It's the look anyone can carry off

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CHOOSING the latest piece of arm candy is one of life’s great joys for women. More attainable than sparkling rocks, they are a girl’s real best friend. The handbag is so much more than somewhere for women to keep their new season lip gloss, credit card and phone, and whether in leather, suede or canvas, they stand proud, look oh-so-pretty and simply beg to be bought.

Women once made a statement with their clothes, but now many are more inclined to do it with their bags, playing it safe with clothing classics that work and having serious fun with the essential accessory. Style icons Kate Moss, Sienna Miller and Sarah Jessica Parker are always seen with latest season’s must-have proudly hanging from their arm.

Just think of the huge waiting lists for some handbags nowadays. There’s the Luella lilac leather Gisele bag, the Marc Jacobs aubergine leather and suede Marin bag, the Emilio Pucci vibrant shopper, the Chanel black patent calfskin clutch and Tod’s sage clutch. As for the Rolls Royce of handbags - the Hermes Birkin - there’s a two-year waiting list for this leather friend. The shops are full of bags for every occasion, and thanks to the designer delights of Prada, Louis Vuitton, Mui Mui, Bottega Veneta, Moschino and Hermes, the bag has become a status of fashion creativity and hipness. So, what should every girl have on her arm this season?

Bags this season are big and bold. The season’s myriad of fashion trends is certainly contrary, and so the ladylike bags rub shoulders with the androgynous, the vintage with the futuristic. Bags are vying for attention, and colour and print go into overdrive.

It’s all about luxury and decadence, and bags are made to be noticed with richly textured fabrics and subtle detailing. It’s acceptable to play down the clothing attire, but not the accessorising bag. New styles include fine wool clutches and shoppers in tweed, soft brown leather bags with opulent detailing, winter green or deep purple alligator, sumptuous suede shoppers and glamorous Dynasty-esque evening bags in velvet, satin or jewels.

"It’s all about the accessories," admits fashion expert Vanessa de Lisle, who has worked for fashion bibles Vogue and Harpers and Queen and is now "cool" hunter for high street retailers including Harvey Nichols. "If you update one thing this season make sure it’s the handbag.

"Women adore bags. They make us feel special and, importantly, they look great. It’s the ultimate status symbol because you may not have the money to spend on a new designer outfit, but you can create the look just by buying a new, stylish bag. And the high street now has some fabulous bags in amazing quality so you can get the look instantly if you don’t have the money to spend on the real thing." Fifties-style handbags are dominant with prim and proper looks, combined with edgy touches for a modern twist on the traditional.

Dolce & Gabbana have the contemporary chic look down to a tee with the black and brown clutch with the all-important diamonte brooch attached, whereas Prada has gone for multi-colours in rich, complementing winter tones where function meets style. For the high street’s more wearable - and affordable - take on the designer head to John Lewis, Jenners, Debenhams, Oasis and Kookai for ladylike handbag chic, day and night.

"The feminine bags are great as they can be worn with your normal jeans and heels, for a sexy ladylike look," says De Lisle. "Think womanly and chic here."

Chloe and Lulu Guiness do the quirky, uber popular boho look well with slouch shoppers in soft leather, or atypical conversation starters, bursting with personality. The high street has a great selection of copies with Warehouse, Top Shop, Miss Selfridge, River Island, Harvey Nichols and Frasers leading the way. For sexy masculinity, Gucci do the look so well, but so does the affordable Salvatorre Ferragamo, found in Jenners, Furla, available in John Lewis, Ted Baker, from Frasers, Marks and Spencer and Zara.

De Lisle says: "This look is so strong so opt for bags with sharp lines in strong colour with minimal detailing. Think Gucci. This style of bag is probably the most versatile and will last more than one season. It’s great for work and a night out."

"I always say to women, have fun with whatever you buy. Buy it because you love it, not because fashion dictates it’s the stylish thing to have. Make sure your bag is you or it will sit in the back of the wardrobe gathering dust. It’s your friend after all."

So, when it comes to handbag passion (or obsession), think different and do not slavishly follow the trends. Ubiquitous is not fashionable, it’s boring. All that’s left to do, is simply carry yours off in style.