Why Handbags Reflect 2020


Fashion recently has been u-turning on the bright and boastful florals and colours of the 2000s. Gone is the thoughtful optimism we expressed through our clothing, and in its place, we see a neutral, beige sea in response to the troubles people are facing. Written by Ciara Loane

It is no secret that fashion and trends reflect the thoughts and moods of the populous and through the naïve neutrality of 2020 (especially the AW range, debuting in the latter half of the year to a pandemic and recession afflicted population) we can see a mediation on the anxieties of the world. By playing it safe and toning down our self-expression, we are seeking less to show the world who we are and what makes us different and instead seeking comfort in the similarities and muted palettes that fill the high street and even couture.

By comparing the most popular handbags of early 2020 and late 2019, when fun and novelty was all the rage in the form of micro bags, unusual patterns or gimmicks (hello, Walkers crisp packet bags from Anya Hindmarch). Now it is all about comfort, stability and practicality; everything someone needs to live through 2020. When Jacquemus handbags (miniature bags that made every mum raise their eyebrow over the practicality) emerged on the scene in 2019 it was the embodiment of the thrive, not survive, sentiment that saw expendable income being spent on non-luxury products such as these. Now, with a recession looming over us and expendable income being slashed dramatically with redundancies and furloughing, the attitude is reversed; surviving is now the priority in the eyes of the public. Handbags reflect this; gone are the fun, irreverent accessories and a new dawn of practical, long-lasting investment pieces has been waved in by everyone from couture designers to Primark.

And, as Vogue stated in their August issue, ‘There were signs of… restraint, too, in the way

that bags were clutched to the body rather protectively’. By donning our clothing like armour, like that famous old quote states, we are finding another way to shield and protect ourselves from the shortcomings of this year (understatement of 2020?).

Despite this outlook from the fashion industry appearing rather pessimistic on first glance, it is surely a favourable notion that no matter what happens in the world, global pandemic or recession included, the fashion industry will be there to validate our thoughts, worries and collective mood; we are not alone, whispers our wardrobes.

Furthermore, there are still notes of optimism and joy in the decals of handbags; from tassels to chains, it seems a little bit of decoration is not amiss.

Therefore, the key trends are not only a shielded and tad conservative collection of bags, but a cautious adventure into what makes us feel safe; a collection of trends that everyone will find something they love in.

Quilted Bags

Chanel has been creating quilted bags since the days of Coco in Paris, but now they really are coming into style in full force. The quilted element reflects the current trend to be cocooned in a duffel coat (the longer, the better and also the warmer) and perhaps a desire to cuddle and guard ourselves from the outside world of uncertainty and worry. The quilted bag can therefore be seen as our bulwark, a stylish and easy to wear way to protect

ourselves. They are easy to wear from day to night too; the quilted element will always hark back in peoples’ minds to classic Chanel glamour. Team with your favourite chunky jumper and a pair of boots for daytime looks and then simply elevate with a statement pair of earrings and some lipstick for the evening; everything about 2020 is laid back and that includes evening-wear.


As stated previously, the only expression of cheerfulness in the eyes of handbag designers was in the embellishments on their bags- be it bamboo handles, chains or studs. These decals are often make or break on a piece, with a fine line between tasteful and tacky. Though you’d be hard-pressed to find a bag that was overly decorated in 2020’s market, so these are a great addition into your wardrobe, especially in clutch form for an occasional post-lockdown dinner. These bags are a way to express your sense of style and fun in the dark and gloomy months of winter and can be carried through to spring and summer with their safe colour options (usually a dark leather).


These bags have been on our backs since the first day of school and make no mistake, they will continue to be so. With upgraded elements such as fine fabric, brass zips and interesting fasteners, they can be used to lug your life around in regardless of what age you are. By opting for a neutral colour that isn’t boring, such as mauve, taupe or a soft grey, they will instantly elevate any outfit and add a streetwear edge. Backpacks in 2020 and 2021 mean

business. See the iconic Verity backpack from Whistles as a prime example– on first look, a simple black leather backpack but do not be fooled; she will draw you back in for a second gaze with the fun fold-over detail and buttery soft fabric. Furthermore, with more people juggling many different facets of their lives from working from home to childcare, a backpack is a very practical option as you can throw everything and the kitchen sink in.

Hobo and Oversized Bags

Practicality strikes again. There is a unique comfort to be brought about by the Tote or Hobo bag; knowing that whatever happens in your day, you have everything you could possibly need stuffed in it. Spare pair of tights? Lipstick? Plasters? Laptop? Got it all, mate. A well-made, stylish Hobo can also add a lot of practicality into your everyday routine; instead of switching everything over from handbag to handbag depending on your outfit, this is the one bag that will go with anything, for every occasion. It is known amongst my closest friends that I carry a massive tote with me everywhere I go and it has seen it all- it has been battered and bruised by the tube and commutes, nights out and day trips; but it is my companion and best friend. There is a lot of flexibility when it comes to Hobo bags or Totes in terms of self-expression and colours or patterns, but following the neutral, tame shades of 2020 in handbags, once again I would recommend a soft mute sand or toffee colour. Lighter than a colour for a backpack, as this will be at your side instead of behind you and can be used to lighten up a dark wintery outfit.

I often find myself looking at fashion brands, from affordable to aspirational not just for inspiration but for validation that my style and preferences are ones shared with others (especially negative or anxious moods). Yes, there will be individual differences but to know that society shares the same outlook or mood as me is comforting- I am not alone. A good bag is an investment piece if ever there was one and will likely be worn by the owner for years, if not decades or handed down. The trends of today will likely influence those of tomorrow so it is good to know that the bag you buy today will not fall out of favour in fashion circles for at least a few turns around the Sun. It is also a good companion to be there by your side when times are tough, which they certainly are at the moment.


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