Crossbody vs. Shoulder Bag: What’s The Difference?

by Sara Wennerstrom / Jun 29, 2022

Practicality, style, flexibility: The right bag is a multi-hyphenate must-have that makes a statement and serves a purpose. A shoulder bag and a crossbody bag fit the bill. There are untold possibilities in each category that hold the essentials (and then some) while accessorizing your most polished sheath dress or a leggings-and-a-tee day-off look. The difference between crossbody and shoulder bags, though, can make a world of difference when selecting the best one for the day that lays ahead.

SENREVE Model wearing Cadence Crossbody 

Defining the crossbody bag

A crossbody bag takes its name from the way it’s worn – it drapes across your torso from shoulder to hip. A womenswear staple, the crossbody ranges in styles, materials, colors, and utility. Some are meant to contain just your phone, ID, keys, and lipstick, while others have enough space to seemingly hold the whole world at your fingertips. An excellent option for everyday use, crossbody bags are best for heading to the store or for taking on a weekend getaway.

According to legend, the modern crossbody bag traces its roots to the Industrial Revolution, when its primary purpose was for tradespeople and travelers to keep an array of tools and essentials within reach. Today’s crossbody bag is as fashionable as it is functional, available in sizes and styles that compliment even the most discerning of tastes.

SENREVE Model wearing the Strati Sporta in Nylon over the shoulder
Strati Sporta in Nylon Stone

Defining the shoulder bag

A shoulder bag is carried on one side of your body, nestled between your arm and your side. A single strap or top handle just long enough to sling over your shoulder – hence the bag’s name – is attached to the top. Typically smaller than totes and other handbags, a shoulder bag is the hands-free go-to option for more formal occasions or any time where you don’t have to carry more than a few items with you. If you typically carry only the basics, a shoulder bag may make a great everyday option.

Sometimes, you’ll see the descriptors ‘shoulder bag’ and ‘tote bag’ used interchangeably, but these two purses are not the same. Totes typically have dual handles, an open top, and are much larger and heavier – not ideal for slinging on your shoulder, even if they can technically fit there. A shoulder bag, however, is specifically designed for this way of carrying a bag, with a single strap, a smaller size, and a top that zippers or otherwise closes.


The main differences between a crossbody bag and a shoulder bag

A practical size, a long strap, hands free for handshaking and coffee-holding: The crossbody bag and shoulder bag share some similarities. However, some vital differences can shape the when and why you might to carry one over another, depending on your needs on any given occasion.
  • Strap length. The strap on a shoulder bag isn’t designed to fit comfortably across your body, while a crossbody bag strap is certainly made for that purpose. Think of it conversely: A crossbody with its long strap can often be quite uncomfortable and awkward to carry on your shoulder.

  • Bag size. The full size of a crossbody bag wouldn’t fit comfortably under your arm. But what you trade off in comfort you might lose in space. Shoulder bags tend to be smaller and hold less to accommodate for the way it’s carried.

  • How it’s worn. It bears repeating: The style of these bags is in the name. The cross-body bag’s design can be uncomfortable for some, as the bag can weigh heavily on one side of your body, but the advantages of easy access may outweigh that downside. Some prefer to have a shoulder bag nestled underneath their arm, while others may find this style annoying or cumbersome.

How to select and style a crossbody or shoulder bag

Crossbody bags and shoulder bags are two broad category names, with a dazzling array of options underneath each. It’s safe to say that there’s a style and color for every fashion sense, purpose, and personal taste. Finding your ideal match can – understandably – take a bit of searching. Narrow down your options with these criteria.

  • Decide the occasion. A morning at the farmer’s market calls for a different bag than a benefit dinner you’re attending later that evening. Consider what you’re doing and how your bag plays into those plans. Will the right bag make your day easier or weigh you down? Try these questions if you’re still undecided: 

    • - How much do you need to take with you?
    • - Do you plan to carry items from your destination back home?
    • - Does the destination have a dress code or expectation of dress?
    • - Are there other practical considerations to make?

  • How often you’ll use it. Everyday options can take a bit of a beating – this isn’t the time or place for intricate beading or material that’s prone to stains. However, if you only plan to break out the bag on special occasions, you can more confidently opt for a handbag with intricate details.

    SENREVE Model wearing Doctor Bag as a Crossbody
    Mini Doctor Bag in Dolce Buff

  • Look and feel. Related to how often you’ll use your new bag is its overall look and feel. Neon yellow will be less versatile than a classic black handbag. Similarly, a boho chic bucket bag may be more limiting than a timeless and elegant Doctor Bag. Think about how often you want to take out this treasure – and where you plan to carry it – when shopping for your new bag.

  • Material. Material choice is shaped by personal preferences, practicality, and even your own ethos. Vegan leather is an excellent option if you prefer to incorporate animal-free products into your life, while upcycled materials may be a good choice for an eco-minded person.

  • Versatility. Sometimes, you might find a shoulder bag with an optional, detachable crossbody strap. If you find yourself vacillating between both styles, opt for a bag that can do both. Similarly, don’t limit yourself to a bag that’s too small or too large. Opt for a crossbody or shoulder bag that holds your most basic everyday items, with a little extra room for something more.

  • How you want to carry it. Finally, think about how you like to hold your purse. You may gravitate toward an easily accessible cross body, or you might prefer the way a shoulder bag sits securely at your side. 

Whether crossbody or shoulder, the perfect bag is in reach

There’s no right or wrong choice when it comes to your new crossbody or shoulder bag. Each boasts its own benefits and advantages befitting the situation at hand. Factors like the occasion, the versatility of the bag, when and where you plan to carry it, and your personal preferences shape if the cross-body or a shoulder is best. Shop SENREVE’s bestsellers for inspiration.