Q: How do you buy a knock-off hand bag? What are your guidelines, what are smart prices to pay? What is important to look for? I want to be able to have nice handbags but not be broke because of them!

A: There has been quite a bit of debate regarding knock-off bags (especially fake Louis Vuitton handbags) and the impact these bags have had on the fashion industry. Exact duplicates are not fair to the designers, period. Imagine spending years perfecting your art and name, only to have some steal your idea and sell it for well below market value. However, using elements of a popular design is nothing new in fashion. Every major and minor design house “borrows” design elements from other fashion designers and lower priced stores like H&M often sell items using a design made popular by more expensive designers (I call it “designer inspired” items). The difference between “knock-offs” and “designer inspired versions”, that the designer inspired versions don’t claim to be the real thing.

When looking to buy a knock-off you have to ask yourself, do I want it because the celebrity of the moment has it or do I want it because I truly like the designer and the bag. If the later is your answer, skip the rest of this article and save your pennies (nickels, dimes,) to purchase a real bag. However, if the reason why you want it is because Nicole Ritchie, Lindsay Lohan, or whatever celebrity of the moment has the bag, then I suggest you really think about why you’re buying the item (and why you feel the need to emulate an idea that isn’t real in the first place—celebrities often get those items for free). Buying a designer bag isn’t going to make you Jessica Simpson.

If it is quality you want—rarely are knock-offs good quality—then look for high quality, mid-priced bags from designers like Coach, Hype, Kenneth Cole, Donna Karan, Cole Haan, etc. You’ll find these bags for up 75% off at stores like Nordstrom’s Fashion Advice: The Great Fake Debate Continues Rack, Marshalls, T.J. Maxx, and their outlet stores.  Furthermore, designer label doesn’t always equal quality.  For example, a very famous designer makes a nylon bag that just because it has its label on it retails for over $300. You could buy the same bag, same quality for around $30 at your local T.J. Maxx.