When it comes to building your work wardrobe, your handbag is just as important as any other item you’ll buy. As an extension of your style on the outside, and a reflection of your personality on the inside, the bag you carry on a daily basis says more about you than you may think!

But don’t panic—choosing the perfect bag to start your career doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Whether you’re on a budget or have a few bucks to spend, you can find a quality handbag that conveys your personal style and professional ambitions. Just follow these easy guidelines!

Funky or Formal?

Do you work in a formal, corporate environment, or do you and your co-workers hold your morning meeting in a circle of bean bag chairs? When choosing your handbag, consider your company’s culture, and use its dress code as a guideline.

For a classic, professional pick, think neutral colors, solid fabrics, sturdy materials, and clean designs. Or, if your position relies on your creative talents, choose a bag that shows off your personality—bright colors, unique details, and bold patterns are all great places to draw inspiration. (Just be sure not to go too over-the-top—think young, creative professional, not crazy bag lady.)

Complementary Colors

When it comes to color, make sure you select a bag that complements your existing wardrobe. Neutral colors like black, brown, navy, gray, and white will go with nearly every item in your closet, as will metallics like gold, bronze, and silver. But a color is OK too—just choose a shade that looks great with your outerwear. Jewel tones like mustard, emerald, and violet are a perfect way to infuse color into your professional style.

Function

The reason you carry a bag is to transport your belongings from Point A to Point B, so make sure you choose a bag that’ll be able to hold all of your essentials. Before you begin the search, make a list of everything you carry with you on a daily basis—from your keys to your laptop to your makeup (and maybe a spare pair of flats). When you buy a bag, you want to make sure all your stuff going to fit—you don't want a bag that ends up being half an inch smaller than your laptop!

Then, pick a bag with built-in organizers and plentiful pockets, or invest in inserts like a durable iPad cover or laptop sleeve, and sturdy sunglasses case. Organize items so they’re easy to find, and protect your valuables from scratches and dents. This will not only make your life easier, but it’ll show that you’re neat, organized, and professional.

Pick Your Bag!

Now, it’s shopping time! There’s a huge selection out there, but we’ve narrowed it down to bring you 12 gorgeous (and affordable) bags you’ll love. Just remember—style, color, and function, and you’re ready to take the working world by storm (with a little help from your handbag, of course)!

Under $50: yellow faux croc satchel | purple satchel | two-tone satchel | blue messenger bag

Under $100: faux leather handbag | brown messenger bag | buckle satchel | taupe handbag

Over $100: red & navy satchel | green satchel | cognac handbag | color-block tote

Photo courtesy of Sara Goldstein.