help me buy a bag
August 29, 2010 9:01 AM   Subscribe

Is it worth it to get a more expensive, leather bag over a cheap faux-leather bag?

I'm looking at this leather bag by Fossil for $170 (in grey), and this faux-leather bag for $40 (also in grey). Generally, I tend to buy cheaper items, but I'm considering buying the more expensive bag.

I can afford the more expensive bag, but it would be a lot of money for my (student) budget. I'm pretty sure that I would not get tired of either bag, as I have been looking for a grey bag for a long time and I love this style. I do not care who makes the bag though - so if you know of a similar one I could buy that would be a compromise, please let me know - I would love to buy a high-quality leather bag for under $100.

Do you think it's worth it to spend over $100 extra to buy a leather, high-quality bag? I don't know how to make this kind of decision.
posted by insectosaurus to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (32 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I would go for the real leather. I don't know about Fossil quality, per se, but I still use quality leather bags I purchased 2 decades ago.
posted by murrey at 9:04 AM on August 29, 2010

I love this style. It's very versatile and large enough for all the campus accoutrements. Ethical questions aside, there was a study this past spring that suggested that PVC bags can be somewhat hazardous biologically. Something about the plastic rubbing off in use. Did anyone else hear about this? If not I'll try to find it online.
posted by Mertonian at 9:06 AM on August 29, 2010

I have a relatively inexpensive leather purse that my mother bought for me something like 16 years ago. At that time, it was less than a hundred dollars. Not only does it still look great, I still get compliments on it. Go for the real thing.
posted by KathrynT at 9:16 AM on August 29, 2010

The bag being leather might not mean anything as to whether it will last longer. I've had leather bags that have started looking ratty after two years, let alone two decades.

The qualms I have about going with the faux leather is that they can sometimes look pretty cheap and fake. That bag looks ok to me, but it's easy to photograph something like that and make it look nicer than it really is. Is there a way you can see it in person before you commit?

The first bag looks like it's of a higher quality, in general, than the second. I think it would not be a bad idea to splurge on the nicer bag in this situation.
posted by Sara C. at 9:20 AM on August 29, 2010

The leather bag will feel nicer and last longer. Do you plan on using the bag for years? If so, get the leather. If you think you'll be bored with it or it'll be out of style by next fall, get the cheaper one. (Overall, for anything that you'll be using often, it's better for your wallet and closet to get durable, high-quality stuff in classic styles and hang on to them for years.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:24 AM on August 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Leather can be insanely durable if taken care of correctly. My dad just handed me down his leather bowling bag that's around 30 years old, and still looks brand new.
posted by BZArcher at 9:24 AM on August 29, 2010

For style and quality, the real thing is virtually always best.

No fakes. ...If you can't afford real leather, get real canvas. If you can't afford real gold, get real silver. If you can't afford real silk, get real cotton....
posted by applemeat at 9:25 AM on August 29, 2010 [7 favorites]

Buy what you want, but shop in person so you can compare the feel and look of the bags. Leather will often last longer with proper care, but that doesn't mean that a synthetic bag will fall apart within a year. I've been using a certain synthetic bag of mine for at least six or seven years and aside from one zipper pull that frayed off (easily replaced), the bag is just like new. And that bag is always the subject of comments and compliments from friends to total strangers who stop me.

So pick a style you love, and go from there.
posted by cmgonzalez at 9:39 AM on August 29, 2010

Buying cheap imitation items is a false economy, especially where leather is concerned. Quality leather goods get better with age rather than falling to pieces. It's a no-brainer.
posted by fire&wings at 9:40 AM on August 29, 2010

Well, it depends on how much wear the bag is going to get. It is worth it if you figure out what it's worth over time. I know it seems expensive, and it's not my usual budget either - but in the world of messenger bags, $168 is not a lot. That said, my husband who uses his daily, over the almost fifteen years that I've known him, has gone through three bags in that price range in that time. They're usually a gift from his folks for a birthday or Christmas when it's time to replace one.

The leather:
If it's getting daily, or even frequent use, over years, the leather will develop a nice patina; and in general it will last longer and your cost-per-use will go down with every outing, especially if you care for the leather properly. The style is not so trendy that it will date itself quickly. If you get tired of it, you can store it away properly for a few years for something different, and bring it out again too, if it's a quality item. My experience with Fossil is that they have pretty good quality, though it's not top-grade leather. But at least the findings are good and it's not disposable stuff. Leather can be cleaned more easily; can be made water-repellent and even the areas where it's stitched can be waxed to keep it resistant. Do note there are gaps at the top though, so in a heavy rain, your stuff might get wet through those gaps. The back pocket is really really nice for accessing things quickly - a change purse for coffees, and even your cel. Pockets for cels inside are useless, because you have to fumble a lot to get them open. Turnlocks are great, but if you want to stow a magazine and your house keys for reading on public transport and don't want to have to paw through the whole bag, another outside pocket is better. Leather can support heavier items, if you're using it to carry heavier things like a laptop - but one of the downfalls is that it's heavier on its own, before it's loaded. I couldn't easily compare weights from those links, but that's a thought too.

The non-leather bag has comments in the first few reviews that the strap broke, it gets too slouchy and that they wear out too soon. When vinyl/pvc/pleather products wear out at stress points, you usually see the white netting behind it and it just looks shabby, not "vintage". If they get a scrape, instead of being able to buff them out or minimize the damage, they stay that way. And, the repel water too, but depending on the quality, can't be revived if you get stuck in a downpour as easily. Glued backings can separate; dyes can bleed.

Other considerations:

Measurements: 15"L x 2 3/4"W x 11 1/2"H (Fossil) vs. 12"H x 15"L x 6 1/2"D.
What size things will you be carrying in it? 11 1/2" height and 2 3/4 W in the Fossil is a leetle small.

Drop: Shoulder: 6 1/4" L Detachable Strap: 23 1/2" L (Fossil) vs. 7 1/2" handle drop. 50" removable adjustable cross-body strap.

You may not be able to get the Fossil's shorter handle over your shoulder easily if you ever want to carry it that way and it doesn't show if the longer strap is adjustable.

So, my advice is to buy leather - but make sure the bag has the capacity and comfort that you want.

You can also use to search for more gray messenger bags!
posted by peagood at 9:41 AM on August 29, 2010 [6 favorites]

^ oh, what fire&wings said. You don't want a handbag that will end up in the landfill after a short while (or ever, in my opinion.)
Leather, leather, leather.
posted by BostonTerrier at 9:44 AM on August 29, 2010

I'm in the minority on this one, but I'll cast a vote for getting the fake. I'm *real* hard on my stuff, and I'd rather replace a purse than carry one around that looks banged up and frayed. I'd feel miserable if i got a scratch or a stain on an expensive item. I'd buy the cheaper purse because, i know I'd bang it up sooner, and I'd replace it with something different. I could buy THREE of your fake purses for the price of the one real leather purse you suggested.

How long did your last purse last, and what was it made of? What did it cost, and how much did you like it?

I'm also capricious in my tastes, so I can't imagine using the same purse for years & years...although I have taken a couple of of my favorite things in for a repair instead of trashing them outright.

I just bought a cute real-leather purse for $4.00 from the "out of the closet" resale store in Los Angeles. It works to carry stuff, and when it gets ugly (it inevitably will) i can let go of it guilt free.

The only place i spend money for clothing/accessories is shoes. crappy, cheap shoes can mess up your feet badly. I speak from experience and I'm paying the price now.
posted by ChefJoAnna at 9:57 AM on August 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

ChefJoAnna makes a good point. It's a grey "leather" hobo bag. In other words, pretty trendy. It's also a specific convergence of trends that have been around for a while, which means there's a good chance that in a couple years it won't be in style anymore. Neither of those bags scream "timeless classic I will want to use for 20 years", to me.
posted by Sara C. at 10:13 AM on August 29, 2010

+1 applemeat

Have you tried eBay for used? Good quality used can easily be as cheap as the fake, and, well, good quality. Search for used -- grey -- leather
posted by kmennie at 10:13 AM on August 29, 2010

I think people get caught up in the romance of an aged leather bag, and the reality is that a fairly cheap retail bag doesn't always live up to that. Scuffs aren't that charming on cheap dyed leather, and poor stitching is poor stitching.
posted by smackfu at 10:14 AM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Get the nice bag and follow the care instructions that come with it. Barring that, care instructions like this would be a good place to start. FWIW, I just ordered the green one and I plan taking care of it generally according to those instructions. But I've also cared for saddles and boots for years, so those are the tools I have on hand.
posted by Medieval Maven at 10:27 AM on August 29, 2010

Since you are on a limited budget, get the cheap bag. If, next summer, you still love it and carry it every day, go back and get the more expensive one. Because the style is pretty trendy, I suspect you won't want to stick with the same style for more than a year or two.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:36 AM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I bought a cheap pleather bag about 6 months ago at Target. I just replaced it for a leather bag (about $100) yesterday. Because I adjust the long strap relatively often, I was getting little flakes of fake leather everywhere in the last month. Other wear points were at the edges of the pockets and where the bag met the strap. This last month I've been hating my fake leather bag and was determined to get real leather. At least if it wears I won't have bits of pleather showing up everywhere.
posted by cobaltnine at 10:53 AM on August 29, 2010

Fossil is decent quality- my wallet is from them and has stood up to a lot of abuse. I am also voting for the leather bag, 1) because it will look much nicer, PVC bags that look good often cost around $100 themselves and 2) because I really hate the culture of buying lots of cheap plastic crap and just throwing it away when you're tired of it. So one practical and one philosophical reason!
posted by fshgrl at 11:02 AM on August 29, 2010

Great question. I love handbags. I'm really hard on them, too. I've had both real and faux leather. Target often has some really good-looking faux bags. Same with NYC street vendors. In the last five years, I've had about four faux bags from Target. They looked great for about a year, then wore out in the same places: straps/handles cracked, started to flake away, and tore where they were joined to the bag. Also, the bottoms started to wear through. OTOH, I have two NYC street bags that have lasted for years. All of these faux bags were $40 or less.

I just got a beautiful leather bag (scroll down a little bit, it's the Banana Republic Harley) that I'd been stalking online for almost a year now. It's a much darker blue than in the photo -- almost black -- and it looks/feels/smells amazing, especially next to the faux ones. I got it on eBay for half the retail price. I'll take care of it (use leather protector, keep it off the ground, don't over-load it with heavy or sharp things, don't store it hanging by the handles/straps, rotate it with other bags to minimize daily wear and tear), so it should last years.

I knew this particular bag was worth the money because I saw it in person first. If I were you, provided I could return both bags (and in Fossil's case, to a store to avoid paying return shipping), I'd buy both and do a side-by-side comparison.

Happy shopping!
posted by Majorita at 11:04 AM on August 29, 2010

Just because something's leather doesn't mean it's better than something "fake", but in order to find out you have to take other things into account. For instance, the stitching, the choice of closures, etc.

For instance, after reading positive reviews of this travel bag by Billykirk (canvas and real leather), I purchased it. It seemed pretty great... until I used it.

The first time I brought it through an airport, the zipper broke when I was opening it and it was a nightmare getting it to reclose (I almost missed my flight). It was extremely frustrating being at the check in counter and having my stuff hanging out of the bag while being rushed to get to the boarding area. Keep in mind this is a respected leather worker that simply did not research the parts they outsourced (the zipper).

When I returned from my trip, I emailed them and they simply offered to send me another zipper. I told them that I didn't want another zipper as I didn't want to be in the same situation again--I couldn't trust the product; I didn't trust their judgment of zippers. They weren't particularly sympathetic and told me to take it up with the shop I purchased it from. I did, and managed to get my money back. Of course, I would never buy another Billykirk item again.

Doing research on leather bags, I came across Saddleback, which also has an explanation of what the different leather options available are.

I've since purchased two Saddleback bags (overnight and briefcase) and am delighted with them. It's impossible to leave the house with them and not be complimented on them. They're much more expensive than the bag you're looking at but they also come with a 100 year warranty and don't use closures that break (so, no zippers or clasps). And they're full grain leather (read the leather link for explanation.)

My point is that it's possible a leather bag company will fuck something up, besides the leather, which will make the bag less durable than the "fake" bag. However, if the life expectancy of the bag is an issue for you, make sure you research the bag and its company. A high price does not mean quality (as my Billykirk example proves); and simply because something is leather does not mean it will last. However, all things considered, if the same company was making both a real and faux leather bag, I'd probably go with the real.
posted by dobbs at 11:12 AM on August 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Absolutely buy the leather -- and I say this as someone who bought and replaced fakes for years. Just to nth what everyone else has said, it will look nicer and last far longer than a dozen or more faux-leather bags, which means it's actually more affordable over the (not-so)long run.

As for Fossil: I think their products give you very good value for the money. My Fossil satchel -- which I bought last year after finally having had enough of cheap faux-leather -- has held up to a good amount of daily abuse and looks just as great as ever; in the same time I've had it, I would have gone through at least two or three cheaper bags.
posted by scody at 11:13 AM on August 29, 2010

I wouldn't invest in "good quality" unless you are the sort who uses the same bag every day for years and years and doesn't abuse the crap out of things. If you switch bags around or only use it for a year or beat things up, I wouldn't waste the money on "quality" under those circumstances.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:14 AM on August 29, 2010

After a lot of experience with fake synthetic shoes and bags, I now wholeheartedly believe that it's worth the extra cost to buy real leather. It looks better and wears better, and (in the case of shoes) feels better. If you take care of it, you'll have it for a long time and it's worth it to keep it around instead of spending money on something that will ultimately be disposable.
posted by Fuego at 11:14 AM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

If comparing the two bags that you linked. I would buy the fake leather one because of the design.

If you look closely at the Fossil bag, the top handle is stitched to the flap which means that with lots of use carrying it by that handle, you'll start to see wear in the stitching there. Whereas the Alloy bag, the handles are stitched down the sides of the bag giving it more strength.

However, the Fossil bag uses O-rings to attach the shoulder strap versus the Alloy's D-rings. with repeated use of carrying the bag diagonally, the D-rings will distribute weight unevenly causing it to wear more heavily on one side of the tab and may eventually twist the whole ring about. Although, this is highly dependent on the thickness of the tab and the weight you carry in the bag.

Those are some additional considerations...
posted by p1nkdaisy at 11:33 AM on August 29, 2010

Whats going to be going in this bag? Laptop, notebooks, pencils and a bus ride every day? Stepped on in lecture halls? Sitting next to you (and lots of greasy food) in cafeterias? You're probably going to be putting quite a bit of wear on to this. Expect any bag used daily with heavy items in it to look beat up in a year or two.

The leather bag you're considering is 4.25 times more expensive than the plastic one. Do you think you'll get 4.25 times more use out of it?

In my experience Fossil doesn't have super great quality. I've had stitching come apart. Where the edges of leather are exposed, they use a kinda cheap sealant (that's basically just plastic the same color as your leather) and it'll peel off eventually.

I vote for cheap, or a more expensive, but less stylish commuter type bag.
posted by fontophilic at 12:28 PM on August 29, 2010

Fake leather deteriorates quickly. Real leather is probably too expensive for you unless you're going to use it for years, which you probably aren't. Solution: buy a used leather bag; or buy a cute bag made out of different materials, like this.
posted by yarly at 1:07 PM on August 29, 2010

I'm a big believer in leather bags and have several very old ones. Going by cost per use, I will always get the higher quality bag if it's not simply out of my budget. But I agree with those who've pointed out some possible problems with the Fossil's design. Also, for certain kinds of situations (totally) agree about the proximity of greasy food) it's really nice to have a bag you can wash. I use bags made with water resistant fabric for those situations. Baggallini's Only Bag is my current one but you can probably get soemthing similar a lot cheaper.
posted by BibiRose at 2:04 PM on August 29, 2010

About 8 years ago, when I was taking a break from tech work and was doing real estate, I wanted a nicer bag that looked more professional than your standard cordura messenger bag type thing. I spent more money than I should have on a leather bag, which I then carried every day, all day.

The thing got beat to shit within six months and no longer looked sharp or professional. This was not a Fossil bag - I gotta say, for $170, you could almost buy a Coach bag, or something handmade - it was higher quality than that, and it still didn't weather.

Like others have said, Fossil is not great quality. I'm not even urging Coach. There *are* great indie bag makers on Etsy who are making bags out of leather that will last you for years, or make things out of good materials like corduroy or canvas.

I personally went the Harvey's Seatbelt Bag route because that's material that's going to last a very, very long time, doesn't show wear, and you don't see it on everyone's arm/shoulder. Also, there are fashion bag manufacturers like Mat & Nat's who are catering to the vegan crowd and are making high quality bags that last.
posted by micawber at 2:30 PM on August 29, 2010

I'm also on a student budget, and I've always bought cheap fake-leather bags. However, three years ago I scored a fantastic $500 black pebbled-leather bag on for $99, and I've been completely blown away by how well it has lasted. After three years of nearly daily use (and I'm not careful with my bags), it still looks basically new. So if the Fossil bag is made of decent-quality leather, it'll definitely be worth it.
posted by you're a kitty! at 3:38 PM on August 29, 2010

I bought a Fossil handbag a few months ago. It was the only thing I could find that met my requirements (so big and not bigger, closed at the top, had a pocket for cell phone & keys) and I'm pretty happy with it, but one thing you have to know about the fossil bags is that that leather is NOT glazed or coated.

The color of your jeans or coat WILL come off on it. So my yellow fossil bag has some navy spots from where it hits my hip.

I'm not unhappy with the bag, it really is well built, sturdy and high quality, and I think this is going to be my purse for a good few years. But I'm not thrilled about that aspect of it.
posted by Caravantea at 4:37 PM on August 29, 2010

The best leather bag I ever had lasted @ 10 years. The next one, from LLBean, is still in great shape. I saw a leather bag on sale, with nicer style, so the LLBean one is in the closet. I take care of leather, polish it once a year or so, more when it starts to get shabby, and it lasts well and looks good. That Fossil bag looks nice, and will likely be a better bargain in the long run, unless you will want a newer style sooner than it wears out.
posted by theora55 at 5:21 PM on August 29, 2010

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