The universe of bags and the words to describe them are so diverse and versatile that even professionals, including us at Lux Second Chance, sometimes get confused. While there is a common word “bag” that encapsulates any sack, in which you can put personal items to carry them, there are lots of other words that refer to the size, shape, function, closure and the way of carrying it. We have compiled a list that will help you to use the right words for your favourite accessory.

The most common confusion occurs in relation to “purse” or “handbag”. Originally, the term "purse" referred to a small bag for holding coins. In British English, it is still used to refer to a small coin bag. A "handbag" is a larger accessory that holds objects beyond currency, such as personal items. However, American English typically uses the terms purse and handbag interchangeably.

As a fashion accessory, handbags can be categorized according to the silhouette of the item, as well as the type of handle and a place of carrying it. Below are some of the popular handbag silhouettes, shapes and models.



Backpack is a sack carried on one's back and secured with two straps that go over the shoulders. Lightweight types of backpacks are sometimes worn on only one shoulder strap. Recently backpacks became stylish again and fashion companies, from glamorous luxury brands like Burberry and Michael Kors to high street companies have been producing them. They are capacious, easy to carry and fashionable.

Barrel bag is shaped like a barrel or closed tube, usually with shoulder-length straps.

Briefcase is a narrow hard-sided box-shaped bag or case used for carrying papers and other documents. It got its name from the lawyers who would usually use this type of bag to carry briefs to present to a court.  It is equipped with a handle. Businesspeople and other professionals also use briefcases to carry papers, and recently also electronic devices such as laptop computers and tablets. However, there are also separate laptop cases, which are made of much softer materials, but provide a sturdy protection.   

Cross-body is a type of bag, which has a long strap so that it is carried diagonally across one’s body, with the bag hanging on the opposite hip, rather than hanging directly down from the shoulder. But it can be worn over the shoulder as well. It can be in different styles, like a cross-body satchel or a cross-body saddlebag. It is a stylish and very comfortable way to carry a bag as it allows having free hands.


Clutch is a lady’s handbag without handles, often times with a detachable chain strap. It is mostly used as an evening bag, but can be carried during the day as well. Usually it is very small in size and holds only the most necessary items to take out for an event. Many people argue that it is the most uncomfortable handbag of all because one must either hold it in their hands or under the arm. But still it is a beautiful accessory that decorates many evening looks.


Fanny pack (American English) or bum bag (British English) is a small leather or fabric pouch with a front or top zipper and worn by a strap around the hips or waist. The difference in the name for this bag derives from the slang terms in each language for “buttocks” - above where it is worn. However, now it is usually worn with the pouch at the front. Don’t mix this word with a “money belt”, because this item is designed to either have hidden pockets or to be carried under the shirt as a precaution against thieves and pickpockets. Even though for many years fanny packs were considered old-fashioned and quite ridiculous, the house of Gucci reintroduced them and they are having a comeback.

Hobo bag is a style of handbag that is typically large and characterized by a crescent shape, a slouchy posture and a long strap designed to wear over the shoulder. Hobo bags are made out of soft, flexible materials and tend to slump, or slouch, when set down. This style of purse is called a hobo bag because it resembles the shape of the bindle on a stick that hobos are portrayed as carrying over their shoulder in drawings and cartoons.

Messenger bag is a type of bag with one long strap worn across the body, inspired by bags worn by urban messengers to deliver business mail. It goes across the chest resting the bag on the lower back. A smaller version is often called a sling bag. They are popular among cyclists and students because, compared to a backpack, it is much easier to access the items from a messenger bag as they can be easily shifted to the front or to the side. Also messenger bags provide more weather resistance than traditional leather satchel-style school bags as they are usually made of waterproof materials.

Saddlebag is shaped like a horse saddle, may have equestrian motifs and hardware to emphasize the design. Usually it is rounded at the base and has a flap closure with a long strap to carry over the shoulder or across the body.


Satchel is a leather bag, often with a strap, that is worn as a cross-body. The back of a satchel extends to form a flap that folds over to cover the top and fastens in the front. Unlike a briefcase, a satchel is soft-sided. They have been traditionally used for carrying books, but they have become a fashion accessory since 2008, popularized by the Cambridge Satchel Company.

Tote bag is a large and often unfastened bag with parallel handles that emerge from the sides of its pouch. The typical tote is made of sturdy cloth, perhaps with thick leather at its handles or bottom. Designer tote bags are made of leather. Common fabrics also include heavy canvas, jute and heavy nylon. Nowadays totes are the most usual and convenient type of bags to run daily errands, from the grocery shopping to travelling.


Wristlet is a small handbag, like a clutch, but it is usually thinner and has a short carrying strap resembling a bracelet that can be put on a wrist.

Hopefully our glossary will help you use the right words when you talk about your latest handbag, purchased at Lux Second Chance.

October 03, 2017 — Darina Granik

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