Are Crossbody Bags Professional?

Are Crossbody Bags Professional? Are crossbody bags professional?  Could you wear one to a business lunch, or a networking event?  Reader C wonders…

Is a crossbody bag considered professional? I’m tired of carrying a ton of bags to work (briefcase, pump, lunch bag, and purse) and am trying to downsize my handbag. I’m considering purchasing the Lo & Sons Pearl bag. But would it be odd wearing a crossbody to a business lunch or networking event? Thanks!

The crossbody bag is SO HUGE right now. I think they’re cute, even if I wouldn’t wear one myself (busty girls, are you with me?). I would say this is a case of “you do you” and go ahead and wear it if you want to. I particularly think the crossbody is the new wristlet — perfect for grabbing something quickly to run to pick up lunch. (Pictured: another popular option, the Marc Jacobs Natasha, available at Nordstrom for $108-$398.  The pictured leather bag is $365.)

BUT — there’s always a but, isn’t there? — I might caution you in two possible regards that might invoke negative judgement about your professionalism.

First: if it’s a networking event or a business lunch, do you really need ANY bag? Most networking events that I’ve been to, people have ditched their bags and coats and wandered the room, pursefree. (This is one of the reason I always felt a blazer with pockets was a no-brainer for a networking event — a place for your cell phone and business cards!) I’ve seen a few women wandering around with their bags, and they were usually of two types: a) the kind of person who has an OMG-So-Important bag that she’s super proud to show off, or b) the kind of person who refuses to trust the coatcheck / other attendees and insists on carrying the bag with her. I’d at least encourage you to gauge the room to see if other women are carrying their bags with them, or if there is a coatcheck option.  If you are really nervous, you can just bring one credit card with you instead of your whole wallet, and keep your credit card in your pocket.

Secondly, and this is really just a point on how slowly fashion trends permeate a conservative workplace: older colleagues in particular may associate the crossbody bag as casual, or even touristy. This impression could be reinforced if you are frequently rooting around in it and pulling things in and out.  So I guess that’s my other point: know the type of person who is going to be there (e.g., is it a young professionals event?), and who you want to network with.

Ladies, what are your thoughts on crossbody bags for work and work events? Which are your favorite crossbody bags out right now? 


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  1. Here’s a 3rd possible issue that is usually a problem for me: the “chest” squishing issue. I find that unless my crossbody is very light + I’m wearing a heavy duty shelf/sports bra, the strap ends up either 1) squishing one of my “girls” (hate this term, but don’t want to be modded), or 2) sitting right in the middle and creating this unattractive and obvious separation.

    Unless I can fix those things, I would vote not professional!

    • YES! It’s not just an issue for ‘busty’ gals, anyone with breasts will likely have this issue, at least I speak for myself that it’s certainly the case.

    • Yeah, I find anything across the body creates major breast outline issues, which are definitely unprofessional. You also really have to pick the bag, some to me they do really risk looking childish.

  2. Anonymous :

    Yes I think they’re perfectly fine as long as they work with your outfit- I can’t picture a cross body bag over a suit looking good but for a more casual thing sure.

    And I always see people with purses at events. Always.

  3. 1) Not professional.

    2) Is checking your handbag at a coat check really a thing? I have never seen that, and would never do that.

    • +1 I make sure whatever bag I am taking with me either sits on the floor well (square/stiff bottom) or can easily go over my shoulder.

    • +2 maybe I have trust issues but there is no way I would ever leave my purse with some random person. I think this is just asking for stuff to get stolen from it.

    • anonymous :

      I have seen people leave bags at museum coat checks but there is always a warning about valuables i.e. they are not responsible if you lose something.

    • Wildkitten :

      I’ve left my second bag at coat check – the canvas tote with my lunch in it – but not my purse with my wallet.

    • It’s very common in NYC.

    • Attended coat checks are not as common outside of NY. I have many events where there is just a coat rack that is unattended in the hallway. I don’t want to leave my purse there! At most events I see people go put their purse on or under a chair or just carry it around.

      • I have been to many things in Toronto with a manned coat check. I would never leave my bag with wallet or laptop…spare shoes, shopping bags but no valuables

  4. As a non-driver who has to carry everything for the day in my bag which can get heavy, and who considers crossbody bags more secure, I really love them. I find them more comfortable to haul stuff on foot and switch shoulders. My favorite bag is a (now sadly discontinued) tote with an adjustable strap so that it can be crossbody OR over the shoulder. It has a more unstructured shape… it’s like this but I have a different color. I prefer the adjustable strap to the kind of bag that has structured shoulder straps and a clip-on crossbody strap, because the shoulder straps just flop around when you’re not using them on a bag like that.

    Anyway, with a convertible bag, I find I can carry stuff comfortably when I need to, but not feel out of place when I get to my destination and have to stand there holding a purse and a drink.

    FWIW I work in a more casual atmosphere than many readers and am not busty…

    • anonymous :

      This was exactly my thought, if you don’t drive and commute by public transit, they can be versatile and more comfortable than other options. I also like the idea of being completely “hands free”.

  5. Anonymous :

    Just my opinion, but I would find a crossbody paired with the type of outfit worn to a networking event to be an odd, mismatched look. Just carry a regular, normal-sized purse that stays put on your shoulder. Take out anything unnecessarily heavy that would make it uncomfortable to keep there for an hour.

    Kat’s solutions don’t work for me for several reasons:
    -I don’t live in 2002 so I’m not using a Moto Razr or similar phone compact enough to fit into blazer “pockets” (whatever those are, mine only have phantom pockets)
    -The lack of real pockets is probably because a well-tailored blazer should not really double as a utility jacket. A phone would stick out so much that it would say “I’m so important I need my phone strapped to my ribcage”
    -I live in a southern state where there is no such thing as coat check, even if we wear coats 3-4 months of the year and always have purses. When in other cities, I’ve never seen someone give up their purse with their coat other than to the hostess of a private in-home party, and at venues, usually the coat check signs discourage leaving valuables.

    • Meg Murry :

      Yes, please, show me some suits or blazers with real pockets that could hold a modern smartphone. 95% of blazers and suit jackets I’ve tried on had only fake pockets or flaps, and the remaining few had stitching that could technically be taken out but yielded a pocket that was maybe barely credit card/business card sized – if that.
      I have a casual knit blazer with actual pockets, but no dressy suit jackets or blazers.

      Not a lawyer or business formal professional, but I think a very small crossbody in a neutral color could be ok, but not something as large and as bright as what is shown. But for the OP, I think the way to downsize is to get a bag that could cover 2 of the 4 things you have listed – a bag that could hold your briefcase contents plus a slim handbag, or a larger bag that could hold your pump and lunch bag, for instance.

      • I don’t understand why women buy clothing with no pockets. Many of us complain about the lack, but as long as people don’t insist on them, designers won’t find them necessary.

    • Are you sure your blazer/jacket doesn’t have pockets? They may have come stitched shut and need to be opened – this is quite different from the back pocket of most dress pants I get that have the welt, but a 1 inch deep pocket (don’t get me started). Even my casual cotton blazer (lined) from BR had real pockets and they are big enough for iPhone or Moto X.

      ETA – @Meg Murry – huh. I’ve never had an issue with blazer pockets. Pants pockets on the other hand…

      • Anonymous :

        Yeah, they are stitched shut but even if I opened them there is no pocket behind (some are the quarter-sized pockets like you describe).

        Edit: I take it back, one of my Jcrew suit jackets has a little pocket inside the lapel that is maybe 2-3″ deep, but it is barely wide enough to hold chapstick–as a chapstick addict, I assumed this was the intended purpose because I can’t figure out what else you could fit in there other than a house key so long as you remove the key ring. I don’t think even a car key fob would fit, so definitely not wide enough for cards.

      • baseballfan :

        I have several suit jackets/blazers with pockets. I don’t carry a purse (travel a lot and between my suitcase and computer bag am at the limit for airplane carryons, so I got out of the purse habit) and have often gone to these types of events with my phone and keys in a pocket; usually also biz cards and a lipstick. Android phone user here and the pockets are surely plenty big, and if I’m not mistaken, iPhones are smaller than most Androids.

      • Meg Murry :

        I should clarify that I was looking at the fairly cheap end of the spectrum (under $250 regular price, selling for under $150) AND plus sized, but not a single suit jacket or blazer I tried on had usable pockets – it seems to be something that has been cost reduced out of the cheapest items, and I’ve noticed on some of the jackets Kat posts here when you read the fine print they list faux pockets instead of real – once you start looking for them it pops out at you.

    • Diana Barry :

      +1. I never check my purse at coat check. I always keep my bag on me and carry either in my hand or on my forearm.

      • Yay! I agree with Diana. I have alot of valueable stuff in my purse and bag’s so I do NOT give them to a coat check, even at a fancy place.

        I also sometimes DO wear my bag’s cross body, particulearley if I am takeing the SUBWAY in NYC. There are so many peeople that jossle you that you need to maintean control of your stuff. I do NOT like to have to wear bag’s cross body, especialley b/c I do NOT like the feel of the strap on my boobie’s, but that is the price we ladie’s have to pay for carrying important stuff that we do NOT like to have stolen from us by hood’s weareing hoodie’s! FOOEY on hoodie’s. Even the Facebook guy wears hoodie’s but NOT up when on the subway, if he is even takeing subway’s any more in California. Beside’s he MARRIED a doctor, so he has ready access to Med’s if he need’s them. YAY!!!!

    • Pretty Primadonna :

      +1 to the South not having coat check.

    • Ha – I was going to add, I live in a state where I can literally count on one hand the number of times that I have checked my coat somewhere. And any networking event is likely to be somewhere without a coat check for me.

  6. If you wear one avoid anything brightly colored, such as the one in the picture. I would pick something streamlined, i.e. minimal side pockets or embellishment that is just enough to hold keys, cellphone, lipbalm etc. The heavier it is, the more likely it is to create an issue with the bust even if you are small chested. Good for not-too-formal environments e.g. I carry a backpack that holds my laptop, it can also hold a small lunch container, the rest would go in the small bag. I think they would also work for networking events at conferences e.g. the evening “mixer”/cocktail hour but again depends on industry/workplace. You can’t always stuff everything in pockets especially if you staying at a hotel.

    Another idea: I like the idea of a medium sized cross-body satchel i.e. those with a long strap as well as two shoulder straps so you can convert the bag as needed. Good enough for travel or shopping trips but would be too large for most work events.

  7. This has literally never crossed my feeble mind.

    I don’t get why you couldn’t just wear a shoulder bag/tote? All the weight of a cross-body is on one shoulder, anyways? Just like it would be with a cross-body?

    or just pack a wristlet?

    • anonymama :

      In a cross-body, some of the weight actually rests on your chest and side, instead of just on the top of your shoulder where the straps of a tote would fall. Also, sometimes a shoulder bag/tote slides off the shoulder or needs to be adjusted, while a cross-body is more secure.

    • I have slopey shoulders and cannot keep a shoulder bag on there without physically holding it in place the entire time, which I think is dumb. I love crossbodies.

  8. Baconpancakes :

    I say no to crossbody bags for networking, for all the reasons listed above, but I am lusting over a Coach vintage City Purse. They were so ubiquitous you can find them in great condition on ebay for $20-$40, but I’m torn between the workhorse black and my personal favorite in British tan (also the color of my beloved D&B satchel). It’s still mostly on-topic if I ask which color y’all would recommend, right?

    • British tan? You mean somewhere between ghostly white and salmon pink, then?

      On topic: I really like the British tan colour bag, it’s gorgous!

    • I like tan but it also exudes a more casual vibe (think Saturday brunch in a casual cafe). Black is a more classic look so I think the choice really depends on where you envision carrying this purse.

  9. Not professional.

  10. I’m not sure I’m getting the problem here, really. You’re trying to down-size with all of the various bags – but would the content of those bags be something you would bring along to a business lunch or a networking meeting in the first place? (Breast pump, maaaybe, but lunch bag?)

    Instead of trying to find the perfect bag for all of them – how about finding a medium that will allow you to gather everything but the purse into one container (briefcase, breast pump, lunch bag,) and leave that at the office when you head out to an event… and bring the purse.

    • la vie en bleu :

      I think she’s saying she wants to downsize her handbag from the current purse she uses so that she can streamline her overall baggage load, even though it will still be multiple bags.

  11. This is what is so great about the Pearl- it converts to either a shoulder bag or a clutch. So you can wear it cross-body into the office while you’re carrying all of your stuff, and then change the strap (it takes 5 seconds) before the lunch or event. I bought it a month ago and because of this it’s now my everywhere bag!

  12. Re “older colleagues” thinking a cross body bag is casual …

    I am old enough to remember when the Coach classic zip-top one-compartment all leather cross body bag was de rigueur for professional women (even in law and banking) in Manhattan. This was well before everyone in high schools across America knew what Coach was and back when no one would set foot in what was then called Hell’s Kitchen but is now the site of trendy restaurants because it was not safe. (Think late 80s).

    If the bag is leather, not trendy and in good repair, I think it is fine. Especially if you are in an urban area, people know why you use a bag with a strap.

  13. How old is “older”? I fully realize that crossbody bags are a fashion trend and STILL find them to be casual and touristy. Just because (or especially because) something is trendy doesn’t mean it’s professional. (But then, maybe I’m heading into the “older” group — although I think I’m the same age as Kat.) I like my convertible bag. When I care about how I look, I can carry it over my shoulder or forearm by the short straps, but during my commutes, I sling it over diagonally and it’s very walk/Metro-friendly.

  14. KateMiddletown :

    Do you want to look trendy? If you have one of those cute MJ ones you’ll look trendy and cute ( but is that how you want to look? All bags are statement bags even if the statement is form over function.

  15. I used to have the same hang up about the look being unprofessional, but I got over it. If it’s nice quality material and a conservative design, it’s fine. I have even worn one to a job interview and gotten called back. It’s not a big deal.

  16. mamiejane :

    At the Inss of Court I attend, almost all of the women lawyers and judges carry cross-body bags. Most of us know that it’s the best way to distribute the weight of the bag. Even though I am close to 60, carrying a handbag without a cross-body strap makes the carrier look like a grandma to me.

  17. I adjust the strap a little shorter and wear on a shoulder not cross body, to avoid the chest issue. The bag hits about the same hip level with the strap shorter. Is this “not done”?

    • Yup, this is exactly what I do, it leaves your hands free, and keeps the bag out of the way.

  18. My work tote is a crossbody. I use the strap to commute but carry the bag by it’s handles otherwise. I think it would look odd worn as a crossbody at events because of the chest squishing issue.

  19. genuinely puzzled :

    I don’t understand why a crossbody is less professional? If it is well-made, streamlined, leather, and without doodads, how is it any different from a handled purse of the same size/shape/material?

    • It’s less formal. It would look weird with serious business attire but fine with at a casual office. If you’re at a lunch or wandering around at an event with a big crossbody like the one pictures, people will look at you and wonder why you’re carrying around such a big bag – it also kind of looks like you haven’t settled in, like when you wear your coat around indoors. The Lo & Sons bag doesn’t give off that vibe to me, though, but I would switch it to once shoulder at an event.

  20. Do not take the MJ turquoise to a networking event please.

    I love my wallet on chain to hold my phones/business cards/money when I don’t have my work laptop with me. Otherwise, I just put my larger tote with laptop on the ground between my feet or over my shoulder at the event.

    • The connotation with a cross body bag is the appearance of a postman – casual.

  21. I have a few of the smaller crossbodies that are barely more than a wallet on a strap. I am endowed but you can’t fit enough in there to make it heavy enough to pull the strap down in between, if that makes sense. Especially if I’m wearing professional attire, not a light T-shirt etc. I think in a neutral color no one would notice it at all, but I wouldn’t do a brightly colored strap across my chest in a professional setting.

  22. Am I the only one who thinks crossbody bags look frumpy and dated, not at all fashionable? I feel the same way about the other late ’80s/early ’90s trends. I guess this is an application of the rule that if you remember the trend from the last time around, you are too old to wear it this time around.

    • SteelCityMagnolia :

      “if you remember the trend from the last time around, you are too old to wear it this time around.”

      This. Definitely this. Rules to live by!

  23. OttLobbyist :

    The cross-body bag at networking events reads really young to me. I have one bag that has an adjustable strap – cross-body for the bus, shoulder for events. Just in general I find people seem to feel the need to lug an awful lot of stuff around with them every day.

  24. I’ve never checked my bag unless I had a smaller clutch/wristlet where I could stash my phone/wallet/keys.

    I don’t think there’s anything unprofessional about a x-body bag provided the bag itself is professional. So Lo & Sons Pearl seems fine to me, a Timbuktu messenger bag not so much. I’d put the bag featured somewhere in the middle because the color plus shape (rounded, slouchy) gives it a slightly teenage vibe. And as far as the squishing aspect of it all, my solution is to just wear it on my shoulder: you still get the benefit of being hands free and you’re not drawing any unnecessary attention to your chest.

  25. SteelCityMagnolia :

    Most cross-body bags look too casual to be paired with a suit or a jacket – not to mention the awkwardness of the strap with jacket lapels. If the bag had a very structured look to it, maybe it would work with the “right” outfit, but if I were going to a networking event, I think I’d stick to a small, structured clutch or wristlet. If that won’t work, an over-the-shoulder bag to keep my hands free would be the next best bet. And no way ever would I leave my bag at a coat check. That’s just asking for trouble.

  26. The natural crossing ground here seems like a briefcase or tote style bag that has both a cross-body and a shorter strap on it so it can be carried both ways.

    When I carry bags like that, I do it cross-body on my commute and move it to one shoulder when I’m actually at my destination.

  27. I live in the San Francisco Bay area, and crossbody/ messsenger style bags are ubiquitous among professionals here (hello, Timbuktu) with the exception of maybe the most conservative companies. While our corporate fashion scene is def on the casual side, and no onewould give you the side eye for carrying one to work, I think their popularity is mostly due to their functionality. Many of us walk and/or use public transit and crossbodies are generally more ergonomic and comfortable to lug around than other bags.
    My cute Kate Spade and Coach totes don’t get as much use as my basic black crossbody bag, unfortunately.

    • shopping challenged :

      What would people there think of leather bike panniers being carried like a briefcase off the bike? What about if there was a crossbody strap attached for wearing it?

  28. Bargain hunter :

    Just my two cents… but I’m a busty gal who used to avoid cross-body bags like the plague, but I’ve now found that those with a skinny strap (like the MJ nylon ones) actually work fine for me. Better if I’m wearing a sweater than a t-shirt, but still fine. I wouldn’t wear one to a networking event unless I shortened it and put it on my shoulder, though.

  29. This may be my crabbiness talking but why does it seem like any clothing item designed to make a woman’s life a little easier is generally deemed “unprofessional?” Cross body bags, flats, snow boots, down coats. It seems silly that women are teased for having to fumble around with purses and high heeled shoes but when they opt to use a bag which is less cumbersome, or wear flat shoes in order to get around with more ease, it’s suddenly “unprofessional.” This is not a slam on Corprette, just a general frustration!

  30. I can’t chime on whether it’s professional or not (recent grad), but I bought the Pearl (mostly for travel, but also everyday) and it is such a phenomenal bag. All of the pockets make it so easy to organize things and keep different things separated, and it really can fit a lot of things. If you sign up for L&S email list, they’ll occasionally send out coupons, so it might be worth it to keep an eye out! I am a crossbody die hard, and never even considered that they would be too casual in a conservative setting, so this is definitely unfortunate news to me. Luckily, the strap is convertible?

  31. shopping challenged :

    I have this one (without the picture on it) and I love it!|dc_69538618207|-|m2Q0caT9

  32. shopping challenged :

    Sorry! I didn’t realize how much was behind that link. Anyway, it’s the Patricia Nash 9×5 crossbody in medium brown leather. It has a skinny strap, and is just big enough for miniaturized and organized essentials.

  33. I use cross body bags constantly, BUT, the caveat: I use them on the weekends and for a side job that requires travel about 4 weeks per year. I don’t use them for my “day” job as a lawyer. My side job travel often involves carrying all kinds of stuff, so having the cross body allows me to keep my hands free. I probably have 6 of them from Coach, Kate Spade, and Tumi. My favorites are the Coach ones that I can just slide into the bottom of my suit case between the bars (in that annoying space that can be wasted otherwise). I rarely use fabric or bright colored ones, but my brown leather and black leather ones are used a lot.

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