday use or whenever you need to carry more items with you. 


Purses are for more formal occasions. Since they’re relatively smaller in comparison to handbags, they’re more appropriate for formal events or other occasions when you need to carry just a few essentials. 

Compare this to handbags, which typically feature multiple compartments, allowing for better organization of your belongings. Some can even accommodate laptops, books and tablets, making them particularly well suited for travel or long days you have to spend running around town. 


Purses tend to be more handheld accessories. You hold a purse either in your hand or over your shoulder with the help of a small strap or chain. On the other side of things, handbags usually come with longer straps or handles, enabling you to carry them as shoulder bags or across your body.


Purses are usually more formal, whereas handbags can range from casual to formal. There are dozens of types of handbags to choose from, like crossbody bags, shoulder bags, fanny packs and totes. However, this is not the case with purses, which tend to offer less variety. 

Purses often feature sleek designs and luxurious materials, such as full-grain leather or satin. Handbags, meanwhile, come in a wider variety of styles, colors and materials. You can style them for all occasions, making them a popular choice among fashionistas who want to showcase their self-expression and personal style through their accessories.


In some countries, the term "purse" refers to a small handbag, while in others, it refers specifically to a wallet or coin purse. While purses and handbags mainly differ in terms of size and functionality, it is important to note that cultural and regional variations may also influence how people use the terms. 



The first step in deciding between a handbag and a purse is to assess your specific needs. Consider your answers to the following questions.

Where will you use the accessory? 

If you often attend formal events or need a bag for special occasions, a purse might be the more appropriate choice. On the other hand, if you require a bag for everyday use, work or travel, a handbag would likely be more suitable due to its larger size and functionality.

What items do you need to carry with you? 

If you tend to carry only the essentials, like a wallet, phone and keys, a purse would be sufficient. However, if you need to carry additional items, such as a tablet, books or even a change of clothes, a handbag would be a better option. Consider a sustainable leather bag that will be comfortable for everyday use.

What is your budget? 

People often see purses as more luxurious, assigning them a higher price tag. If you’re looking for a statement piece, investing in a purse might be worthwhile. As long as you learn how to care for and store a leather bag properly, you’ll be able to enjoy it for years to come. Alternatively, you could restore a leather bag to save some dollars and give an old favorite a new lease on life.

Handbags come in a wide range of price points, allowing for more flexibility in terms of budget. Look for affordable handbags that offer plenty of functionality and style, making them a practical choice for your everyday use.


Styling a purse can complement your outfit and enhance your overall look. Here are some tips for styling a purse effectively.

  • Match the occasion. Choose a purse that suits the occasion. For formal events, opt for elegant and sophisticated styles, while casual outings allow for more relaxed and trendy choices.
  • Coordinate with your outfit. Consider the color, pattern and style of your outfit when selecting a purse. A well-coordinated purse can tie your entire look together.
  • Choose the right size. Match the size of your purse to the contents you need to carry. A smaller purse works for minimal items, while a larger one is suitable for days when you need more with you.
  • Complement your body shape. Pay attention to your body shape when choosing a purse. For example, petite individuals may want to avoid oversized bags that overwhelm their frame, while taller individuals can carry larger bags with ease.
  • Experiment with colors and textures. Don't be afraid to experiment with different colors and textures. A colorful or textured purse can add a pop of interest to a neutral outfit.
  • Consider the season. Seasonal factors can influence your choice of purse. Lighter and brighter colors are often preferable in spring and summer, while deeper and richer tones work well in fall and winter.
  • Pay attention to the hardware. The hardware on your bag (such as the zippers, buckles and studs) can contribute to your overall style. Make sure the hardware complements your outfit and doesn't clash.

There you have it! By now you should have a better understanding of the key differences between purses and handbags. Remember that personal style is subjective, so feel free to express yourself through your accessories. Ultimately, the key is to feel confident and comfortable with your choices.