In case you haven’t heard the term “bag body language,” it refers to the insights revealed by the way you hold your bag or purse. In the past few days, news talk shows from around the country have reached out to me to comment on the topic as their body language expert. There’s not a lot of research specifically on the nonverbals of purses, but there is plenty of research about the way an object is held and the position of the hands, which can be applied to this topic.

Nonverbal behavior isn’t just the way we respond with our body – it can also be the things we use to express ourselves. Clothing, makeup, hairstyles and accessories, like purses, are nonverbal signals. For bags, branding becomes an important factor. What would be your first impression of someone walking down the street holding a large bag with an expensive designer label on it? The pricing and exclusivity of the handbag telegraphs the impression of high status. If this individual were to place the bag on a conference table in a business meeting where it could be seen, they would give off an air of dominance, without having to say a word.

How the person holds their bag is another important nonverbal signal. People who hold a high-end purse or briefcase to their side, where the brand or logo is fully visible, show they feel confident, but there is a desire to impress others. Covering the front of the body with the bag sends a very different message.

Let’s say you are at an event and notice someone holding their bag with both hands down in front of their body. This position points to low confidence and discomfort. When you hold your bag low and in front of your body, you are instinctively and unconsciously protecting a vulnerable area – the groin. In body language, we have dubbed this “the fig leaf” position. It can be the expression of a temporary feeling of discomfort, such as when people are called up on stage. Since many people feel uncomfortable being photographed, I often see individuals standing in the front row showing the fig leaf in group photos.

What about when the hands are not positioned across the body? Think about a backpack-style purse or an actual backpack or drawstring bag. Someone wearing one of these bags is showing independence and wants their hands to be free to do things for themselves. Unless it’s a designer backpack, these people do not have a strong need to impress anyone. They are usually very practical.

What about a cross-body purse? This style also frees up the hands, but having the strap across the body is a more protective position. Usually, one hand rests on the purse to the side to make it less of a target for purse snatchers. You’ll notice this kind of bag body language when the person feels a bit on edge in their environment, such as when walking in major cities.

These are just a few examples of how to read people by understanding their nonverbals. In a business setting, it is important to gain insights on not only what your clients or colleagues are saying, but also what they are not saying. Learning the meanings of body language signals has proven to be a huge asset for my clients. It can help you build trust faster, improve business relationships and win new contracts. If you want to see more examples of how hand movements show you what people are really thinking and feeling, check out my new book Read The Zoom.