Vintage silk purse

A Guide To Shopping For Vintage Purses

Tips for Finding the Perfect Vintage Purse

There’s nothing like a vintage handbag to complement the right outfit. Whether it’s a dressy night out or a special occasion like a wedding or anniversary, a vintage bag can be the perfect accent. In Europe, some women are embarrassed to carry shiny new bags, writes Tina Craig of Bag Snob, in an article she penned for Harper’s Bazaar. Why? Simple: a vintage accessory sets you apart from the trend-followers. It marks you as someone who recognizes and appreciates classic styles.

If you don’t like the idea of buying standard off-the-rack purses from department stores, vintage bags may be the answer. They provide that special touch that separates you from the crowd.

But where do you find these perfect accessories? Ideally, you would have a stylish grandmother with a penchant for designer bags that she saved for future-you in a dust-free cedar trunk or closet. You could then browse through a selection of vintage classics with full confidence in the authenticity of each bag.

Alas, few if any of us have such fashionable and forward-thinking relatives. In reality, it isn’t always easy to tell whether a bag is old or just made to look that way. Classic bags from decades past by top designers like Chanel or Gucci are rare and expensive. You can usually identify those bags by their price tags—if the price doesn’t shock you, it probably isn’t the real deal. However, many attractive vintage bags made by lesser-known designers are quite affordable. And many genuinely vintage bags have no label but are of perfectly good quality and design. It comes down to how much you care about labels.

For many of us, the name brand really isn’t that important when it comes to vintage handbags. What matters more is how a bag looks and feels and whether it suits the occasion or outfit you have in mind. So how do you tell if a bag is vintage when the label is either obscure or missing altogether? You may never be absolutely sure but it helps to make a careful assessment before you buy. Here are a few tips for making a smart selection:

Trust your instincts. If buying in a store, carefully consider the quality of the materials and craftsmanship. If it feels light, cheap, or synthetic, it probably isn’t vintage. When purchasing online, look closely at the photos. Conscientious sellers post clear pictures of bags from multiple angles, along with close-ups of the labels, when present.

Ed Robinson Petit Point Purse | Robinson Petit Point Handbag | Petit Point Evening Bag | Vintage Purse | Needlepoint Clutch
Petit Point Purse listed by CarolinesKitchen. $249.
Vintage silk purse
A vintage silk evening bag with antique gold frame.

Read Reviews. Check up on sellers’ reputations and read reviews from previous customers. Look for trends. There can be legitimate reasons for one bad review but several customers expressing dissatisfaction should raise red flags.

 Feel the bag in your hand. If buying in a store, pick up the bag and hold it. If a bag feels light and insubstantial, it might not be vintage. Even if you’re buying online, check the description to see if it’s lined. And don’t be afraid to ask questions. Most Etsy sellers, myself included, love to receive queries and comments from buyers and we usually answer very quickly. One nice thing about Etsy versus a massive retailer like Amazon is dealing with individual shop owners who offer personal customer service.

Vintage patent leather bag
A 1960s black patent leather clutch by Harry Levine.

Notice Details. Genuine vintage bags are carefully crafted. Look for quality workmanship in the stitching. Note whether the hardware looks cheap. Beads should be attached securely. Interiors should be fully lined.

Be alert to fake leather. Real leather is made from animal skin, which, like human skin, is full of natural imperfections. If the surface of a purse is perfectly uniform or smooth, it’s probably not genuine leather. It should also feel supple and flexible, not stiff or hard, and will regain its shape after being wrinkled.

Caterini Bidini of Bidini’s Fine Leather Handbags offers some useful tips on how to use your senses to make an educated assessment:

  • Leather shoulder bag vintage
    Leather shoulder bag made in Italy, circa 1970s.

    Real leather scratches. If you run your nails over the surface and nothing happens, it’s probably not leather.

  • Real leather has a “leathery” scent whereas fake leather might smell like glue or plastic.
  • Although you probably won’t want to spit on a bag in a store, it can be another way to eliminate fakes. Leather absorbs saliva whereas synthetic material will not.

Happy Searching!

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