There's good news for style seekers who couldn't afford the it bags in previous seasons. Today, even celebrities and the most hardcore handbag fans are seeking out styles that don't scream Gucci or Balenciaga.
Instead, in what might be a response to these economic times, fashion buffs are craving something low-key and singular.
There's plenty to choose from: Some designers are hand-stitching peace logos onto sleek little clutches, and others are using faux skins like ostrich and snake and adding a metallic sheen to them.
"I think what's happening now in handbags is about people having a better eye, about seeing something different," said Los Angeles-based Daniel Schiffer, whose Endless Leather peace sign-stamped leather bags have been purchased by singer Pink (in pink, of course) and Michelle Obama. "Women want to find a bag that's classy and that has a real vibration to it, without spending thousands of dollars."
With prices running anywhere from $100 to over $1,000, consumers have a lot to choose from. The core fall and winter trends include crushed leather, fringe and surface details like studs and grommets.
The key? Make it a bag that is not instantly identifiable as coming from a highly publicized designer.
"Having everyone know how much you spend on luxury goods by carrying the obvious it bag is not in good taste anymore," says Lainie Schreiber, national sales director of the niche handbag line Latico Leathers. "Subtle brands and the confidence to carry bags you love is what's hot."
Here's how to shop the trends:
If you can't afford -- or don't want to carry -- an all-over python bag, look for something with even a patch of faux exotic skin, says Chad Ypon, co-founder of New York-based bag line The Divine Tribe, whose bags have been carried by Kate Hudson, Cameron Diaz and Uma Thurman.
Jennifer Furio, design director of bag line Tre Vero, predicts that satchels and feminine, chic briefcase bags will be a strong style for women, and Ypon forecasts a demand for roomy totes.
The colors that define this season are rich jewel shades, including gold, emerald, deep purple, metallic brown, burgundy and steel.
Look for little surprises on a bag -- a lining in a vintage-inspired pattern, an extra-wide zipper, hidden pockets for coins and cell phones. The hardware -- clasps, locks, zippers -- are all-important, in finishes ranging from antique brass to gunmetal.
Want to try your hand at designing your own bag? Designers say you can easily update the bags you already have in your closet. Charms and pins offer an instant fix.
"Many of the couture fall bags are vintage-inspired," says Schreiber. "Hunt for old pins, buttons and brooches in grandma's attic or at flea markets, and simply affix to the flap of a favorite worn-in bag."
Ypon suggests stitching or pasting on a leather or fabric flower patch, or stringing chains and charms through the zipper pull. If you're handy with a sewing machine, Schiffer recommends cutting up an old, soft leather jacket and stitching together a little clutch.
Not so handy? A couple of coats with a dark polish from a shoe repair store is an almost foolproof way to "stain" a leather bag, creating the popular distressed look.
Bags made from canvas or fabric can be easily updated by sewing on beads, silver charms or even earrings.
Whatever bag you choose, always wear it with confidence.
Kavita Daswani has been a fashion correspondent for CNN International, CNBC Asia and Women's Wear Daily. Shehas written for the Los Angeles Times and International Herald Tribune, among many other publications.
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