How to thrift a good quality leather handbag

I love a good leather bag. The touch, the feel...no, not of cotton, but a good aged leather bag is the fabric of my life LOL. My collection of leather bags is kind of embarrassing, as I will consign and eBay everything in my closet except for my leather bags. It's the first thing I look for at any store, including the thrift store.

So how do I find a good quality leather bag at the thrift store? Well, it's all in knowing what to look for. As with anything, if you don't know what you're looking for, you're liable to pick up anything. So here are a few things to think about, as well as what to look out for when thrifting a quality leather bag.

1. What kind of bag are you looking for? What style of bag do you prefer? Are you a bucket bag kind of girl? Desiring a crossbody for those trips to the farmer's market? Or perhaps a vintage leather clutch for that late night deli date with the boo? Or do you prefer a good sturdy structured tote that can carry your workout clothes, lunch and makeup bag? Before you venture into any store, but particularly the thrift store, you have to know what kind of bag you're interested in. For me, I'm drawn to an oversized handbag. I carry A LOT of knick knacks and they need to be able to fit into one bag. I don't necessarily like the openness of a tote, so finding one at the thrift store wouldn't appeal to me. Neither do I like small shoulder bags. I couldn't fit half of my makeup bag in one of those. As far as details, I love a fringe, brass buckles and zippers, so if I see a leather bag with one or a combination of these items, I'm immediately drawn to it. Take a look through your closet, or even through Pinterest and see what types of leather bags catch your eye. Take a pic or screen shot a bag you like and take the pic to the thrift store with you to keep you focused. You do want to stay open, however, as you may find a piece that catches your eye that you hadn't necessarily thought of. This is the thrill of thrift shopping ;-)

2. Know the touch, feel and smell of leather Knowing the touch, feel and smell of real leather is essential when thrifting a quality leather bag. Brands have become better at creating quality faux leather material and I am a definitely fan of vegan leather. However, there is no comparison to the texture and aging component of real leather. Go to your local Coach or Zara store and spend some time examining the varying qualities of leather. I am a fan of vintage Coach bags for the softness of the leather over time. That's the same reason I love a Louis bag. You'll notice that the leather gets more supple and malleable over time and the straps on a Louis bag will oxidize over time. Also, as it relates to the feel, leather should not feel plasticky (yes, that's a word) or feel like it will melt in your hand on a hot day. The smell is also significant. Faux leather has a chemical smell similar to that of detergent, floor cleaner or yes, plastic. Leather, almost has the smell of a brand new car LOL It smells, well...like brand new leather.

3. Seams and stitching  One of the dead giveaways of a poor quality faux leather bag, or just a poor quality bag in general is the stitching. Conversely, one of the qualities of a good leather bag is...the good stitching. Like I mentioned before, you can get some great vegan leather bags that look and real like the real thing, stitching included. These are the exceptions. When a brand has invested in a hide of leather for a bag, they are not going to skimp on the piping or yarn used to finish off the bag. When thrifting a quality leather bag, make sure to tug at, pick at and play with the seams. Is the bag held together by strings and glue, or has it been securely stitched. You'll know what I mean with one good yank of the strap. If it comes apart, it's no bueno. If the strap snaps back into place, you've got a winner

4. Check out the inside With the exception of vintage Coach who's inside is raw and unfinished, most leather bags will be as beautiful on the inside as they are on the outside. As with the seams and stitching, brands who spend the money to create a beautiful leather bag are not going to now skimp on the other components, inside the bag being a big one. Although most bags are lined, a good leather bag will have quality lining, a branded pocket or two and maybe some logo hardware. Most faux leather bags are unbranded on the inside and feature a tough cotton blend material with an inexpensive zipper closure on the internal pocket. It seems like a minute detail, but small details like that really reveal the type of purchase you're about to make. Remember, good quality bags are good quality inside AND out. 

5. Check out the hardware Rusted over and shotty hardware is a dead giveaway that the bag is not the best quality. There are times when I'll find a piece that looks and smells like it was buried UNDERNEATH the basement (no lie) LOL However, after a few scrubs with some paper towel, you can definitely tell that it used to be a beautiful bag. Those kind of purchases are gems to an avid thrifter such as myself. However, for the most part, if the buckles, zippers and other hardware have turned green and molded over, that's not the bag for you. Inspect all hardware and give them a good tugging at. Knock on the buckles, run the zipper a half dozen times and try bending the latches. If it doesn't stand up to your stress test, leave it at the store.

6. Know your price points This may not be true for all thrift stores, but if you go to one that does their homework, they will price the leather and/or name brand bags a little higher than the faux leather bags. They'll also make sure to separate these bags out, keeping them behind the counter or in the display case. Still be cautious, however, because they will house newer bags, leather or faux, in these areas as well. Hold your higher price point bags to the same standards as the bags on the thrift floor to make sure that it is of good quality. If not, hand it right back over to the sales person and head over to the handbag section to continue your search.


Dionne Dean