Style Guide: Hermès Kelly

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

The birth and rise of the Kelly

Today, every fashion lover knows the name Kelly and they definitely know the name Hermès. Just like the Pochette Accessoires from Louis Vuitton (LINK), you might even call it a fan favorite. Opposed to the Pochette Accessoires, it’s however a lot harder to get your hands on an Hermès Kelly. Why is that? And how did the bag become the icon that it is?

The now iconic bag was designed by Robert Dumas – the then CEO of Hermès – in the 1930s and was originally called Sac à Dépêches. The brand has an equestrian heritage, so Dumas designed the Sac à Dépêches as a refined take on the brand’s other larger saddle bags.

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The Sac à Dépêches was always a popular style for Hermès, but it wasn’t until 25 years after its release that it became an icon. The actress Grace Kelly was given the bag as part of her characters wardrobe in the Alfred Hitchcock classic To Catch a Thief (1954) but loved it so much that she continued to wear it off set after filming wrapped. Grace Kelly wouldn’t make films for much longer as she became the Princess of Monaco when she married Prince Rainier III at only 26 years old. She fell pregnant shortly after the royal nuptials and used her Sac à Dépêches to shield her growing baby bump from the paparazzi. Because of this, Kelly quickly became the nickname for the bag and it was officially renamed the Kelly in 1977.

Today, you can spot the famous bag on all sorts of celebrities from Kris and Kylie Jenner to Victoria Beckham as well as influencers like Emili Sindlev.

The inspiration behind the icon

The bag is highly sophisticated with its trapezium shape. Because of the brand’s equestrian background – as mentioned above – the bag is also practical. It features a single top handle as well as a crossbody strap. The simplicity of the bag is luxurious as it allows for the components like materials and hardware to shine.

When looking for a Kelly bag, you can choose between two different versions – a Sellier or a Retourne. The Retourne is the original Kelly design which means that the bag is sewn backwards and then turned inside out. This gives the bag a softer finish. In comparison to this, the Sellier is more rigid with its sharp edges. The stitching is also on the outside of the Sellier.


There are eight different sizes of the Kelly bag available – K28, K32 and K35 being the most popular. Besides these three, you can slo get a K15, K20, K25, K40 and K50. Let’s get into the measurements.

The Kelly 15 measures 15 x 11 x 5 cm (length x height x width). As you can tell by the measurements, this is an extremely small bag. This means it can only be held by hand by the top handle and can’t be worn on the arm. You also shouldn’t expect the K15 to hold many things – at most, you can fit your credit card, lipstick and potentially your AirPods. This size is extremely rare as its no longer in production. The K20 measures 20 x 16 x 10 cm and can therefor fit a tiny bit more than the Kelly 15: iPhone, cardholder, lipstick, etc.

Now we’re getting close to the popular sizes: The K25. This size measures 25 x 19 x 9 cm and has a drop handle of 9 cm. This size still very much feels like a mini bag when you wear it and the long strap is slightly shorter than the one you get with the K28.

The K28! The dimensions of this very popular size are 28 x 22 x 10 cm making it the perfect size for all your essentials and a bit more. Because of this, one could say it’s the perfect everyday bag. Another favorite, is the K32. It measures 32 x 23 x 10,5 cm. This bag is perfect for going to lunch meetings and hanging out with friends, but because it has a narrow top, you have to remember that you still won’t be able to fit a laptop. The last of the really popular sizes is the K35 which measures 35 x 24 x 12 cm.

The largest bags are the K40 and K50. The Kelly 40 measures 40 x 28 x 16 cm. Last but not least: The K50. This is the biggest Kelly on the market, measuring 50 x 34 x 25 cm.


Photos: The Vintage Bar & vintage_is_the_new_luxury_


When it comes to materials, you’re definitely spoiled for choice at Hermès! You can choose between smooth leathers, grained leathers and exotic leathers. They all have their pros and cons so let’s dive into each kind of leather.


If you opt for a Kelly in smooth leather you have to bear in mind that these types of leather are more susceptible to both scratches and watermarks and might possibly need a bit more looking after than grained and exotic leathers.

Box calf leather is the original Hermès leather. It’s often found on vintage Kelly bags as it holds its shape very well and shows colors vibrantly. It’s not commonly used by Hermès anymore, as the brand instead has introduced the Swift leather. As mentioned above, both of these leathers can easily scratch because of their glossy exterior and are not water resistant, so you need to think about how you’ll style and wear bags in these materials before you purchase. Because of this, Swift leather bags are also a little bit less expensive than more durable bags in grained leathers.

If you’re looking for a smooth leather that’s a bit more durable, you can opt for Chamonix. Chamonix is the less shiny equivalent to Box calf and Swift, meaning it’s scratch but not water resistant.

Box calf leather is the original Hermès leather, but Barenia is the most expensive. It was once used for saddle making as it’s incredibly sturdy as well as soft. It’s both water and scratch resistant as opposed to the above leathers, and because of its oil-absorbing qualities, the Barenia leather will develop a nice patina. You’ll most often find it in its natural caramel color due to this.

The newest smooth leather from the brand is Veau Jonathan. It’s calf leather similar to Swift and Barenia but in a matte finish and stiffer structure.

Photos: &


The perks of a Kelly manufactured in grained leather? They’re more resistant, meaning you don’t have to be as conscious about scratches when wearing it out. If you love buying and selling secondhand items, these types of leathers will look the best even after years of wear.

The most famous grained leather from Hermès is the Togo leathers – almost half of all Birkins are made from this leather! It’s grained, so it has a slight pebbled appearance. This material has a matte finish but will become slightly more shiny with time and wear. This leather also holds its shape very well. If you’re on the lookout for a slightly more informal Kelly, you can opt for Clemence. This leather is heavier and softer, which will give the bag more of a slouchy look. Clemence is not water resistant so check the weather forecast before you wear it out.

Epsom leather – something we all know and love. This leather is perfect for an everyday bag as it’s structured, holds its shape, and is both scratch and water resistant!

Switching it up a tiny bit, we’re going to move on to a goat leather – Chèvre Mysore. This leather is found on smaller items like the K20 and K25. It’s a long-lasting material and Hermès often utilizes this by lining their bags with this leather. Chèvre Mysore has a fine grain where the alternative Chèvre de Coromandel has a slightly larger grain.



An Hermès Kelly is already a magnificent bag but if you want to stand out even more, you can look at the brands line-up of exotic leathers and skins. As a standard, exotic leathers are more expensive than both smooth and grained leathers. Both lizard, crocodile and alligator skins are available in matte and shiny finished. You do have to note however that shiny finishes are highly sensitive to watermarks.

The cheapest exotic skin you can get from Hermès is ostrich. It has raised pores which gives it a fun and playful polka-dotted look. Two other skins are Varanus Niloticus and Salvator Lizard. These are primarily used for small bags like the K20 – just like the Chèvre Mysore – to ensure that the pattern of the skin is consistent on the entire bag. These bags will have a stamp of one or two lines next to the Hermès logo on the front to help you identify the skin.

If you however are a fan of changing motifs, you’ll probably love the ombre lizard leather. This type of skin celebrates the natural qualities of the skin with a changing and beautiful look. Bags made from lizard skin are highly sensitive and will need to be looked after meaning this is not the skin you go for if you’re looking for an everyday Kelly.

The crocodile and alligator skins form Hermès have made headlines in the past year because of the major success auction houses have had regarding resale of these. Mississippi alligator has more pronounced scales, a rough ridging and is highly durable! You can spot this skin by the square stamp next to the Hermès logo on the front. The Niloticus is the most used crocodile skin and has, compared to the Mississippi alligator, larger and smoother scales. These skins are sourced from crocodiles from the Nile and can be identified by the two dots next to the Hermès logo on the front of your Kelly.

Lastly, we have the Porosus crocodile. This is the most expensive exotic leather from Hermès. It has a pronounced pore on each face as well as a fine and symmetrical pattern. You spot this skin by the ^ symbol by the logo. 



Besides materials (and colors), you should also think about what kind of hardware you want on your Kelly. You can opt for one of the classics or one of the rarer types and an easy way to choose is typically to look at your jewelry. Let’s go through them so you can see what you’re dealing with.

If you like the classics, you can choose between gold or palladium hardware. Gold hardware (also called GHW) is usually plated with a 18-karat gold, with some rare styles and special orders being made with 24-karat. Gold hardware has a bright shine making it pop nicely. Palladium hardware (also called PHW) has a silver finish and gives a bag a nice cool look compared to gold hardware.

If you like gold and silver but prefer it brushed, you should opt for one of the rare hardwares: Brushed gold (BGHW) or brushed palladium (BPHW). Because these are rare types of hardware, they’re only occasionally on offer by Hermès and supply will vary from season to season. These types of hardware won’t stand out as much as regular gold and palladium and will be perfect if you want the leather or design to be the centerpiece of your bag. You should be aware that brushed hardware types can scratch more easily than shiny hardware.


Another rare hardware is Permabrass. This type of hardware is champagne colored and will be a great fit for the women who can’t choose between gold and palladium. If you think the gold hardware is too warm toned, this could be a great alternative. This tone is super versatile and will work with all sorts of jewelry as well.

Rose-gold hardware (RGHW) is a nice gold with pink hues. It’s become super popular within recent years but it’s mainly available for the Constance bag. Rose-gold hardware also has a reputation of tarnishing more easily. Ruthenium is gunmetal-toned and gives off a different vibe than normal palladium. PVD is blackened hardware and was first popularized by Jean Paul Gaultier and his So Black collection.

A good option for someone on the lookout for something different is Guilloché hardware. This is the same color as palladium but the hardware is engraved with a diamond pattern making it stand out from other types of hardware. Besides looking different, this type of hardware is also very durable.


This last hardware option will not become a reality for most but we can’t not mention it: It’s the Hermès 18-karat white gold-plated diamond-encrusted hardware. It’s normally paired with exotic skins and comes on Birkin bags, which are perfectly nicknamed ‘Diamond Birkins’. A girl can dream.

What can you use it for?

Because the Kelly 15 is such a small bag, it’s definitely not fit for everyday wear. It’s much more appropriate for places where you have to look nice and not be dressed practically. The same can be said for the K20.

The K25 is a more versatile bag. The size allows you to carry around more everyday essentials – like an umbrella – making it possible to wear the bag during the day with the crossbody strap and though the evening as well with the top handle.

The K28 is, as mentioned above, the perfect size for an everyday bag. Combine this with the chic exterior and you’re left with a bag that you can wear absolutely anywhere.

The Kelly 32 is also a great everyday bag except for the fact that it still doesn’t fit a laptop. This size is however still small and chic enough to wear for the evening as well making it the perfect bag to transition from work to after work drinks and dinner.

Photo: The Vintage Bar

The K35 is where it starts to get hard. This size is big enough to fit a small computer but that also means that you might not choose to wear this bag out after work. Because of the clean design of the bag, you can never really go wrong, but for dinner you might want to opt for something smaller. Many people however think that this size is the biggest you can comfortably wear for everyday use as the larger ones will be too big and heavy on your arm for a longer period of time.

The Kelly 40 and the Kelly 50 are the bags you go for, if you’re looking for a practical bag that can carry all you need. The K40 is large enough to serve as a carry-on luggage for flights as it can hold your essentials, a change of clothes and even perhaps a pair of shoes. With a K40 as your companion to the airport, you’ll without a doubt be the most stylish flyer. The K50 is the bag you choose if you want to be able to carry everything you own and then some! Because it’s so big, it’s definitely made for traveling and not for going out, but like with all these sizes, how you style them is completely up to you.


There are some tips you should always follow when it comes to bag storage. If you want to preserve your bag and avoid wear and tear, you should for one always empty your bag when you’re done wearing it. Instead of leaving it out with all your belongings inside, you should stuff it and store it in a dust bag. When doing this, make sure the top handle is nicely places and not squished. By doing this and storing the dust bag in a dark and dry place, your bag won’t change its color from sunlight or be subjected to moisture.If you store the bag in a box, you should leave the lid somewhat open, so the leather is still able to breath.

Smooth and grained leather

All smooth and grained leathers from Hermès will benefit from care regardless of whether or not you want to preserve them in order to resell them or to keep them looking pristine for yourself. We suggest using a dry microfiber cloth on the outside and inside of the bag to remove any dust and dirt from day to day wear. If you find more resistant dirt or stain on your bag, you can try and use a mild leather cleanser – this is however at your own risk. If the bag has cracks, you can use a soft brush to get any dirt out of any hard-to-reach spots.

Grained leathers will have varying levels of sturdiness, but they’ll often stand by themselves and won’t need to be stuffed when in storage – they’ll keep their shape regardless. You need to look after the corners of these bags however as they can be prone to wearing and scuffing.

Clemence is a grained leather, but it’s a heavier and softer leather, meaning that you’ll have to stuff your Kelly in Clemence leather when you’re not wearing it.

When you’re putting on perfume just before you leave the house, remember to do it before you put on your Kelly. Oil-, alcohol- and perfume-based products can leave stains on the leather.

Photo: zara.pauline

Exotic leather

When it comes to exotic skins, the best idea is always to seek expert help. These skins are quite dry and need the right nourishment to stay fresh and an expert will help you with this. This way you avoid making mistakes that can end up being very expensive.

What you can do however, is wiping your bag with a dry microfiber cloth when you’ve used it. This way you can perhaps avoid dust and dirt from building up and becoming a bigger issue. You can also use a soft brush to get into hard-go-get places just like with the classic leathers.

Ostrich leather absorbs oil and can change in color over time, so when you’re not using your bag, we highly recommend you store it in a dust bag. This is a good idea for all bags. You can buy stuffers for your bag, or you can simply fold up a sweater and put it inside as well – whatever works for you.

Lizard skin is very delicate and can dry out, so you need to take care of these bags and should provide them regular treatment if you want them to stay nice. All lizard, alligator and crocodile skins should be given the royal treatment every one to two years in order to stay fresh as the skin between the scales is thin and can break if not properly taken care of. You should seek professional help for this.

When wearing a bag made from exotic skin you should be conscious about oil, alcohol and perfume as well. These things can stain and if there’s one thing you want to avoid, it’s stains. When styling your bag, you need to have a couple of things in mind as well. Exotic skins need to be kept away from dark, raw and embellished clothing. You should therefor avoid wearing your exotic Kelly with dark blue jeans or a blouse with sequins.

Photo: The Vintage Bar


You take idle care of your bag, you store it correctly and look out for the leather – what more can you do? This one simple tip will keep your hardware looking nice as well. Invest in a professional polishing cloth for jewelry. If you use this regularly to buff and polish your hardware, the hardware is less likely to tarnish. You need to be careful about using chemicals on your hardware as you might miss and instead damage the surrounding leather – sometimes less is more.

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.