Buying her the perfect handbag

For the office: the Celine mini Belt bag from the French label’s Spring 2016 collection, $3,100, available at Celine outlets including 01-28/29 Ngee Ann City and B1-130 The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands. Also available in white, navy blue and almond
For the office: the Celine mini Belt bag from the French label’s Spring 2016 collection, $3,100, available at Celine outlets including 01-28/29 Ngee Ann City and B1-130 The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands. Also available in white, navy blue and almond green.PHOTO: CELINE
For that special occasion: the mini bag embellished with crystals and faux gems from Dolce & Gabbana’s Fall Winter 2015/16 collection (above), $10,900, available at Dolce & Gabbana stores including 01-24/02-12 Ion Orchard and 01/60/61/62 and B1-138
For that special occasion: the mini bag embellished with crystals and faux gems from Dolce & Gabbana’s Fall Winter 2015/16 collection (above), $10,900, available at Dolce & Gabbana stores including 01-24/02-12 Ion Orchard and 01/60/61/62 and B1-138/139/ 140 The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands.PHOTO: DOLCE & GABBANA

Follow this cheat sheet to buy the woman in your life a bag that will suit her taste and lifestyle

I've been told I'm difficult to shop for. I get it, who wants to shop for a professional shopper?

That would be like me offering professional tax accounting services to my mum, the certified public accountant.

But then, I realised by way of interaction with essentially every man I've encountered (bosses, hairdressers, fathers of friends, dudes at dinner parties) that this isn't a consequence of my choice of occupation, this is about the intimidation factor that comes with being a woman. 

Most men are just straight-up clueless or terrified of making purchases that will please the women in their lives - be it their wife, sister or "no label" companion. It seems they're happy to spend, but they want to do so smartly and successfully. 

The item I am asked most often from men for shopping advice on also happens to be the most beloved in a woman's wardrobe: the handbag. To which my first response is: "Well, is this purchase for purpose or pleasure - does she need it or just want it?" You see, the first thing you should know is that there is a difference between the versatile monstrosities a woman slings across her shoulders to help her schlep around her day-to-day necessities and the pretty little things she can fit in the palm of her hand when she changes into a Cushnie Et Ochs bodycon dress after dark. There's practical and there's impractical and both make great gifts.

So, I've devised a shopping roadmap and cheat sheet to help get you in and out of the store with the right bag that perfectly suits her taste and lifestyle. You'll see it's not that hard after all.

PRACTICAL BAGS 

Assess Her Lifestyle:  Always consider the reason you are buying her a handbag in the first place. Is it because she needs something bigger, sturdier or maybe scratch-proof?

For the latter, rule out lightweight leathers such as lambskin as it nicks too easily.

If she's in need of a chic and functional work bag, think about whether she would like a top handle to tote it or if her needs require a shoulder strap so she can be hands-free, in which case, flat and broad ones will be the most comfortable (bonus points if they're adjustable).

One thing to never overlook - despite lifestyle or price tag - is the starting weight. Never buy a woman you love a handbag that's heavy when it's empty. Not even a super-sized Balenciaga is worth the upper trapezius pain.  

Be Observant: Make sure you have a true understanding of her taste level. Pay attention to the things in her wardrobe she loves - everything from the brands she wears most often to the various textures and colours she favours. Snooping in her closet is perfectly acceptable, as is seeking the counsel of her friends.

But for added affirmation, peep into her social media accounts such as Pinterest and Instagram. Beyond her posts and pins, check out the tastemakers she interacts with and follows to get ideas or examples of a style she admires. 

Size Matters: Beyond the style, the second most important aspect of a forever-in-rotation handbag (your goal, by the way) is the size.

Remember to account for how much space her belongings will take up. For instance, if her daily haul includes a 13-inch laptop, a paddle brush and a pair of commuting flats - size way up. If buying online, be sure to check the bag's measurements to make sure it's the proper size, as a lot of popular styles come in various options. To be more helpful, retailers such as Net-a-Porter and mytheresa.com also showcase each bag on a model, which makes it easier to decipher its actual size in comparison to your friend.  

Classic Trumps Trend:  When in doubt, a black carryall by an iconic luxury brand such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Celine or Hermes will never fail you. But for a colour switch-up, camel, tan and grey are also considered classic, non-season- specific options. Stay away from white - or bone - which typically requires too much upkeep to be a wardrobe workhorse.

IMPRACTICAL BAGS

Dazzle Her: Unlike with a practical yet polished everyday carryall, your goal with a special occasion handbag - sometimes called an evening clutch, minaudiere or mini bag - is to up the wow factor. She wants something her friends will covet, something that will elicit "oohs" and "aahs" every time she takes it out of the closet.

So consider her favourite colours, style type and designers - as this is the opportunity to be a little more adventurous with your selection. Think bold hues, playful prints and anything that sparkles. 

Little is Big: It's no secret that a nice handbag is a costly investment. High-end designer options of the best status and craftsmanship will easily cost upwards of US$1,000 (S$1,400). Good news for you, though, is that tiny handbags, or miniatures, are having a moment.

Designers are making more pint-sized options, which is fantastic because that means the entry-level price tag on some of the most sought-after labels minimise potential "no returns" risk.   

Size Still Matters: Just because she likely won't be carrying this bag every day doesn't mean it shouldn't still accommodate all her non-workweek sundries.

Some women can get away with carrying just a credit card and a tube of lipstick for a night out, while others are not as comfortable downsizing their must-haves.

So, if her handbag or life motto is "the bigger, the better", consider getting her an oversized envelope clutch or a quilted, mid-sized shoulder bag with a decorative chain shoulder strap.

But if she seems to care more about flair than practicality, go with something ultra-compact and decadent. Then just add some fancy plans to give her an occasion to show off her new swoon-worthy armpiece. 

BLOOMBERG

• Nic Screws is the style director at Bloomberg.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 10, 2015, with the headline 'Buying her the perfect handbag'. Print Edition | Subscribe