Finding a bag – *the* bag – is a really tricky thing. The One has to be the right size, well made, look great with your wardrobe (that’s everything in your wardrobe) and, crucially, not cost a fortune. While mega brands like Prada, Gucci and Louis Vuitton have upped the prices of their “It” bags to increase their exclusivity (in other words, pricing lots of people out), fortunately there is now a whole host of niche bag brands that are making fantastic-quality leather bags for an affordable budget. Filling the mid-range price-bracket gap, they’ve got all the appeal of something designer.
Of course, if you’re buying a real leather bag (in my opinion, leather lasts longer), expect to pay a little more money for it. Anything less than £50 and you should really be asking questions about how it was made and by whom, and how long it’s going to last. My advice is to buy less, spend more and aim for something between £100 to £250. Often referred to by retailers as the “sweet spot”, this is the space that hits between fast fashion built to break and crazy designer prices. As Anna Kreeger, designer of “sweet spot” bag brand M Hulot explains, “More and more people are looking for that special investment handbag and are prepared to pay a bit more. Under £250 bridges the gap between high street and the big fashion houses without completely breaking the bank.”
I've come to the conclusion that it’s best to spend your money wisely on a moderately sized bag that will work for you on a lot of levels
If you are going to spend some money on a bag, then you’ll want to take care of it. Leather bags aren’t difficult to look after (in fact, I think they look even better with a little wear and tear once the leather has become soft), but they’re easy to revive with the same cream lotion (avoid the coloured ones – you just want plain) that you would use on a pair of shoes.
Anyway, I’ve been giving it a lot of thought lately and have come to the conclusion that it’s best to spend your money wisely on a moderately sized bag that will work for you on a lot of levels. The cross-body is a wonder – big enough to fit in all the stuff you actually need during the day (keys, wallet, phone, small umbrella, dog-poo bags. Oh, just me?), but also small enough to double up as the perfect partner for your evening outfits. I love that a cross-body forces me to edit down to just my essentials but, on days when I have more stuff than usual to lug around, I use one of my myriad canvas totes for the extra bits and bobs. And, to be honest, I’m thrilled that I’ve finally found a use for them.
The other joy of a cross-body is that it allows you to have a bit more fun with colour and print. Rather than play it safe with black or brown, it’s the ideal size to carry a pop of yellow or add a Breton stripe to your outfit without overwhelming the rest of your look (yes, I have found you a Breton stripe bag. You’re welcome). Because I’m into a statement bag, I tend to avoid the better-known brands, as I’d rather not see millions of other people with the same thing as me, but I do recommend COS and & Other Stories if you’re looking to keep it under £100 and don’t live in a city where loads of other people are likely to have bought an identical one. Otherwise, I love all of the below for quality, reassuring ethics and, most importantly, gorgeous bags – all under £250.
This is the brand that I credit with getting me properly interested in bags. Based in London, it makes everything in the UK in small batches, so once it’s gone, it’s gone. I have a Mini in Dalmatian print, which is no longer available, but the same style comes in four colours for summer (including peacock suede) for £240. This is the most perfect of my perfect bags – I’ve even managed to fit a Tupperware box with the dog’s dinner in this one! I’ve had it for just over six months and I don’t know what I would do without it.
The Cambridge Satchel Company
The Cambridge Satchel Company was founded by Julie Deane (on her kitchen table) in 2008. All of her leather satchels are made in the Midlands and there’s plenty on offer for under £250. In fact, my favourites are all under £150. The Saddle bag (that I’m wearing in this picture) is £145 and I also love the Large Push Lock (£100) and the super-cute Small Cloud bag (£135). I’m finding I can fit more in my bag as the leather softens up.
Lost Property of London
I spend a fair amount of time looking at this London-based bags brand on Instagram. Not only are they beautifully designed, the brand operates on a zero-waste principle, meaning bags are often made from upcycled materials, as well as vegetable-tanned leather. Kinder to the environment, a purchase from here is easy on the conscience, too. Check out the Micro Arlington (£220), available in six colours.
I’m a relatively new fan of M Hulot but, now it’s on my radar, I’m hooked. This is another vegetable-tanned leather brand that makes everything in the UK and the minimal designs are right up my street. Oh, and it does a yellow bag. YELLOW. This makes my heart sing. It’s called Gia and it’s £170.
Although most of their bags are just over the £250 threshold, I had to mention Mimi Berry because so many people have recommended this brand to me over Twitter and Instagram. I’m talking proper, loyal fans who have been buying Mimi Berry bags for years, so it’s wise to believe them. Based in East London, bags are made in the UK from (you guessed it) veg-tanned leather. The Sibell is gorgeous and it’s £230.
Fancy designing your own bag for less than £200? At £199 all-in, including choosing the colour of leather and lining and monogramming, Mon Purse’s Uptown mini cross-body satchel comes in loads of options. If you need something a bit bigger, the Downtown, the larger size of the same style, is £250, and it’s an extra £29 to personalise it. A relatively new brand, Australian-based Mon Purse was founded in 2014, uses leather sourced from Italian and Turkish tanneries and has one of the easiest-to-use websites going.