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What the Way You Hold Your Handbag Says About You

Updated: Jan. 23, 2023

Find out what a body language expert has to say about the way you tote around your bag.

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The secrets of the hold

We often spend a lot of time trying to pick out which bag to carry on the daily, and that preferred purse says a lot about you. But not much second thought is given into the way we choose to carry it. Whether you like to showcase it in your hand, elbow crook, or across the shoulder, it’s actually not a random decision. According to body language experts, it can say a lot about our inherent personality. We spoke with Patti Wood, body language expert and speaker, to find out exactly how to decipher hidden messages in the way we present our go-to accessory. She has spent over 30 years conducting research, writing books, and speaking about body language. “I am fascinated by purse behavior,” notes Wood. “Purses are a gender identifier: a way to show your status, your taste and creativity, and personality.”

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Over one shoulder with bag close to body

You’re practical and need others to prove that they are worthy of your trust. As someone mainly looking to get things done, you don’t like to waste your time with little things. Your cautious and wary tendency means that you feel the need to be smart in public and watch out for yourself. According to Wood, “If you tightly grip the bag and pull it, it’s more likely fear, lower self-esteem, or concern of your purse being stolen.”

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Over one shoulder with bag swinging freely

Different from the hands-free look, your purse hangs freely on one side of your body, not your front. You are characterized by your spontaneous, carefree attitude and like to take life as it comes. People know you as being confident and self-assured. Wood also notes that you like your style to show, but you still want a certain amount of freedom. You don’t put priority on designer labels and brand names; the swinging and open style indicates that you favor functionality over display. Whichever brand you choose, these are some things you should never keep in your purse.

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In the crook of your elbow

This approach depicts a flaunting of prestige and authority. You put priority on status and position, and can indicate that you are carrying a purse with a heftier price tag. While you may sometimes be referred to as “high maintenance,” you know what you expect to receive from the world.  According to Wood, the arm crook can carry the most width, so carrying a bigger bag signals that you like to be seen. “I see celebrities do this with their big double-handled high status bags. Part of it is the weight and breadth; if they don’t hold it this way, it makes their body look bigger and matronly in photos. If it’s held out more from your body, a common style practiced by A-listers, it depicts power. You’re wearing the bag as if it’s a badge of honor or an award. You feel as if you’ve got a sense of superiority.”

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In your hand

This style exudes a more sophisticated and put-together quality. People think of you as being assertive, well-organized, and efficient. This is the most comparable to carrying a briefcase and can communicate the importance of the person’s job. Your ambitious attributes shine through, and you excel at focusing on the task at hand. People also tend to carry a bag this way when they want to attract more attention to the outfit itself—you don’t want your purse to be attached to it. Instead, the purse merely becomes a separate accessory to accentuate your clothing.

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In front of body with both hands

Body language experts refer to this as “twofurr,” which indicates shyness and a need to protect oneself. You may suffer from anxiety in social scenarios and prefer to stay out of the spotlight. “I see young women do this in public situations where they don’t know people or in stress situations, and if they are generally shy,” Wood says. These are the signs your social anxiety is actually a disorder.

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Cross-body with bag in front

You want as much freedom of movement possible, coupled with a feeling of protection and accessibility. This method allows for the most convenience to be able to get into your bag, but until then you want to move through the world easily without feeling encumbered. “Function is more important than appearance in any cross-body bag,” says Wood. “Some people carry and use cross-body bags and they think it is the safest, easiest, and most secure if you are a walking a lot. You see this in people who live in big cities like New York and with people who travel a lot.”

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Cross-body with bag in back

You tote around a cool, calm, and collected personality that is more trusting of others. You are also walking with a clear goal in mind, and the bag is analogous to your autonomous individuality. You don’t like to concern yourself with the things you have to carry—Instead, you’re great at shaking off life’s burdens and like to view life through a more casual, relaxed lens.

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People who sport a backpack are more independent and want to take care of themselves and the people around them. While freedom is important, you primarily like to be prepared for any situation. Unlike cross-body gals, you don’t like to leave anything to chance and tend to be the most reliable one of the group. You strongly believe in healthy living and find comfort in having a sense of belonging. In addition, your natural nurturing instinct may be stronger than others. You don’t stress about what other people think of you—you determine your own coolness and pride yourself on being self-sufficient.

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No bag at all

If you neglect a bag altogether, you imply a privileged position where others (whether it be a boyfriend or assistant) carries the load for you. This personality is the most self-assured of them all; you have so much going on for you that carrying a bag is not something you have to concern yourself with. On the other hand, it could just mean that you are completely unencumbered and want to move freely. According to Wood, in this case it indicates that you are very secure in your own identity, and you like to be defined by who you are as opposed to the things you wear. Curious what your other accessories say about you? This is what your shoes reveal about your personality.