Purses vs. Handbags

When it comes to accessorizing, one of the most essential items for a woman is undoubtedly a handbag. However, the terms "purse" and "handbag" are often used interchangeably, leading to confusion about their differences. We’re setting the record straight on the difference between purses and handbags, specifically the cultural differences, how to style each of them, and which one you’re looking for.

Let’s start with the most obvious question…

What's the Difference Between a Purse and a Handbag?

A purse is a small, compact bag that’s designed to hold essential items such as wallets, keys, and makeup. It’s often used for formal occasions or for carrying minimal items. Purses are commonly held in the hand or worn over the shoulder with a small strap or chain.

On the other hand, a handbag is a larger, more spacious bag that is designed to carry a wider range of items. Handbags typically have multiple compartments and pockets, making it easier to organize belongings. They can accommodate items such as tablets, books, and even laptops. Handbags usually come with longer straps or handles, allowing them to be carried on the shoulder or across the body. The strap is usually adjustable as well, meaning you can adjust the length based on your daily needs.

While the main distinction lies in size and functionality, it is important to note that cultural and regional variations may also influence how these terms are used. In some countries, the term "purse" may be more commonly used to refer to a small handbag, while in others, it may refer specifically to a wallet or coin purse.

Furthermore, styling and aesthetics also play a role in differentiating purses from handbags. Purses are often seen as more elegant and sophisticated, with sleek designs and luxurious materials. Handbags, on the other hand, can range from casual to formal, with a wider variety of styles, colors, and materials available.

Key Differences Between the Two Accessories


One of the most noticeable differences between purses and handbags is their size. Purses are typically smaller and more compact, designed to hold just the essentials such as a wallet, keys, and a few small personal items. They are perfect for occasions where you want to travel light or when you only need minimal items.

Handbags, on the other hand, are larger and more spacious. They offer ample room for carrying a variety of items, including larger personal belongings such as tablets, books, or even a change of clothes. The larger size of handbags makes them ideal for everyday use or when you need to carry more items with you.


Another key difference lies in the functionality of purses and handbags. Purses are often designed for formal occasions or events where you need to carry just a few items. Handbags, on the other hand, are more versatile and practical for everyday use. They typically feature multiple compartments and pockets, allowing for better organization of your belongings. Handbags are designed to carry more items, making them suitable for work, travel, or long days running around town. Plus, there are dozens of types of handbags to choose from like crossbodies, shoulder bags, fanny packs, and totes. This is not the case with purses.

styling & aesthetics

Purses are often associated with elegance and sophistication. They tend to have sleek designs and are often made from luxurious materials such as leather or satin. They’re commonly used to complement formal attire or add a touch of glamor to an outfit.

Handbags, on the other hand, come in a wider variety of styles, colors, and materials. But this doesn’t mean that handbags are unsuitable for formal occasions, they can be styled for all occasions, giving you more range for outfit coordination. Handbags offer more options for self-expression and personal style, making them a popular choice for many fashionistas.

Common Misconceptions

The Two Terms are Not Interchangeable

One common misconception is that the terms "purse" and "handbag" can be used interchangeably. However, as we’ve discussed, there are distinct differences between the two. While they may share some similarities, such as being used for carrying personal items, their size, functionality, and even cultural interpretations set them apart.

At Latico Leathers, we sell handbags, not purses.

How to Wear & Style Shoulder Bags

Another misconception is that purses are solely focused on fashion, while handbags are more functional. While it's true that purses are often associated with elegance and style, it doesn't mean they lack functionality. Purses are designed to hold essential items and provide convenience when attending formal events or occasions.

Similarly, this does not mean that handbags can’t be styled for formal occasions. They are designed to accommodate a wider range of items and offer better organization with multiple compartments and pockets. Handbags can be both stylish and practical, making them suitable for everyday use and upscale events.

Do You Need a Handbag or a Purse?

Some women prefer purses, while others prefer handbags. If you aren’t sure which is right for you, this should help.

The first step in deciding between a handbag and a purse is to assess your specific needs. Consider the occasions or events where you will be using 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.

Additionally, think about the items you typically 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 for you.

Budget is another important consideration. Purses are often seen as “more luxurious” and as a result, often come with a higher price tag. If you are looking for a statement piece or a special accessory for formal occasions, investing in a purse might be a worthwhile choice.

On the other hand, handbags come in a wide range of price points, allowing for more flexibility in terms of budget. You can find affordable handbags that offer plenty of functionality and style, making them a practical choice for everyday use.