What You Need to Know Before Buying a Vintage Designer Bag

What You Need to Know Before Buying a Vintage Designer Bag
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When it comes to shopping, the adage “What was old is new again” seems to apply more than ever. One look at street style from the recent spring collections, and it was clear that vintage denim (of the Levi’s 501 and 505 variety) abounded and many an Instagram star was spotted in Chanel’s latest covetable shoe, which is a revamped take on an original done by Coco Chanel herself. But of all the fashion categories that one could be inspired by, second-hand bags reign supreme.

“The trend in bags is one that is easily recognizable and super sophisticated, and since It bags don’t exist the way they used to, more and more women are turning to vintage,” says Max Brownawell, Heritage Auctions consignment director and senior specialist for luxury accessories. “Whether you are buying Hermès or Chanel or an advanced contemporary bag, you can never go wrong with a classic.” Vestiaire Collective Style Director Valerie Nizan agrees, “you should always favor the classics, especially from luxury brands like Hermès, Chanel, Céline; they will always be a good investment and retain their value.” We spoke with Brownawell and Nizan on everything you need to know to purchase a second-hand bag. Ahead, a primer.

Be Able to Identify a Fake

Word to the wise: a once over won't do. “Authenticity is the most difficult part of buying a bag,” says Brownawell. “My best recommendation is to inspect the stitching, materials, and quality of construction and make sure it lines up with the brand you are buying. If you are buying an Hermès, for example, really study the thread: If it is synthetic and tight, that is a red flag.” Nizan agrees, saying, “Check for anything off about the prominent visual aspects of the bag, like is the leather unnaturally shiny, is the stitching an unusual color, are there glue marks or areas that puff out around the seams?” She also suggests looking at the hologram stickers, letter date stamps, and authenticity cards.

RELATED: The Insiders' Guide to Buying Vintage Denim

Compare and Contrast

Brownawell encourages the shopper to look at each prospective style compared to the brand it is coming from, saying, “Chanel bags aren’t going to age like Hermès bags; the leather isn't the same quality. Likewise, Alexander Wang bags aren’t going to age like Chanel bags. If you’re looking for an older bag, compare it to other similar styles from the brand around that time, not other designers. If it’s a more recent bag, go into the store or Barneys now and see what’s available.” He continues, “Online is trickier, if you can’t see and feel the bag, it’s a big risk.”

Know What to Invest In

Material is another important criteria, explains Nizan: “Jersey and satin do not age well. It is better to invest in leathers or exotics that will stand the test of time.”

Expect Some Wear and Tear

“Avoid rips or cracks in the leather, but a broken stitch is not a problem,” says Nizan. “A bag that has been restored can still conserve its value if you take it to the brand’s retailer for in-house repairs. Always be sure to ask for a receipt for repairs or leather treatments to track any replacements to hardware or stitching should you choose to re-sell your item one day.” For Brownawell, if the handles have darkened, that’s a deal breaker. “Once the oils of the hands have really been absorbed into the bag, you can’t get that out,” he says. “I would move on.”

RELATED: All the Winners from the 2015 Independent Handbag Designer Awards

Be Willing to Pay 50 to 70 Percent of the Retail Price

Brownawell says for bags that are in perfect condition, you can expect to pay at least half of the original value. “I’ve seen some Prada and Fendi styles sell for $1,000 when they were originally $2,000.” As for younger or contemporary designers, he advises not to spend more than $600 or $700, considering their long-term value has not yet been determined. The one exception, though, is Hermès. “Hermès is the unicorn in the restrictive market,” he says. “People will pay over retail because the color or the size or social media—when you see how fabulous they are online, you can only imagine how great they are in person.”

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