Straw bags are for more than the beach

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop
| Thursday, June 6, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

The straw bag has ventured beyond the beach.

What used to be thought of as a vacation-only purse has transformed into an everyday staple, perfect for this time of year.

“Straw bags give us the feeling of summer,” says Meredith Paley, vice president of public relations for Talbots. “They are lighter, too, which women love, especially after carrying a heavy bag in winter.”

Summer after summer, Talbots offers a straw bag, Paley says. This year's collection has lots of colors and shapes, from a striped tote to a clutch with a neon pink flap.

Straw handbags are popular in the summer because they are a seasonal fabric that pairs well with straw hats, espadrilles and all summer attire, says Kathi Hursh, Macy's by-appointment manager at South Hills Village.

“It's a centuries-old technology that never fails to wear well and has been made famous with the help of designers,” Hursh says. “A straw handbag carries history within its weaves.”

The trend in straw bags includes vintage-inspired pieces with a structured shape and wooden handle.

A straw tote bag is still a perfect choice for the beach, Paley says. A woman can throw in everything from an extra pair of shoes, swim cover-up or sweater, for those too-cool air-conditioned restaurants.

Having a lightweight bag is a must-have for summer, says Jessica Poland, store manager of Brighton Collectibles in Ross Park Mall. She says their bags are made from corn husks and crocheted paper, which makes them easy to carry.

“They are all-natural and eco-friendly, and they are perfect for this time of year,” Poland says. “Bags like this wouldn't be good for the winter, because they could get damaged in bad weather.”

Each Brighton bag is hand-made by artisans who weave them around wooden blocks. In 2012, straw bags accounted for 24 percent of Brighton sales from February to May, Poland says.

“Women like to have a bag for every occasion,” Poland says. “And straw bags can be carried everywhere from work to weekend.” style expert Natasha Pace appreciates the texture of straw bags, which is reminiscent of palm trees and beaches. She says go for color in your selection. She points out a big move toward retro-inspired shapes as a refreshing and needed direction after so much high-end sophistication. You can take these bags to work, she says.

“Rules? What rules?” Pace says. “So many laidback casual looks and even formal evening looks have transcended into our regular office attire nowadays. Think sequin top and transparent heels. Bottom line, if your office allows it and you're loving it, I say go for it.”

Straw style is a great addition to a wardrobe of purses, says Regina Gardiner, senior accessories editor for People Style Watch.

“The straw bag is not just for the beach, because it comes in more than a tote style. There are cross-body bags and satchels and clutches,” Gardiner says. “And they come in fun colors, as well as the natural hues you are used to seeing.”

The ethnic-inspired trend is popular in straw bags, Gardiner says. They can be very colorful and a fun accessory to add to an outfit, she says. “You just associate straw and wicker with summer.”

The trend in summer handbags includes not only straw, but raffia and organic materials, says Gregg Andrews, Nordstrom fashion director.

“For summer, these are such great materials because they are basic and natural,” Andrews says. “You will see a lot of global-inspired bags and fun, colorful patterns. These bags come in everything from soft pastels as well as deep hues, magentas and cobalt blues. Match the style of bag to the occasion. A clutch is perfect for the weekend, while a more structured purse works for work. Take the tote on vacation.”

These bags also are less expensive than leather, and some have interesting embroidery and detail as well, from great sculpted handles to leather trims and embellished designs, Andrews says.

“They remind us of summer and are the perfect transition bag from spring to summer,” he says.

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at or 412-320-7889.

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