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Radley Stories

Style Notes

What is a Grab Bag? How To Carry Them and Our Top Grab Bag Essentials

17 July 2023

We explain what they are, how they’ve changed over time and their current trends in our Radley London guide. First things first… 

What is a Grab Bag?

When we use this term, we’re referring to a style of handbag that features two handles placed on the top. They’re easy to grab and hold, which is where this bag gets its name. With these handles, you can clutch it in hand when on-the-go or slip it onto your arm and carry it in the crook of your elbow.

Grab bags are supremely versatile and many come with a cross body strap too, providing another way of carrying it that’s completely hands-free. 

A popular choice for many occasions, the grab bag may be smart or casual, small or large. Aside from the top handles, there are no rules for what other features they should have, so they can widely vary in terms of design, shape, material and colour. This means there are many unique options and a whole range of designs to pick from for every occasion. 

A fashion grab bag should not be confused with an emergency grab bag. These are very different and don’t have the same purpose or uses. So what does grab bag mean when it’s for an emergency? This is one that should be packed in preparation for an emergency, like a house fire or earthquake, and filled with grab bag essentials, such as a first aid kit, bottles of water, spare clothes, batteries and torches. It should be left somewhere accessible so it can be picked up quickly if there is a sudden need to leave your home. 

In our Radley London guide all about grab bags, we’ll be discussing the fashion kind - the type that appears on catwalks, the ones that change with new trends or appear in new colours that are inspired by the season. And when it comes to our styles, they’re all expertly crafted using gold-standard leathers or responsible materials, as part of our Radley Responsible range.


How Were Grab Bags Invented?

The grab bag is a popular and iconic style of handbag, that’s always distinguishable by its top handles. Before the creation of handbags as we know them today, women and men would carry their few possessions in a small pouch called a girdle. This eventually evolved into a clutch and again into the shapes of the larger bags we use today. Bags hadn’t always had handles and this development came as people began to acquire more belongings. Wanting to carry these new essential items around, people found the addition of handles extremely helpful as it meant bags could be carried much more easily.

The first uses of the term ‘grab bag’ were given to a game that’s a lot like today’s lucky dip. The way this game worked was that the user would put their hand in a bag and grab a prize hidden inside. This term was later adopted into fashion and given to the style we know today, with its practical and functional handles that allow the user to literally grab and go.

Global Grab Bag Trends

The grab bag has only increased in popularity among both consumers and designers since it began. Now, it’s a staple for every brand that fits into ever-changing trends and styles. Perfect for daily use, it’s a handbag that can be worn into the office and to evening events. 

Inspiring even greater success for the grab bag, actress and Princess of Monaco, Grace Kelly, was pictured carrying a Hermès style in 1954 to cover her pregnancy. As Grace Kelly was a fashion icon, the bag quickly became a must-have accessory and many designers soon began creating their own versions. 

Fast-forward to the 21st Century and nearly every designer can be found to have a range of them in various shapes, sizes and colours, making it easy to find where to buy grab bags. With unlimited versatility and endless practicality, it is now a style that seems unlikely to ever go out of fashion.

The grab falls into a category of handbags that are generally designed and made for women, but their defining feature – the two top handles – can be found on men’s styles also. For men, they might come in the form of briefcases, which can be used to carry items around on commutes to and from work. 

Grab bags, or top handle bags as they’re also known, are very popular with members of the British Royal Family. The Princess of Wales in particular is often spotted carrying one and clutching it by its top handle. 

Different Types of Grab Bags

We’ve already discussed two different types: the fashion one and the emergency one. But there are many other bag shapes that can be considered to be a grab. This is due to their iconic characteristic, the top handle or handles.


A frame bag is a style fitted with a metal frame around its top. They often stand upright with a trapezoid shape that’s crafted in structured, durable leather that can be used for business or casual wear. They fall into the grab bag category as they are topped with one structured handle that is attached to the frame. 


A signature style here at Radley London. ‘Multiway’ is the name given to lots of our grab bag shapes due to the mix of handles and straps that mean you can carry them in many different ways. They may come in many different shapes and styles, whether that’s with a zip top or flapover fastening or in sizes from super mini to extra large. Many of our signature shapes also offer multiple interior compartments too. 


Just what it sounds like. A trunk bag is a charming, structured shape, often crafted with a hinged lid or flap, inspired by the shape of vintage luggage. These typically come with a top handle so they can be clutched in hand and shown off. (We do actual luggage too and you can find out more about it in our Best Fashionable Suitcases guide.)


A baguette bag is one of the smallest types of grab. Favoured in fashion circles, it’s long, slim and narrow, mirroring the shape of the French loaf from which it takes its name. Fitted with one or two handles, it can be clutched in hand, slipped onto the crook of the arm or worn on one shoulder.


A doctor’s bag is, as the name suggests, used by doctors as a way of carrying medical equipment. The opening is usually quite large, so that the items inside can be viewed and accessed easily. These bags are often crafted in the strongest and most durable materials, and feature a single top handle that can be effortlessly grabbed when a doctor needs to rush between appointments. 


As mentioned, this is a very different type compared to the fashion style. This bag is meant to be kept in your home so it’s available in case of any emergency and should be filled with grab bag essentials, such as water bottles and torches. If you are looking to pack an emergency bag for your home, be sure to find a full list of items to ensure you’re prepared to evacuate your home immediately and safely.

There are lots of other styles of handbag that also feature two handles. Duffle bags and holdalls are a good example, but these handles are longer than grab handles as they’re made to slip onto people’s shoulders. If you want to find out more about this style, take a look at our What Are The Best Ladies’ Weekend Holdalls guide.


Grab Bags for Different Occasions

We’ve already mentioned how they’re incredibly versatile. So what is a grab bag used for? 

Larger versions are often chosen as day bags or even fashionable work bags, while smaller ones are carried as evening or special occasion bags.

Firstly, they make great work bags. The ones with handles and extra straps can be carried in different ways, so when they’re heavy and packed full of your office essentials, you can wear it in the most comfortable way. As mentioned, some will have compartments and interior pockets that mean you can organise all of your grab bag essentials, including your technology, books, documents, charger cables and more. 

Secondly, they also make great evening styles. Holding one by its top handle means it’s easy to show off  and looks elegant when paired with your outfit. There are lots of small shapes that come with decorative details, whether it’s a metallic exterior, beading or sequins or even embroidery. Received an invitation for a special event? Take a look at our Occasion Handbags Edit to find a new style to take with you. With so many options, you’ll always find one that will suit your look. 

How to Choose the Right Grab Bag for You

We’ve answered the question ‘what is a grab bag’ and defined all the different types, so now you’ll be ready to find the perfect option for you.

What are you using it for?

If you’ll be using yours for commuting, a large bag with interior compartments will be the most suitable. This will help you organise your work-related grab bag essentials and locate them with ease. As you might be carrying more, consider one with a detachable cross body strap as this will provide you with an alternative carrying option that will feel more comfortable and distribute the weight better. 

Or if you’re searching for a casual option that’s perfect for running chores, shopping or enjoying coffee with friends, consider a small bag. A grab bag is perfect for this, as when you only need to carry essentials, it’ll feel lightweight enough to carry by the top grab handles and will add a little sophistication to your most laid-back days. 

How much will you need to put in it?

Of course, the more you need to put in it, the larger the bag will need to be. So if you’re heading to work or enjoying a big day out, there’ll be a spacious grab bag that’s perfect for you. 

Alternatively, on more casual days, you could make do with a more compact style. On days like these, we always carry our purse (from Radley London of course) as well as our keys, phone and an umbrella, because we know how unpredictable the English weather can be. A mini grab bag is perfect for this.

Where are you taking it?

Always an important thing to consider. Are you taking your bag to an outdoor event, or will you be carrying yours through the indoor mall on a shopping trip? 

Grab bags come in a variety of materials suitable for different weather, including fabrics that are easily washable if they become dirty; strong natural leathers that are waterproof and designed to last; and soft, luxurious suedes that should never get wet. To find out more about leather, including how to care about genuine leather handbags, take a look at our Faux Leather vs. Real Leather guide.  

So make sure you’ve considered where and when you’ll be using your grab bag, and what weathers you may come into contact with. Our leather care products will also help to protect your favourite accessory and ensure they last a lifetime.


If you are wondering where to buy grab bags, you’ve come to the right place. Discover our own collection, which has been thoughtfully designed and crafted using luxury leathers and responsible materials. And for more information about your favourite handbags styles, be sure to dive into our guides all about the Backpacks in Fashion and the Best Cross Body Bags