First off, congrats! Not to you, but to your partner (or relative or friend or… stranger who lives down the street?). Basically, congrats to whoever is lucky enough to be on the receiving end of a beautiful vintage handbag. You are so loved.
Now you, dear generous gifter of great gifts, you’ve probably done your fair share of research, since you know your recipient is a vintage Chanel fan. You’ve maybe shortlisted a few bags, even. But as you get closer to d-day (decide-to-buy-it-day), you may find yourself second-guessing your choices. What if they don’t like what I buy? Fret not, I completely understand your anxiety. Why? Because I’ve been there myself, as the partner of a self-professed lover of all things vintage (especially Chanel, as you may know).
So dear buyer, let me try to provide my two cents as someone who’s been in your shoes. Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to handbags, but perhaps these words can help guide your decision. Before buying someone a vintage handbag, here’s what you need to know:
- There’s preloved, and there’s vintage. Be sure of the difference.
If she thinks she’s getting a vintage Chanel, and you buy her instead a preloved Spring Summer 2020 bag, someone’s going to be real disappointed. Now, I’m not knocking preloved bags. They definitely have their place. There’s also a huge market for consignment of handbags that are no longer in production.
But typically, when we say vintage, we mean a bag that’s at least twenty to twenty-five years old (sad violin for those of us out there who realize we’re old enough to be classified vintage).
Brand matters too when it comes to vintage classification. Chanel, Hermes, and Gucci—these are labels with a rich, storied history, which lend themselves well to the vintage moniker, more so than that little trinket you bought off a flea market in Bangkok.
Again, the point here is not to say that proper vintage is better. It’s simply to let you know that, if your partner is looking for a vintage Chanel, she’s referring to a pre-2000 bag, and anything outside of that is likely not what she has in mind.
- Understand who you’re buying for.
Of course, you know your partner well. You’ve maybe even have heard her mumble about her dream bag in her sleep. But is she a one-bag-to-rule-them-all kind of gal, or is she a Collector with a capital C? AKA: do you know what type of vintage Chanel lover she is?
Reason being, if she’s a Collector, then you’ll have to consider the following: does the bag have a defined role within the collection?
Now, I don’t know what type of collection your partner may have, so this is something only you can answer. But speaking from experience, collections are built around a few categories: colour, occasion (casual vs. formal), leather (lambskin vs. caviar) or size (small vs. medium).
If she leans towards breadth, then you’ll know to gravitate towards plugging a gap in her repertoire, whatever that is. If she leans towards depth, then you’ll know to expand upon her existing collection with a variation (for example, if she collects medium caviar classic flaps, then you may want to buy that same style in a colour she doesn’t yet have).
For the partners of one-bag folks out there, consider yourself lucky. You’ve one less thing to worry about.
- Be specific. No, even more specific than that.
Coco Chanel said it best: “The best color in the whole world is the one that looks good on you.” So much truth in so few words.
I’m focusing on colour here as that’s where specificity has played the biggest factor in my purchases. As you may know, not all colours are created equal. I’m not even talking about different colours like black vs. beige vs. pink. I’m talking about variance within a single colour.
Sure, a bag may be beige, but is it light beige, milk tea, tan, or caramel? Knowing exactly what shade of beige your partner makes all the difference. This is also important to know because when it comes to price, there is a broad range, depending on where on the colour spectrum your bag is, and how sought after that specific shade is.
Here is where it gets tricky. Unlike other brands like Hermes, Chanel colours are not specifically named. There are specific shades outside of the core colours which are released only for a single season. So if your partner has once revealed how much they love the “2 series beige Diana,” pay attention! That may be the exact shade she’s looking for.
All that being said, one unique thing about vintage is that no two bags are ever identical. Yes, even two bags from the same series of the same style, leather, and colour. This is because different bags age differently depending on how they were used, how they were stored, and how they were cared for. This is especially true for lighter shades. A 2 series beige Diana that has spent most of its life tucked away in a closet will wear slightly differently from one that has spent its life travelling the world and visiting cafes. That doesn’t mean that one is better than other—just different. And so it’s important to keep in mind these little variances that will occur.
- Know your source (AKA: where is your bag from?)
If you’re like me, whenever you shop vintage, you’ll always have a nagging voice at the back of your head saying: How do I know this is authentic?
Unlike the watch world, where a Rolex or Omega authorized dealer can authenticate a watch (typically through a servicing request), Chanel has no official channel through which you can authenticate a vintage handbag.
But remember—when it comes to buying vintage, you’re not only buying the bag. You’re buying the dealer. And the dealer can, and should, absolutely be authenticated.
Before you make that big purchase, be prepared to do a little homework. It will go long way not only towards helping you secure the bag of your dreams, but letting you sleep well at night knowing you will indeed receive exactly what you’ve paid for.
A few big questions you’ll want answers to:
- How long has the dealer been around? A long and established history is a good sign. This doesn’t mean, however, that new dealers should be avoided. You’ll simply just need to do a bit more due diligence.
- Do you have direct communication? Email, Instagram DM, WhatsApp, Skype—these are direct ways of talking to the dealer or member of their team. When you’re buying the bag of your dreams, you’d want to be able to talk to the people selling it to you.
- Are there reviews or testimonials? These paint a fuller picture of what the buying experience is really like with the dealer. Use platforms like Trustpilot to learn more about the dealer. Just remember to take all reviews with a pinch of salt, as anyone can write these reviews, no matter their agenda.
- Consider factors of resale
I’m not saying that your partner will resell the bag you’re buying for her because she doesn’t like it. Your partner may be a one-bag kind of gal, but perhaps that doesn’t mean that she’ll never sell a bag. Perhaps it simply means that she’ll only ever have one bag at any one time. This is what we call the one bag in, one bag out approach.
That, or perhaps your partner is a collector whose tastes change over time. Perhaps they need to sell one bag to fund the purchase of another coveted bag. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. There are too many.
So before you buy that Chanel bag, consider if it’s a popular and classic style and colour, or if it is of the more nontraditional variety. Unless you’re a dealer yourself, it will be far more difficult to sell a nontraditional bag without consignment.
- Before you take the leap: evaluate condition and price
When people talk about bag condition, they always try to give you a list of traits that indicate good condition. But that’s not the best approach, in my opinion. I believe that you should be looking for condition that most accurately reflects the price.
Typically, the better the condition of a bag, the higher the price, assuming that all other factors are identical. However, the closer you get to perfection, the more exponential the price increase due to the rarity of a mint condition bag. In other words, you may experience diminishing returns in value if you’re seeking a mint condition vintage Chanel.
And remember, we’re talking about vintage bags here. Bags that are twenty, sometimes thirty years old. To have one be in mint condition is exceedingly rare. The price, of course, reflects that.
I’m not saying that you should settle. Definitely not. All I’m saying is, the best value is often found in the middle of the condition spectrum, rather than on either end of poor or mint.
- Once you’ve made your purchase, don’t look back. Look forward. Life is long and full of handbags.
There will be many moments in your bag buying journey where you may second-guess yourself. Perhaps your partner merely hops in joy instead of LEAPS in joy when you present your gift. Or perhaps you wonder if you should’ve gotten it in a different colour, or leather, or style.
DON’T WORRY. You’ll come out the other side. It’s not the end of the world. It’s a handbag. You can always buy another. And another. And another. That’s the fun of it. The joy of bag buying or collecting is in the hunt. It’s in the countless hours of research, pouring over articles and setting Instagram notifications so you’ll know THE VERY SECOND a live sale happens.
Enjoy the process! I know I do.
Be in good bag health,