05/17/2013 12:39 pm ET Updated Jul 16, 2013

Bags, Sunnies and Style Opportunities

Getty Images

Four years ago, I owned one handbag. It was big, black, slouchy and had two magnet-closure pockets on its front. It perfectly suited my use patterns and needs, and I carried it daily.

Two years ago, I owned one pair of sunglasses. They were big, black and had super dark lenses. They suited my face and I wore them with everything.

At some point, a colleague pointed out that handbags are outfit influencers. Although we may not carry our bags every moment of every day, when we do carry them they contribute to how our overall looks hang together. A simple, neutral bag may blend in, but a bright or eye-catching bag can add another level of interest.


Image Courtesy Banana Republic

Same goes for sunglasses. A single, classic pair will work with nearly everything. But having multiple and varied options on-hand allows you to customize your look. Go sporty one day, retro glam the next with a simple swap of sunnies.

Today, I have a collection of colorful handbags in a variety of shapes and sizes, and swap out my bag to complement my outfit. I use them to add bright pops to certain outfits, or complete my otherwise incomplete-feeling looks. My bright red studded bag looks bold and daring worn with a black and white ensemble, and my olive green one works beautifully with a mix of muted neutrals. I carry a sunglasses case, makeup bag, wallet, keys and phone so swapping bags isn't as much of a hassle as I'd imagined it would be during my single-bag years.

And I recently sprung for a pair of tortoiseshell cat-eye sunglasses. Since my other pair is cool and modern, it felt good to have access to a more classic and traditionally feminine option. I still wear those big black ones on the regular, but the cat-eyes are working their way into more and more summer outfits.

Unlike other accessories, handbags and sunglasses are add-ons. Your shoes are on your feet all day, your belt is an integral part of your ensemble, and your garments stay on your bod. But bags and sunnies participate on an as-needed basis, which means they sometimes get less attention than their constantly-worn counterparts. Personally, I've found that I feel more intentional and pulled-together when I've given active thought to which bag I want to carry, which sunglasses will work best with my outfits. It's a level of detail -- even perfectionism -- that doesn't suit everyone, but definitely does me.

So is this an endorsement of rampant fashion-based consumerism? It is not. Am I saying that ALL women should have mountains of handbags and stacks of sunglasses or be dull and frumpy? I am not. Many women own a single bag or a single pair of sunglasses and never give other options a single thought. Those women are no more or less fashionable for passing on these style opportunities. Some women have carefully honed styles and don't need multiple choices or simply prefer the ease of one versatile option. For those who are interested in exploring multiples, there's no need to spend big. Bags, sunglasses and just about every item that is fashion-related can be bought secondhand through thrift and consignment stores, or online via eBay, Etsy and other reselling resources. (The vast majority of my bags were eBayed at a fraction of retail and in pristine condition). And lastly, "multiple" can simply mean "more than one." Access to even two options for these types of look-influencing wearables will expand your outfit horizons.

An outfit-enhancing handbag or sharp pair of sunnies constitutes a style opportunity: You can cash in on it, or take a pass.

Image courtesy Banana Republic.

Subscribe to the Lifestyle email.
Life hacks and juicy stories to get you through the week.