What Is the Difference between a Handbag and a Purse?

A handbag and a purse both serve the same primary purpose: to store the usual girly things such as a wallet, house and car keys, makeup, a mirror, a brush or comb, a bottle of perfume, a smartphone, etc.

However, a lot of women see the terms “handbag” and “purse” as interchangeable words. In other words, a handbag and a purse are precisely the same things.

When you want to buy “some bag,” lots of doubts will cross your mind. If the different colors, sizes, designs, and brands will cloud your decision-making, they are a given. It may be stereotypical, but choice paralysis is more common among women who cannot decide at once which type of clothes, bags, or shoes they wish to buy once they pass at a chic boutique.

Anyway, now there’s another nagging question: which type of bag do you need? “Is it going to be a purse or a handbag? They are the same, right?” Maybe. Or maybe not. This article probes for any significant difference between two of the essential female items.

Handbag – According to Cambridge Dictionary, a “handbag” is defined as:

Handbag

  • “A bag, often with a handle or strap going over the shoulder, used especially by women for carrying money, keys, and small personal items such as makeup.”
  • “Purse.”

Purse – Cambridge Dictionary defines a purse as:

Purse

  • “A bag, often with a handle or strap going over the shoulder, used especially by women for carrying money, keys, and small personal items such as makeup.”
  • “A pocketbook.”

It means that a handbag and a purse, at least according to Cambridge Dictionary, are one and the same. So, what’s the catch?

Digging a bit deeper into the definitions between a purse and a handbag, “purse” is an older term that refers to a small bag for holding coins. Purses can also be called “wallets.” Wallets usually carry certain items like some bills, an ATM or credit card, or a government or company ID, a driver’s license, etc. Many wallets feature an external zipper pocket for holding coins.

A handbag is a newer term that refers to a bigger accessory which holds not just money, but other items that can fit into it. You can store and carry keys, mobile phones, makeup, a bottle of perfume, etc. in a handbag.

People in several English-speaking countries still call a small money bag as a “purse.” It’s only Americans who use the words “handbag” and “purse” interchangeably. Here’s a handy tip if you plan to shop for accessories abroad: avoid referring to a handbag as a “purse” or else someone will hand you a stern warning!

Here’s the clearer and more straightforward difference between a handbag and a purse: you can put a purse inside a handbag, but you obviously cannot put a handbag inside a purse!