Fashion Advice: How to Buy A Purse

Dear Budget Fashionista,
I’m searching for a black handbag for daily use that will last for years. I am a stay at home mom, who does not have many handbags. I want to invest in a good black purse and make sure it is one that I will use and love for years. My question is this: What do I look for? Is there some sort list of questions I should ask myself before purchasing so that I do not have a remorse purchase?
Here’s seven quick things you should do when looking for a quality handbag:
1. Smell It. Leather has a certain, slightly gamey smell to it. If it has no smell or smells like plastic, then most likely it’s fake.
2. Do the oil test. Rub your finger on your skin or hair and then rub it on the leather of the purse. If it leaves a stain or a streak then it’s not quality leather and/or it hasn’t been treated properly. Good Leather repeals oil.
3. Check the stitching. Gently pull the bag the seams- does the stitching pull? If so, the imagine what will happen when you put all your stuff in there.
4. Do the scratch test. Gently scratch the surface of the bag. If the color of the scratch is different than the rest of the bag, than means the leather was painted on, rather than dyed through, and at some point the paint will chip. Also scratch the surface of the hardware to see if it’s true metal or painted metallic . Again, if it’s painted on, at some point it will chip.
5. Put it on your shoulder. It is comfortable or does it feel like it’s slipping off your shoulder. It doesn’t matter how cute the bag is, if it’s not comfortable
6. Do the fit test. Take everything out of your current bag and place it inside the bag under consideration. Does it fit? If not, you easier have to get rid of some of the stuff in your bag (which is probably a good idea) or move on to the next candidate.
7. Check to see if it’s lined. Lining, both in handbags and in clothing, is a sign of a higher quality garment because it costs the manufacturer extra to add it it. In the case of handbags, lining protects the leather of the bag from the wear and tear of the contents of your bag.
8. Keep the embellishments to a minimum. The one thing that can really date a bag is the use of embellishments like feathers or dated fabrics (think stonewashed denim). Make sure the bag has basic black stitching and hardware that errs on the simple side.

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    Catherine Brock

    As a Southern California transplant now living in the Midwest, Catherine has turned layering into an art form and accepted that UGGs actually do have a place in the stylish lady's wardrobe. She's been featured in Woman's World Magazine,, Refinery29, and has made appearances on ABC7 Chicago, FOX2News St. Louis, KCAL9 Los Angeles, Fox19 Cincinnati, WGN TV Chicago and WCPO TV Cincinnati.

    Blog Comments

    Number 6. is important because certain straps will slide off your shoulder or hurt your shoulder after a lot of weight has been put into the pocketbook. It might feel fine in the store, but not so great in the real world. I invested in a Coach bag and I had this problem. I took the bag back to the store and she wouldn’t take it because there was a little bit of dust indicating it had been used. I said your straps are too thin, they hurt my shoulder if there is any weight in the bag. I figured they would stand behind their products because they are so expensive, but that is not the case at all.

    This is what I do.  I look at current magazines, to see what the stars are wearing.  I like large handbags with,shoulder straps,well constructed, with lining. Stitching should be even.
    I like black handbags, with nice detailing, like stitching or buckles or fringe. A good source is TJ Maxx.
    Good with your shopping

    I would definitely recommend that you choose a nice, classic black bag without any logos. I would recommend Coach or Kooba! Great quality and at the prices that won’t necessarily break you bank, and if you consider cost per wear, its totally worth the investment!

    Thanks for this, TBF—this is one of the most useful how-to’s I’ve seen in a while. I am very picky with my leather goods—I won’t buy anything that looks cheap (even if I don’t want to pay a lot for it), and I put them through quite a bit of wear-and-tear, so these tips are helpful.

    Call me crazy (or just 20-something and on a budget), but I don’t consider Coach “affordable” by a long shot. For what it’s worth, I have had very good luck with The Sak (leather only, I don’t like their signature knit) and Tignanello. Both brands are pretty easy to find on sale, too.

    If I were a merchant, I would not be very happly about folks following the advice in #2 or #4. If I bought a bag and discovered it had been damaged by these “tests”, I would not be too happy either.

    There’s one area that wasn’t covered, which is that the purse should be in proportion to your figure.  You can also use larger bags to appear slimmer.  I saw lots of tips and tricks on this on the Missus Smarty Pants website.

    1. I said gently scratch the surface- not take a huge chunk out of the bag.

    2. Also don’t put a ton of oil on the bag.

    I used to buy cheap purses, but I found myself having to get new ones every few months. Now that I’m older, I’ve honed my style and I know exactly what I like. I know that a great purse can be the centerpiece of your outfit and I get more compliments on my purses than anything! My personal faves…
    I’m in LOVE with the Cynthia Rowley ‘Colleen Too’ Satchel. I use it every day and put work files in it too!
    My other bag is an older version of this Besey Johnson ‘Lock it Up’ Bowling Bag. I also love Anthropologie’s unique bags and got my husband to treat me to the ‘Candy Apple Hobo’ for Christmas;=&navCount=200&navAction=poppushpush&fromCategoryPage=true&selectedProductSize;=&selectedProductSize1;=&color=win
    great deep fall color and in the new patent trend.

    I’m not sure that what handbags the stars are carrying is always the best guide, either, unless you model yourself on stars who don’t just follow every little fashion trend.  Why buy a bag that’s going to be in now and out in six months?

    Just wondering your opinions—I’ve been searching for good LEATHER bags.  I find great ones in ‘faux leather’ but the real thing, in my price range (preferably under $50.00, but I’d go up to $100.)is harder than I imagined. Even at TJMaxx most are synthetic.
    Are these bags worth it or should I save up for something better?
    (BTW—I’m a working Mom.  I own several bags, but I tend to carry the same bag all season, unless its a special occasion).

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