Are expensive handbags better?
June 6, 2007 8:09 AM   Subscribe

I'm tired of cheap handbags. Will buying a more expensive bag eliminate the problems cheap handbags bring?

I tend to buy cheap purses every 3-4 months or so; and they look fine for a month, and then they begin to fall apart. Stuff falls off, the zipper rips, the handle breaks. Right now I have a designer knockoff I bought in Chinatown, and the handle is thisclose to falling off, because the fake leather is cracking and ripping. I speak at conferences on behalf of my company, and I would rather not look foolish carrying a bag that is stapled or glued together. If I bought an expensive bag, would these problems continue? I really want to buy something that will not fall apart, ever- is that an unrealistic expectation to have of a bag I'll carry everyday? What should one look for when "investing" in a handbag? What are the elements of design that will indicate a bag will not fall apart quickly? What's the life of an expensive bag? I don't want to have unrealistic expectations. I'm thinking of something like this.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (55 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
My well-regarded luggage repair shop in Vancouver recently told me that expensive handbags are just as prone to fall apart as the cheap ones. The shop is the go-to place for warranty repairs on major name brands of luggage, and is recommended by the major department stores (Holts, the Bay, etc) and name-brand boutiques (Tiffany et al) here in Vancouver.

They told me that they see a lot of Prada and other very expensive brands in their shop.

If one buys designer knockoffs on Canal street in NYC (say), then the loss of a handbag to poor workmanship is not as stinging as the loss of a handle on a purse that cost $1300
posted by seawallrunner at 8:25 AM on June 6, 2007

About the only reason an expensive designer bag might last longer is that you will tend to treat them better because of the price. High price is rarely an indication of durability. In fact, really expensive stuff can often be much more fragile, since they are made more for looks than for utility.

Stay away from designer knock-offs, though. Since their whole reason for existence is to merely look like the real thing on-the-cheap, durability is rarely a factor in their construction.

Your best bet would be to shop for more moderate-priced bags that feature sturdier construction.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:26 AM on June 6, 2007

Your best bet would be to shop for more moderate-priced bags that feature sturdier construction.

For instance?
posted by dame at 8:28 AM on June 6, 2007

Honestly, I've had a few Coach purses (some more like messenger-style bags) that won't die no matter what I've thrown at them - travel around the world, almost daily use in rain and heat, books and other large objects crammed inside. They're more expensive than, say, department store nylon bags or designer rip-offs, but less than super high-end designers.
posted by barometer at 8:32 AM on June 6, 2007

I have a Fendi Selleria bag that looks exactly the same today as it did when I bought it a year ago. I carry it every day just as I would any other bag. In order for a purchase like that to be worthwhile, you probably need to not mind carrying the same bag for several years.

Some of my friends swear by Coach's leather bags.
posted by amber_dale at 8:32 AM on June 6, 2007

My mom and aunt are such great believers in Stone Mountain that they each have the same model (the Classic Hobo) in three or four colors. They also purchased backup copies of each just in case Stone Mountain discontinues the style.

It's not a super expensive designer brand; they cost $120 but you can sometimes find them in Marshall's for $40 or less. I

The one I bought used for $20 lasted 2 years through plenty of abuse & would have probably gone on longer if it wasn't for the tragic Sharpie incident. Mom & the Aunt's purses have lasted 5-7 years because they switch colors through the seasons.
posted by jaimystery at 8:35 AM on June 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have that Speedy bag, and another LV and they wear like iron. I can't speak for all designer bags, but as far as LV goes, my son would refer to something that indestructable as beast, or tank. The bags are beast, and they are also tank ;) I don't use them every single day, but a couple of time a week at least. The older one is over 20 years old and it's in perfect condition! It pays.

The only issue I've had with either one is that if you use them a lot, the handles eventually get darker in the middle from the oils of your hands, which you can prevent by using mink oil or a leather conditioner on them a couple of times a year. After about 15 years or so the older one needed a zipper replaced, which cost me 15 dollars. The lining still looks soft and new, every stud and fastener looks great, the stitching is still perfect.
posted by iconomy at 8:35 AM on June 6, 2007

Oops - I misspoke Mom & Aunt have the Hampton Multicompartment Hobos. I had the classic Hobo.

The Hampton is a little shorter & wider than the Hobo.
posted by jaimystery at 8:38 AM on June 6, 2007

I love little bags - I'm a sucker for a cute fabric, an interesting liner, a cute shape, a strange little detail or feature, etc.

That said, the most durable bag I've ever bought is the one Coach purse I bought a year and a half ago for half-price at Loehmann's. I believe it was a leftover from the previous season; doesn't matter to me because I'm not one to keep up with the current style and the bag's shape, size, and simple color suits me and my very basic tastes, and is pretty trend proof. It is more durable than my other cuter, more whimsical bags, the leather is good quality, the zipper runs smoothly without any little kinks or hiccups, and there's nary a rip, pull or wear mark around leather where the handles attach to the bag.

I can't say I'd have paid full price for it - about $350 - but I would keep an eye peeled at Loehmann's, TJ Maxx or Century 21 for something similar, if I were you.

Happy shopping.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 8:38 AM on June 6, 2007

Best answer: Classic Coach bags (made of sturdy leather) last forever and can be renovated/repaired for a nominal fee. I had one done some years ago.
posted by anitar at 8:40 AM on June 6, 2007

I don't think designer = durable. I've had perfectly good luck shopping at department stores - and you could buy a new purse each month for the price of a designer bag. I think the problem with your current bag is not that it isn't designer, it's that it's a Chinatown knockoff.

Unless it's the actual shopping process you object to, I'd just update your bag frequently, rather than shelling out for a designer bag and expecting it to last.
posted by eleyna at 8:40 AM on June 6, 2007

I have a friend that buys really expensive (> than US $1,000) purses, which she calls handbags (refuses to use the word purse for some reason). She treats them very gently and "retires" them after a few months so they don't get damaged.

I boughy my wife a Coach diaper bag (~$400) for Christmas that gets constant use (and abuse) but it still looks great 5 months later. She has a few other Coach purses that seem to hold up fine with daily use.

I have a Filson leather satchel (~$500 when I bought it in 1993 but more now), which I use every day and it still looks great. I home my 1yo son will use it one day.

Up to a certain point, more money can buy you greater quality. Above a certain point, you're paying mostly for exclusivity and you probably don't care about durability.
posted by probablysteve at 8:41 AM on June 6, 2007

You can find affordable & durable purses in stores like Macy's & Kohl's. Kohl's is constantly having ridiculous sales, so stock up & rotate.
posted by redbed at 8:42 AM on June 6, 2007

I also have had really good experiences with Coach.

If you're looking for even cheaper... my most recent bag I got at Loehmann's for under $100. It's a leather Steven by Steve Madden bag that has been extremely durable over the past few months. I use this bag every day and there are yet to be any signs of wear.
posted by LittleLisi at 8:55 AM on June 6, 2007

My fiancée has a Louis and a Chanel. Both wear like iron and could indeed be described as "beast" and "tank" (although not within earshot of my fiancée).

Compared to her previous Coach handbags, yes, the expensive stuff is better made. She doesn't coddle hers like the collectors do, and I did notice a difference between stuff lasting months without wear, versus years.

As probablysteve notes, Filson rocks too, but it's a boys' club.
posted by cribcage at 8:55 AM on June 6, 2007

I have a few bags made by Latico and they are all very well made and not crazy expensive ($75-$300 range). Their website is wholesale only, but they seem to be easy to find in the good shoe stores around here (Portland). In my experience, the quality difference is huge between say a $50 bag and a $150 bag. Over $300, you are probably just paying for name.
posted by slowfasthazel at 8:55 AM on June 6, 2007

For years, I used a leather shoulder bag that I bought at a gallery. It cost me $40, but would probably run a bit more these days. Find a leather shop where they make the goods there, and you can have whatever you want made. Tell them you want it to last until you're dead. A quality leather bag conveys a lot more class than something with designer logos smacked on it and never goes out of style.
posted by yohko at 8:55 AM on June 6, 2007

Nthing the leather Coach bags. I have four coach bags, the youngest of them I bought in 1999 at a random Coach outlet store I encountered while driving across the US on Interstate 80. The lightest colored one shows some dirt but the construction is sturdy as ever. None of them are even close to falling apart, and some of them have really been abused used heavily.

Coach might not be your style though- I've also had great luck with Monsac and Furla. None of the three are cheap, but they have all held up really well over time.
posted by ambrosia at 8:59 AM on June 6, 2007

Best answer: in general, i am a big believer in "you get what you pay for" and handbags fall under this category. i will buy trendy things at a lower price point (because they will be in and out within a season or maybe even two), but if i want something to last, i will drop at least a couple hundred dollars on a better bag. they don't need to be excessively expensive—there are a number of smaller, up-and-coming labels who create amazing, really well-constructed bags with great leathers and wonderful attention to details at the $200-500 price point.

good bags are an investment. treat them well and they will treat you well.
posted by violetk at 9:14 AM on June 6, 2007

Coach bags rock - and as others have said, do not show most of their wear and can be restored. I have four in different styles, the oldest I picked up at an estate sale for $50.00. It's older, but only hard core Coach "cult members" can tell - any they are usually very interested in where I found my little blue purse.

Also, I have two Brighton bags. The larger one I'd swear is "balanced" somehow, because for as big as it is, (and how much crap ends up in it) it has never felt heavy or "saggy" on my shoulder.

Well-made purses are completely worth the money.
posted by Carnage Asada at 9:18 AM on June 6, 2007

I think the idea is that you need to buy a step up from super-cheap. I've bought a bunch of cutesy little bags at Target and such, and they fall apart immediately. You don't need to get a "name brand" but anything you get at a department store will probably be durable. I know my mom has carried the same Coach bag for years - I'm not sure how much it cost but she has definitely gotten her money's worth!
posted by radioamy at 9:20 AM on June 6, 2007

I think that anything in real leather will last longer and wear better. I don't think you need Coach, per se, but bags made of thicker leather with extra stitching at the seams, like theirs, will do the trick.
I am pretty rough on all my possessions, so the key for me was getting a bag with pebbled leather (feels a little bumpy, does not scratch as easily). Mine is from Cleo & Patek, and I highly recommend it. A friend's mom has a similar bag from them and it still looks new after 5 years of daily use. Mine is a year old and only has one scratch (personal record).
Whatever brand you do buy, look for good pebbled leather and extra reinforcement around the seams and handles.
posted by rmless at 9:22 AM on June 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Hobo bags have served me well. They are well made and nicely designed.
posted by MsElaineous at 9:36 AM on June 6, 2007

Nthing Coach - I've got two purses and a briefcase from them that are highly abused, and still look great. You can get a pretty good deal on them at the outlets, or at a department store when you get a coupon (I don't think they every go on sale, unless they're out of season, and those tend to not be the leather bags).
posted by dpx.mfx at 9:40 AM on June 6, 2007

Best answer: My grandmother has had the same Louis Vuitton handbag for as long as I've been around, so 25 years, if not longer. It's one of the snap close ones rather than a zipper close, so I can't give you any info on how long their zippers last.
posted by blueskiesinside at 9:43 AM on June 6, 2007

Another vote for Coach. I've gotten a couple at thrift stores that looked great then, and still look great years later. And sometimes they fade a bit, but I've had them dyed with great success.
posted by sulaine at 9:50 AM on June 6, 2007

This book Is actually an EXCELLENT resource for understanding the craft and quality of an item. It covers a lot of things, but it also covers bag quality and construction - I read this book years ago and I STILL keep a lot of it's information and tips in mind when shopping. It helps understand the materials used in an item, how to tell if it's going to hold up to use, it's quality, etc.

Can't recommend this book enough.

On a personal note, my husband bought me a Kenneth Cole handbag for Christmas in '05, and I use it every single day. The leather has a gently worn look to it now, but it adds to the charm.

Paying a little more for a bag is a good thing. But you don't have to mortgage the farm either.
posted by othersomethings at 10:01 AM on June 6, 2007 [4 favorites]

I had a Dooney & Bourke leather purse that lasted 11 years of daily use, including being carried outdoors in temperatures below -40C for months on end.
posted by watsondog at 10:04 AM on June 6, 2007

One feature of an expensive handbag that can prolong its life: some manufacturers will repair or replace a handbag that doesn't age well.

My mother, desperate to replace her Stone Mountain bag, called them to ask for help locating a similar model. Stone Mountain offered to repair her bag free of charge. If I recall correctly, she paid shipping one way, and they sent her back a repaired handbag, polished and cleaned, and a complimentary bottle of leather cleaner. She's now a lifelong customer.

I compromise by buying reasonably nice handbags at a good consignment shop.
posted by Elsa at 10:11 AM on June 6, 2007

I buy expensive purses and expensive sunglasses and have them long after fashion dictates I shouldn't display them in public any more.
posted by iguanapolitico at 10:13 AM on June 6, 2007

I have a Kate Spade and a Fossil and both have lasted quite a while. I take awful care of them because I found both of them used, so my total spending on handbags has been about $10. For all I know they're both ten years old. I actually suspect that the Spade might be a knockoff (in which case it's held up beautifully) but don't really care enough to check.
posted by crinklebat at 10:22 AM on June 6, 2007

Best answer: Nthing Coach as being hard-wearing. I have about 6 of them and they all look damn good age considered. Plus, you can get something that's nice and not too terribly trendy that you can carry for years to come.
posted by heartquake at 10:29 AM on June 6, 2007

I swear by my designer bags. It's one of the few things that I find it worth it to drop money on. I have Dooney and Bourke and Kate Spade bags and they hold up amazingly. Rain, snow, subways...nothing gets these suckers down. I feel like anything between the $250 - $500 price point is a pretty good bet.
posted by youcancallmeal at 10:39 AM on June 6, 2007

I have a Banana Republic bag that I've been using fairly steadily for about 2 1/2 - 3 years and its still in pretty good shape. I definitely throw my bags around, leave them on the floor, etc. It was about $170, so not designer but not cheap, so while it probably only has another 2 years in it (rather than the forever desired), it might be worth looking into BR. I'm actually impressed with the workmanship, given that its made of fairly persnickety materials (mostly suede, with snake-stamped shinyish leather, and normal leather detailing).
posted by wuzandfuzz at 10:40 AM on June 6, 2007

I agree with the LV and Chanel assessments above-- my Chanel handbag is 11 years old, my Gucci is 9. I've had them both polished up once over the years and they look fantastic.

But if you're looking for a lower price point, a lot of the J Crew handbags use the same leather and factories as Gucci and Tod's. Wait until the fall, though, when the good leather stuff is back in stock. My J Crew Jane bag is the same shape as the LV Speedy and I love it so very much.
posted by astruc at 10:47 AM on June 6, 2007

Nthing the classic Coach bags. I have one I've treated horribly, and used incessantly, for almost a decade now. It looks fantastic. And a couple more I don't use as often, but which've still taken a beating.

I'm not sure how their 'non-classic' ones -- eg, the chavved-out logo-festooned ones -- hold up. Get the classic leather. They can be had pretty cheaply if "EUC" on eBay.
posted by kmennie at 10:57 AM on June 6, 2007

Best answer: I would say the principal of investing in a handbag would be the same as the advice they give on "What Not to Wear..." Be willing to pay a bit more for some classic pieces that will live up to the test of time and will also be in style as trends fade.

If you're already leaning towards LV I would say go for it. I've had my last two Monogram LV bags in steady rotation for several years now and they've held up amazingly. I bought the bags with the intention of keeping them for quite awhile and therefore there are some practices that I undergo to keep them in good condition, as mentioned by a previous poster a semi-annual oiling of the leather handles, and a wipe down of the rest of the bag with warm water and a pat dry. I don't have qualms with investing $500+ in a well-made handbag as I know I will use it for quite awhile. I stray from momentary trends and choose classics that tend to go well with just about anything. Over the long run if you think about how many years you will get out of the bag, it just makes sense.
posted by Asherah at 10:57 AM on June 6, 2007

Look for a Coach sale on the wbesite here soon. That's all I can say.
posted by nulledge at 11:56 AM on June 6, 2007

Agreeing with everyone upthread about Coach. They also have a repair service if something does fall apart.
posted by ml98tu at 12:26 PM on June 6, 2007

Yep. Coach classic like this one but black. Handed down from mom who has many purses and good taste.

Hard, stiff leather that wears like a good saddle and smells like a clean barn. Poor thing's been treated miserably and abused relentlessly yet still looks excellent, though the clasp has lost a bit of its brilliance.
posted by answergrape at 12:31 PM on June 6, 2007

I've had excellent experiences with Monsac and Coach.

I own a leather Monsac tote for three years running that has endured a fair amount of abuse. It shows little wear and absolutely no tear. Monsac is fairly inexpensive as well. I'm also the owner of three Coach handbags. They've all weathered misuse and environment beautifully, but I have to give my classic leather Coach handbag bonus points as it has been my partner in crime for a handful of international vacations, food and beverage accidents, and *cringe* two backpacking experiences. It looks like it did the day I bought it after a quick wipe down with a moist towel.

Anecdotal recommendations aside, I agree with the sentiment, "You get what you pay for."
posted by fiasco at 1:02 PM on June 6, 2007

A purse lasting only a month? It's definitely time to spend money on higher quality stuff. Like others have said, I've had good luck with Coach and Dooney & Burke. The D&B is a hand me down from my mother, it's over 20 years old and damn near indestructible. Leather has aged well, while my nylon handbags, even some of the pricier ones, showed wear quicker than the leather ones. Personally, I am not a big fan of the LV monogram series. I prefer Epi, just because the logo is not plastered everywhere.

Also, there's knockoffs and there's knockoffs. I've been given as presents some Prada and Hermes knockoffs from Korea which have lasted for years without any of the problems of the Chinatown knockoff.

Lastly, you don't say if you use the same handbag day in and day out until it falls apart. Just like shoes, I've found rotating handbags helps them last longer.

That said, my current staple bag is a Baggallini backpack purse made of ripstop nylon, squishable and abusable and stays out of the way while I'm picking through produce at the farmer's market.
posted by needled at 1:07 PM on June 6, 2007

The Nth vote for Coach. I <3 my Coach bags. The hardware on them is cast and solid, the leather is high quality without weak spots, and the stitching is done right. I think that's the most attractive thing about those bags: in a world full of cheap crap, Coach still cares about craftsmanship.
posted by fiercecupcake at 1:11 PM on June 6, 2007

Best answer: My wife's coach bag has held up very well for at least 6 years of constant use, but I'm going to second what rmless has said about leather and extra stitching. The other factor is trying to decrease both the weight and volume of what you put in your handbags. If you are using them as a briefcase you aren't going to be satisfied with the durability of any handbag. Get a messenger bag or something larger. I went through my wife's purse a few years ago (with her permission) and found lighter replacements for the maglight and compact she had in there. Another big thing is trying to reduce the weight of keyrings. If you have a billion keys, keep some in your car on a big keyring, and a smaller one in your purse.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:16 PM on June 6, 2007

I typically buy mid-range department store bags, not street vendor stuff, but definitely not LV or Coach (I think I could trash a bag made out of kevlar, so I refuse to spend that much).

I find that of the mid-price bags, Nine West seem to be the crappiest. Every single one I bought (and I don't know why I have bought so many) has fallen apart in a relatively short time, zippers breaking, handles falling off, etc. The nicest, longest lasting bags I have had have been from Kenneth Cole and Fossil.
posted by tastybrains at 2:22 PM on June 6, 2007

nine west bags are usually not leather.
posted by violetk at 2:36 PM on June 6, 2007

nine west bags are usually not leather.

They're usually not durable either. The ones I've owned ended up looking like crap a few months after purchase. I am not hard on my purses, and don't ever put them on the ground or floor
(but that's another thread about a superstition I'd rather not admit to).
posted by Carnage Asada at 4:41 PM on June 6, 2007

Coach and Chanel bags = awesome. All of mine came from thrift stores, have held up for years despite massive amounts of abuse, and still look awesome.

Also, there's something to be said about a classic Coach bag -- lends a bit of gravitas if you're out in public representing your company. (My Chanel bag is a little more fashion-whorish, I only wear it when I'm feeling kicky).
posted by at 4:46 PM on June 6, 2007

The most expensive handbag I've ever bought was $40 from and it has held up great. It's a year old now and I use it every day, and it's in great condition.
posted by IndigoRain at 6:05 PM on June 6, 2007

Best answer: I tend to buy cheap purses every 3-4 months or so

get an excellent one every two years; the abovementioned Speedy is awesome and very sturdy. get a Speedy 30 with your initials. or a vintage Gucci bamboo if smaller's OK, too.

one cheap-ass bag every 3-4 months means 8 or 6 bags in two years. spend 500 bucks on a Speedy now, and get a Gucci in the summer of 2009. vintage LV costs much less and they're usually very well kept.

don't get knockoffs. you're worth a high quality item.
posted by matteo at 6:10 PM on June 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

(500 dollars over 2 years is 20 bucks a month, more or less)
posted by matteo at 6:11 PM on June 6, 2007

(matteo, I adore you.)

This has been a fun thread. It's making me want to buy this bag very, very badly. I have been stalking it for months.
posted by astruc at 6:24 PM on June 6, 2007

I can also recommend Kate Spade and Coach bags, as long as both are leather. My biggest complaint with handbags (and mine are usually handbags, not shoulder-style) is that the stitching will begin to fray or the leather will peel off in strips along the straps. I have never had this problem with Kate Spade or Coach bags. The lining is always nicely done, they retain their shape, the pockets and the hardware hold up, and all I ever do is wipe them down once every couple of months or so with Method leather wipes from Target. I can't believe I actually have a strong bias about handbags - could lip gloss be far behind?
posted by ersatzkat at 7:27 PM on June 6, 2007

Best answer: I'm not sure how you treat your purses, but I can't imagine anything I ever bought only lasting a few months.

I have two handbag categories: purses and shoulder bags. And for purses I use the same budgeting principle as with shoes. It took me years to learn that I should not buy expensive pumps and cheap casual shoes and boots, because I wear the everyday shoes so much more and tend to wear them out, while I have never worn out a pair of dressy shoes and always end up throwing them out because they go out of style. The amount you pay for the item should correlate to the amount you will use and abuse it.

My purses are the smaller of the two and usually I'll only put the basics in them (i.e., my wallet, keys, Metropass, lipstick). I have a good half dozen of them, all bought for $20 or less, and because I only carry them occasionally I have never worn out a purse no matter how little I paid for it.

My shoulder bags, on the other hand (or arm), are larger. They must hold my wallet, keys, Metropass, sunglasses, gloves in winter, hand lotion, vanity case, a notebook, toothbrush and toothpaste, pens, calculator, mini-umbrella, a paperback book, and knitting. I use my shoulder bag almost every day, and so I won't buy a poor quality bag because it won't last. My last shoulder bag was a $60 vinyl Donna Karan (I think) and I carried it almost every day for three years before it died on me. My current one is a Liz Claiborne and cost $185 (and close to 50% off at that). It's about nine months old and still looks almost new.

I wouldn't worry about fashion with purses. When's the last time you saw a purse that you thought looked dated? I often see ugly purses and frumpy purses, but not dated ones. A purse that has a cute shape will look good as long as the quality holds up.
posted by orange swan at 7:59 PM on June 6, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks all for your input. Who knew there were so many fashionistas around these parts!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:50 PM on June 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

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