Style Guide: Balenciaga City

This time we're guiding you through everything related to the City bag from Balenciaga. How did it come to be and why does it look like it does? How do you style it and what colors does it come in? Read all about it below.

The birth and rise of the City

The now famous bag was first released in 2001 during then-creative director Nicolas Ghesquière’s tenure. It was originally known as the Motorcycle City bag and Balenciaga was reluctant to embrace the creative director’s design. Compared to other bags on the market at this time, the City bag didn’t have as much structure and was more slouchy looking. This meant that the first two prototypes of the bag were abandoned at Ghesquière’s studio.

One day, Kate Moss enters the Balenciaga studio for a fitting and spots the prototypes – she loves them! Because the model of the moment absolutely adored the design, Ghesquière managed to persuade the brand to manufacture 25 more bags to gift to models, editors and friends.

The bag became an instant hit! The appeal of the bag was exactly what the brand was scared to out out there: Logo-less, relaxed and unstructured and because all the higher ups in fashion were wearing it, everyone else wanted to as well. The times were changing and Balenciaga was at the forefront. 

Today, there are many Motorcycle style bags including the First, Hip, Day, Town and many others.

As seen on

The City bag was as previously mentioned released in 2001 and became a real staple of the Noughties. This also means that all the IT-girls of the time had a Balenciaga City on their arm. This includes Kate Moss, the Olsen twins and of course Nicole Richie.

With the resurgence of the Y2K look, the bag has been spotted on the IT-girls of today as well, just think of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen who have carried the bag since it came out – and still do!

The inspiration behind the icon

The City bag is no longer in production, so you’ll only be able to find the style in combination with other styles – the Neo Cagole City handbag for example. The closest you’ll come to the original City bag is the Neo Classic. The difference between this and the original City is the shape of the bag. The original City is rectangular where the Neo Classic has more of a trapeze shape, meaning it’s wider at the bottom than at the top. Because of this, the original City has become a real investment piece.

The first season of the City – or Motorcycle as it was called at the time – was released in brown and black, featured a front pocket with a zipper, long tassels on the zippers, studs and square buckles. The second season was released for Balenciaga’s S/S 2002 show and this season had a new addition, the leather-bound mirror you’ll still find in the front pocket. The bag has two top handles as well as a longer crossbody strap.

But what sizes can you find the bag in and what materials? Let’s dive into it.


The City bag ranges in three sizes: The Mini Classic, the Small Classic and the Classic. The Mini Classic measures 16 x 25 x 10 cm (height x width x depth). The Small Classic measures 21 x 30 x 10 cm and the Classic City measures 25 x 38 x 13 cm.


The bag is available in three different leathers as well: Lamb, goat and calf. Besides leather, you can also shop the popular bag in linen, suede and more.

Lambskin, or Agneau leather, is the most well-used material when it comes to the City bags. It was first introduced in FW 2007. This type of leather is soft, malleable and will age with the nicest patina out there. This material compliments the slouchy and lived in nature of the bag well, so it makes sense why it’s the most used material for these bags.

Balenciaga’s preferred goatskin is Chèvre leather. This leather used to be the preferred skin for Balenciaga bags but the brand stopped using them after SS 2008. Today, it isn’t used nearly as much as their other leathers and you’ll have most luck finding City bags in this material as part of limited collections like the ones with Metallic edge hardware (read more about that below).

Veau leather is a calfskin leather meaning it’s the most durable leather in the brand’s roster of leathers. This is because calfskin leather is more durable given its thickness and structured nature. Look-wise this type of leather has pebbled grains. Even though this is a really practical material, Balenciaga only really use it for limited edition styles and collections like the Papier line and the Metallic Edge line  – as is the case with the Chèvre leather. Another calfskin is the Vibrato. It came out in the winter of 2008 but Balenciaga stopped using the leather very quickly again. Vibrato is a grained calfskin and, like the Veau leather, very durable.


The Balenciaga City is also available in python. Of course python is still a skin but this is a great way of choosing a leather and still standing out. If you’re not looking to buy a City in leather, the popular bag has also been made in suede, nylon, patent and mesh.

Just like the lambskin, suede is very soft, which is why it’s great if you want a very relaxed-looking everyday bag. If this is what you’re after, we do however recommend you look for a City in a dark color as suede will stain easily because it is, as you know, a highly sensitive material.

The nylon City bags were made as part of Alexander Wang’s Fall 2014 collection for Balenciaga. The bag is puffy and because it’s made of nylon it’s great for an everyday bag.

Saying that the City is made of patent is somewhat of an exaggeration. The bag is still made from leather but it has patent surrounding the hardware as well as at the top. This is a slightly different version than the classic leather we’re used to seeing without compromising on durability.

Another version of the bag is mesh. Where the patent style was made of leather with patent accents, this style is made from mesh with leather accents. This is also the case with the Balenciaga City in linen.


The hardware you normally see on the City bag is called Classic hardware and is also known as Arena. It’s traditionally made in brass and is small in size.

Besides Classic hardware, you can also get Giant 21 hardware – this is however limited. This was featured on bags made between 2007 and 2012. This size of hardware is noticeably larger in size compared to the original and was available in but not limited to silver, gold and rose gold. This size of hardware was however replaced by the Giant 12 hardware in 2012. This is also available in silver, gold and rose gold.

Photos:,,, &

The rose gold hardware was made available from 2011. An interesting characteristic with rose gold colored hardware is that the grooves of the studs are darkened to achieve a ‘vintage’ look whereas the rest of the hardware isn’t.

Besides the traditional metal colors, you can also get brogues hardware. This means that the hardware and studs are covered in leather rather than the exposed metal, we’re used to. This type of hardware was introduced in 2011 just like the rose gold.

Metallic edge hardware was introduced in 2014 as part of the Metallic Edge collection. Metallic edge means that metal plates outline the details on the bag in shiny metal with goatskin leather in the middle. This is one of Balenciaga’s most popular hardware styles.

The last kind of hardware – or lack thereof – is the BlackOut. This is a play on our imagination as the hardware we all know and love has been replaced with perforated outlines instead.

Photos:, &

What can you use it for?

The City is only available in three sizes as mentioned above but three sizes are more than enough when it comes to styling.

Because of its small size, the Mini Classic can easily be worn in the top handles without being too heavy. This means you can bring it out for dinners with friends as well as wear it as a day bag with the crossbody strap when you want to be more practical. The Mini Classic is small, but you can still fit a phone, wallet and whatever else you need when you leave the house.

The Small Classic can still be worn on the top handles but because of the size of the bag you won’t achieve the same chic and effortless look as you would with the Mini Classic. Depending on the color of the bag, it’s still small enough to be worn for formal events, but that’s not the main purpose of the bag. It’s slouchy and relaxed and can fit anything you need for your day to day life. You can throw a book and a bottle of water in there as well and you’re set for a day out.

The Classic City is the bag you choose if you want to wear it to the office as it’s large enough to fit a 13 inch laptop. Even if you don’t carry your laptop with you, the Classic City is large enough to fit your gym wear or a spare change of clothes for after work drinks. It’s a practical bag but it doesn’t look it – and that’s exactly what we like.


Photos: The Vintage Bar


How do you best take care of your Balenciaga City? First of all, the interior of the bag is lined with cotton making it easy to wipe down and clean. When you wear your bag, you have to be aware of styling. If your City bag has a light color or is made from suede or linen you shouldn’t wear it with dark color clothes as there’s a chance that the color will rub off and discolor your bag. You should also be conscious of clothes with embellishments if your City is made of pyton or leather as you don’t want it to scratch.

Once you’ve worn your bag out and come back home, you should empty it out and either stuff it or lay it flat on its side. It’s always a good idea to store designer bags in their dust bag in order to prevent discoloration from the sun as well as to avoid spills and stains. You might think it’s good to store bags in their box but if you do, you should always leave the lid open. If you don’t, the bags can get soiled, sticky or even crack! They need air to stay their best selves.

If you have a leather City, you can wipe of any dust or small stains away with a dry microfiber cloth and once a year you should give it a bit of leather creme to keep it looking fresh.

Written by Alberte Gram
Alberte Gram is a fashion writer based in London.
The people pictured are not associated with The Archive
or The Vintage Bar, and do not endorse the products shown.