Whilst packing for a beach day this weekend, I realized that I may have a tiny “problem” with straw handbags. I needed three of them – one for beach supplies, one for shower essentials and a small round crossbody version for dinner and boardwalk strolling. Of course, the problem isn’t really that I have three straw bags. It’s that my collection includes so many more! Clutches, bucket bags, bobble trimmed, square bottomed totes… I love them all. And, with good reason. The straw bag is considered a classic, so I think that I am justified in believing that you can never have too many (at least that’s what I tell myself).
The “straw” bag has a long, rich history across many cultures. Originally crafted for utilitarian purposes, straw bags were essential for hauling everything from food to toddlers. Today, stylish straw bags are crafted of straw, raffia, corn husk, bamboo, rattan or seagrass. And, straw bags have left their no-frills past far behind. Today’s oh-so-fun bags are trimmed in jellybean bright leather or colorful printed fabrics and occasionally embellished with jolly tassels, fringe or ornaments.
A straw bag is perfect for the beach, pool or just around town. And, there are so many wonderful variations, from vintage chic to traditional French market tote, plus everything in between.
One of my personal favorites is the tiny, tightly woven picnic basket handbag. According to Collectors Weekly, “In the mid-1950s, sophisticated straw handbags appeared in southern France. Eaton Bag Company issued elegant raffia baskets, as well as trunks made of black-lacquered straw closed with a gilded lock and key. Elizabeth Arden even created a high-fashion take on a shrimp basket, outfitted with a compass in 1956.”
Another vintage-inspired style is the caned handbag. Traditional strand or hand caning is actually the most well-known of the weaving patterns (think of open and airy chair seats). The weaving method is achieved by hand with individual strands of cane to create the instantly recognizable octagonal design. The 7-step method of caning is tedious and time consuming, but the result is a lovely, strong and durable pattern.
And, no one can forget style icon Jane Birkin and her simple “little wicker basket.” According to Town and County magazine’s recent article, “The 23 Best Straw Bags to Refresh Your Spring/Summer Wardrobe,” “Before her name became synonymous with the most expensive and sought after handbag in the world, Jane Birkin’s taste in purses ran decidedly more egalitarian. Her go-to carrier? A nondescript wicker basket, which she found in a fishing village in Portugal. The English-French icon and her straw bag were inseparable. It accompanied her everywhere—shopping in Paris, sightseeing in Tokyo, on the beach in the south of France. And no matter the occasion (or season), Birkin remained faithful—there she was en route to a Cannes fete in 1974 in a shimmering black and gold cocktail dress, the basket on one arm and a tuxedo-clad Serge Gainsbourg on the other. Then in the French ski resort of Avoriaz in the winter of 1975, in cashmere, fur, and wicker.”
Whichever style you prefer, a straw bag is the perfect addition to any summer wardrobe. Tastemakers at Vogue enthuse, “They’re practical and easy and will fit seamlessly into a laid-back and relaxed spring-summer wardrobe. Plus, as the weather warms up and we spend more time outdoors—whether it be park picnics, beach strolls, or even (fingers crossed!) a getaway—these roomy and homespun handbags will make wonderful companions.”
These versatile straw handbags also come in a wide variety of price ranges, so you are sure to find one to fit your style and budget.
I’ve showcased my top picks for the season. From top:
- Straw and rattan caned bucket bag with Kelly green trim, Talbots, $99
- Corn husk market tote, J Crew, $29
- Wicker top handle handbag, Lilly Pulitzer, $158
- Woven straw crossbody bag with leather trim, Brighton, $185
- Round straw crossbody bag, J Crew, $185
Naturally, I see one or two that I simply must to add to my collection…
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Susan Said…WHAT?! was named one of the Top 50 Beauty Blogs in the World by RebateZone.com and is your guide to a life filled with style. Inside, you’ll find everything from must-have fashion, beauty and accessories, to gorgeous gardens and stunning interiors, plus the latest ideas for parties, weddings, and events of all kinds. Susan Conforte McNeill is an author, entrepreneur, and co-founder of the literacy organization Success Won’t Wait!