What Is a Satchel?

Like many other people, you would probably have no idea what a satchel is if someone asked. Like, you would probably lose that question on a game show if asked.

You shouldn’t feel bad for not knowing (yet). The term “satchel” is used a lot ambiguously, so it’s easy to get your wires crossed and not know what is true and what isn’t.

Here are some of the things you’ve probably heard a satchel being referred to:

  • A satchel is a type of tote
  • A satchel is a type of handbag

Luckily, we have all the answers you will need to become a satchel expert.

We know that choosing a handbag is an exciting but serious matter that you shouldn’t take lightly.

Some people plan their entire wardrobe collections around certain pieces, so we totally get why it’s important to know the difference between your handbags. 

We’ve taken the time to go through all of these misconceptions and explore the past, present, and future of the satchel.

So, take a seat. Class has started. 

History of the Satchel

No one knows for sure the true humble beginnings of the satchel, but what we do know is that it has been a popular accessory for English countries for, like, EVER.

The original style of the satchel came in the Oxford and Cambridge style (fancy, right?) and featured very simple features such as a simple pouch with a front flap.

Some iterations of the satchel from the Oxford and Cambridge style include a single or double pocket on the bag’s front exterior and the occasional handle located at the top.

However, one consistent design feature is that the bag often had two straps so that it could be donned like a backpack for students, professors, and other scholarly people who needed a safe and secure bag to tote around their books. 

How It Became Popular

Because the satchel became synonymous with academia, and any accessories that give off a studious look are almost always considered timeless and classy, the bag quickly caught on with others, and that is where fashion eventually noticed.

When something becomes popular with the masses, the fashion industry will jump right on that and create new and exciting ways to style it, from casual to high end. 

After being featured in numerous fashion collections throughout the years, everyone else who wasn’t sporting a satchel finally noticed. Here we are today, where the satchel is used anywhere from purses, backpacks, or any other accessories that accentuate it. 

Key Features

When it comes down to the end of the day, a satchel, in its simplest definition, is a bag with straps that is used for carrying books.

However, we know that is so much more to that, so we’re going to break it down even further and explore these key features more in-depth:

  • Strong and durable material - Since a satchel is used for carrying heavy things like books and laptops, it will need a fabric strong enough to withstand the pressures of the inside contents. This is where leather comes into play. Most satchel bags of quality are made of leather material as leather is natural and can be malleable. 
  • Adjustable strap - Another signature feature of the satchel is the adjustable strap. Like the buckle fastener, the adjustable shoulder straps can be adjusted for comfortability or any body size to properly secure it on your body.
  • Typically worn as a crossbody - Although some satchels have a two over the shoulder strap design, crossbody satchels are typically worn in a diagonal fashion across the front of the chest and the lower back. 

So, the satchel definitely has definite key features. Definitely don’t let anyone tell you something is a satchel unless they can produce these key features.

If not, then you have every right to call them out for not knowing what a satchel is, and we give your full permission to school them— tactfully, of course. 

Different Styles and Patterns

Although the traditional look of the satchel consists of leather fabric, shoulder strap, and multiple buckles and fasteners, it can come in a variety of colors and patterns as well.

Some of the most popular styles of satchels include the following:

  • The satchel purse - The satchel purse is a scaled-down version of this that loses the two shoulder straps for the over the shoulder strap. The satchel purse also features an adjustable shoulder strap, a flap covering, and numerous stylish pockets that outline the front exterior of the bag. So, essentially the satchel bag but in a purse form. Easy enough, right?
  • The satchel crossbody - The satchel crossbody is a more modern, relaxed take on the satchel purse and the satchel bag. It still has the same characteristics of the satchel with the adjustable straps, various belts, and compartments on the front exterior. However, the crossbody bag is noticeably smaller and can be hidden more easily behind a jacket or on the hip. 

Satchel Vs. Tote

If you own other bag accessories like totes, you probably are wondering what the big difference is between a satchel and a tote?

Don’t they both go over your shoulder? Don’t they both carry things? Aren’t they both convenient bags for when you’re on the go?

Well, yes and no. A tote and a satchel, although they share some similar characteristics, are completely different.

We’ll break it down below.

First, let’s start with the characteristics that they both have in common:

  • They both have handles - It’s true, they both very much have handles to carry them around.
  • They are used for carrying things around - Like pretty much every bag out there every, they both check off this box.
  • They both can be worn around the shoulder - Totes have shoulder straps, satchels have shoulder straps. Yup, another characteristic that they both share.

Now that we have cleared that up, let’s talk about how they are completely different:

  • The difference in shape and size - A tote bag is generally large in size and rectangular or square in shape, although it can come in various different styles and shapes in addition to that. However, satchels typically only have two style optional; medium and large. 
  • Stylistically, they are totally different - Totes are considered more casual, perfect for a laid back beach day, or running errands. They typically have water-resistant materials like canvas and nylon to protect them from stuff you put in and take out of them all day. Satchels, however, are more prestigious and are typically used as designer handbags for when you go out to the office or a night out on the town. They are definitely designed to be more chic and sophisticated. 
  • Open and closed - Another stark difference between totes and satchels is that totes are typically worn open, so you can grab and stow away items with ease, whereas satchels are designed to be more secure. Ornate flaps, belts, and buckles make sure that things are more secure, and you only remove something from a satchel unless you absolutely need it.

So, there you have it.

It is pretty obvious that there is a huge difference between a tote and a satchel down from its overall design, compartment use, and way it is used in fashion and for certain occasions.

However, the tote isn’t the only thing that the satchel gets mixed up with for...

Satchel Vs. Handbag

This is definitely another type of bag that the satchel gets mistakenly confused for, and we can totally see why.

Well, like the tote, we have the breakdown of how they are somewhat similar but definitely not the same below:

Like we did with the tote, let’s start with the characteristics that the satchel and the handbag both have in common:

  • They are both bags in the simplest of terms - Yes, they both have handles, and they carry things, this is definitely true.
  • They both can be made out of leather - Yes, also true, leather is also a very common quality fabric, and most designers use this when making their quality products.
  • They both have straps - Definitely, as we can tell by looking at most handbags and satchels, they most certainly do have straps.

Ok, so, similarities stop and end there.

Let’s get to how they are definitely different:

  • Their intent to carry - One of the biggest differences between a satchel and a handbag is that a satchel is used to carry things such as books or, in these modern times, tech devices like laptops, tablets, and cellphones. On the other hand, purses are really only designed to carry personal items like a wallet, cell phone, and make-up items.
  • How they are designed - With handbags, you have a lot more freedom playing around with different styles, patterns, and textures. One style of handbag doesn’t look the same as another style of handbag, and you can be talking about multiple styles when referring to your own or others. However, with satchels, they have a uniform and signature look that hasn’t deviated much since they were invented. When you talk about a satchel bag, people can picture and probably even describe exactly what it looks like.
  • Their intended use - Another core difference between handbags and satchels is that handbags are designed to be fashionable and are meant to be paired with specific and coordinating outfits and jewelry. Although this is changing so this may not be 100% true in the future, satchels were designed to be bags for carrying things, so totally utilitarian in overall use. 

So, as you can tell, there really is a great big difference between the two, even if it doesn’t seem like it.

Know Your Satchels

Now that you know the history, rise in popularity, and how they are different from other bags such as handbags and totes, you’re pretty much a satchel expert at this point.

However, since we want to honor the academia background, we are going to give you a pop quiz (except not really, because we’re cool and will give you the answers) on what you should know about satchels by now:

  • They’ve been around for a very long time - Even though we don’t have an exact date or time of when they became popular, based on how long they have been popular, it’s safe to say they have been around for ages.
  • They became popular due to the fashion industry - Because the fashion industry always has its finger on the pulse of what is popular, designers started featuring them in their collections and runways because they saw the marketability and the fashion trends they could create.
  • They are not the same as totes - Even though they are both bags, the tote is more casual and convenient, whereas the satchel is definitely more sophisticated and polished. Think of it as the satchel is the studious cousin to the beach-loving, easy-going tote. 
  • They are also not the same as handbags - Again, even though they are both types of bags, there are very clear differences between them. The handbag is used for fashionably as well as for personal use where the satchel is used for things carrying books, laptops, etc., so a little more utilitarian. 

There you have it! Now you know what a satchel is, so next time whether you are on Jeopardy or shopping for a new bag, you’ll be prepared to know the differences so you can plan your wardrobe accordingly. 





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