How to choose the right handbag

Monday 10 October 2011
Over the past year, I've received many emails and calls from readers and friends alike wanting advice about buying handbags. It's a difficult question to answer. As you probably know by now that I run an online consignment store specializing in bags, scarves and accessories. I can honestly tell you that it's no hardship to touch dozens of bags everyday! It's a dream job, that's for sure. I've seen prices rose faster than my bread dough and plunged like my failed souffle experiment. I'd like to share a few questions that I get asked a lot.

1) Which handbag should I buy?

There are no right or wrong answers. It really depends on your lifestyle, daily attire, budget and personal taste. I tend to ask a few questions to narrow down the choices.

a) What's your personal style? i.e. corporate, casual, rocker, polished, funky etc
b) What do you carry in your bag now? That'd give an idea of the size you should be thinking of when purchasing your new bag.
c) How do you like to carry your bag? i.e. hand carry, over the shoulder, across the body.
d) Tell me a little about your lifestyle.
e) What's your budget?
f) What are your favorite colors? Which is the dominant color in your wardrobe?
g) What will you be using the bag for?

2. Should I buy an Hermes Birkin?

An Hermes Birkin is purportedly to be the ultimate or should I say, the Rolls Royce of all handbags. The leather is beyond scrumptious and the workmanship is impeccable. However, unless it's suitable for YOUR needs, it will only remain as a very expensive showpiece in your closet. I believe all bags are meant to be used. After all, that's the purpose of carrying a handbag. To store your essentials.

3. Are handbags considered investments?

Yes and no. I compare them to shares. Yes, they can be considered investments if you managed to buy them at bargain prices and their value go up. On the other hand, there are much hyped about shares - Yahoo! comes to mind which if you'd purchased at the height of the market and public interest waned soon after and never truly recovered (i.e. Chloe Paddington), your shares (or bags) would depreciate faster than your car.

In general I find that bags can be compared to vehicles in a manner of speech as cars depreciate the minute you drive them out of the car yard. That's the reason why I find that secondhand bags are much better value for money.  To give an example, I purchased a preloved medium Chanel 2.55 for £185 at one of the many secondhand shops in Hong Kong nearly a decade ago. This was well before the Chanel craze that swept through the world. However, after having a baby, it was just too small and impractical for everyday use so I promptly sold it for £750. However, these days that would've been considered ridiculously cheap seeing that the same bag now retails for £2200.

There are of course exceptions to the rule. Seven years ago, I happened to come across a Kelly at the Hermes store in Florence, Italy, I nearly peed in my pants when I saw the bill for 3130€. Nowadays, a Kelly cost approximately 5500€.

4. Which bags have a higher resale value?

1) Hermes Birkin
2) Hermes Kelly (the Kelly has been around longer so there are more of them floating around)
3) Hermes Kelly Pochette and Kelly Cut
4) Chanel 2.55 bags (the bigger bags seem to hold their value the best)
5) Louis Vuitton monogram Speedy, Neverfull, Luggage (Keepall and trunks)
6) Celine Luggage totes and Box (because they're pretty hard to get hold of)
7) Balenciaga Motorcycle/City bags

Louis Vuitton bags used to have a higher resale value until they decided to saturate the market with dozens of different styles every season. The brand has lost its exclusivity thanks to their focus on their profit margin by concentrating on opening up more factories and reducing their after sales service without maintaining the same attention to quality which they were once famous for. 

My personal take on handbags is to buy the best you can afford. I'd much rather have 2 or 3 exquisitely made bags which are also considered classic as I tend not to follow trends unless they look good on me. Happy handbag hunting!


  1. This is a great post on what to think about. I think the second-hand market is the way to go, hands down. The Hermès Trim bag is a great example--very expensive in the boutique, but due to fading interest, they are very affordable now (for Hermès). And practical! So it "pays" to investigate the lesser-known bags by exquisite labels and then go hunting in consignment shops.

  2. Great post my dear !! Really good advices !!
    I'd love to have Fendi peekaboo !!

  3. This is an excellent post! I agree with you that a great bag can elevate the status of any outfit! I think it is so awesome that you run an consignment shop and I was in Hermes earlier this year and a 28cm Kelly was $7900 and that was for the box calf leather...I think I want a chamonix! If you do come across an olive green chamonix 28 or 32 cm pristine condition...let me know!

  4. WONDERFUL advice!!! And I agree with your statement regarding LV. I have a Speedy and it's not worth the same as it was years ago. Buy something you love and it will love you back! It's an added accessory that is discussed as much as your outfit. Great post!

  5. I still remember that Chanel!!! S in NY

  6. I agree with Aesthetic Alterations...

    I don't have many bags, but those I have a I love and try to wear often. I'm not big on trends and IT bags, I like classics but always with an edge.

  7. Fab advice as usual. I'm in awe of the bargains you've scored!

  8. Such a helpful post! Thoughtful and thorough, as always :)

  9. Great post :) I love bags! but tend to go for bigger ones - I'm not sure - probably because I love to lug so much stuff around!

  10. thanks for this post, it gives a lot to think about.
    When it comes to bags I always loved my grandmas so vintage bags seems more attractive to me, (even if I buy a lot of new ones) plus i enjoy seeking for good deals, buying a nice bag makes me happy, a good buy is the icing on the cake ;)

    With this economy maybe it would be safer to invest in a birkin!

  11. AA, I couldn't agree more. I have no idea why the resale value of the Trim is so low. It's such a fantastic bag and so beautifully made too. The same goes for the Bolide too.

    Ginger, thank you for taking the time to post a comment. The Peekaboo is the only bag from Fendi that has piqued my interest ever since the days of the Baguette.

    Bessie, you wouldn't believe it but I did have an olive green Kelly 28 in near new condition. I won't tell you how much it sold but let's just say, it was a bargain. I'll keep you in mind.

    Kim, up to 7 years ago, LV had pretty good resale value. Nevertheless, I've always loved the Speedy. I bought one for my mom and she still has it a decade later. I couldn't agree more. Buy what you love.

    S in NY, I thought of you when I wrote this post! I still remember you told me off for even thinking about it and then promptly marched me off to the counter - after the lecture.

    Lily, I've always loved the idea of having only a handful of well used bags, each of them with marks which tell a story.

    Lauraloo, I think I've been pretty lucky with bargain hunting. I guess I shouldn't tell you the H bag I bought for a song :P

    Katherine, you're so sweet. Thank you.

    katattack2000, you and me both! If given the chance, I'd haul everything AND the kitchen sink. Sadly, thanks to my habit of lugging around too much, I developed a back and shoulder problem so I had to cull to the bare minimum (well, MY bare minimum if you get my drift).

    Matter of style, I've always thought it's lovely that one can pass something like a bag from one generation to the other. What memories you'll have of the time you've spent with your grandmother each time you carry the bag. I think one can't go wrong with a Birkin - provided it gets used of course :)

  12. awesome post! All this talk of handbags makes me want to buy another :)

  13. Great advice. I think as women it is easy to get carried away with bags or get a bad case of lust. Thinking long term and for our lifestyle often comes second best. It's good to see it set out in print as to what we NEED to think about.

  14. lol totally adree on the hermes birkin comment, I have a 2.55 and doesn't use it that often as I'm afraid I'll ruin it! and it costed soo much money lol

  15. skippysays, do update me if you bought one!

    Mandi, it's all too easy to succumb to temptation when these stunning Amazonian editors and celebrities start displaying the latest "it" bag on their arms. All the best for your trip next year.

    Pop Champagne, alas, I did exactly that. My 2.55 was languishing in my cupboard for the longest time before I finally sold it. Every bump, nail mark on the lambskin made me shriek in pain.

  16. This is such a great post! Your advice is useful and thoughtful! Thanks for sharing your knowledge! :o)

  17. I've always wanted to ask this question: is the ostrich skin considered the lightest range in birkins? It seems that the rest of leather can be rather heavy? (I'm using LV SC PM as a benchmark of lightweight leather bags)

    I would love to own a birkin and a kelly, but I am not able to afford it now.

    Do we really have to wait in line for years? Hence, can I assume that I can put my name in the waiting list and start saving along the way?

    Or should I save and then buy a pre-owned birkin (which by then I would have to save again as the price would have increased)?

    Thanks in advance and hope you don't find me irritating if someone else asked the same questions before...

  18. Sorry for the late reply, Cecilia. It's term break and I've got kids running around like wild animals in the house all day long. I don't own anything in Ostrich so I can't comment on that. I was told that chevre (goatskin) is the lightest which was exactly what I ordered for my first and only Birkin. LV SC GM is REALLY heavy! I've yet the hold the PM version as the LV store I normally go to doesn't seem to have any in stock.

    Oh no, ask away. I can talk about bags all day long. Kelly has been around for much longer. I'd suggest you buy a secondhand Kelly only because you can sometimes find a really good deal. I bought both of my Kellys this way and save a bundle. As for a Birkin, you'll be hard-pressed to find one at a decent price these days but who knows, I've known a few to pick a few at a bargain (in Birkin terms anyway). The waiting list rules have changed somewhat. I don't know where you're based right now but in the UK, it's quite difficult to custom order unless you're happy to be a little vague with what you want. Unless you're a VIP customer, of course.

    Personally, I suggest you think carefully and find out which bag suits you and your lifestyle best.

  19. Thanks for your reply.

    "kids running around like wild animals in the house all day long"? I don't have kids, so I really have no idea that they are an abundant source of energy. Maybe you would like to attached them to some power source and they can power up your house at the same time? (I'm told I've a weird sense of humor)

    Back to bags: LV SC GM is not heavy, comparing to my Lady Dior (lambskin) and YSL Roady...that's heavy.

    Anyway, I've made bad and expensive mistakes in buying handbags, focusing on how they looked and not how much they weight (even without anything inside).

    Hence, I'm considering between BV Nero Intrecciato Nappa Bag or Nero Intrecciato Nappa Campana Bag. Does BV increases their prices like Chanel does recently?

  20. Wow, that's a neat idea! All I need to do is borrow a few kids (my friends would gladly volunteer) and get them to power up my place!

    I'm not all that familiar with BV bags as I only ever own a wallet. I'm sure they do price increases but nowhere near as insane as Chanel.

  21. I finally bought my first BV Intrecciato Nappa Bag and a French Flap wallet! only to find out that the bag cost gbp1580 (pre-VAT) vs SGD4160...and my sis is in London now. Oh well, I can only console myself that I am helping the retail scene locally.

    Since I cannot afford Hermes now, I shall start with BV as the quality is good too. And much better than Prada or LV, I used to love their bags but I've gave up on both brands as their workmanship is not as good now.

    An acquaintance even bought a fake Prada bag from their boutique in HK! She only realised that when she was stoppped by the customs in Europe. And for the very first time, the Prada boutique SA exchanged it for another bag without fuss when she returned it. We were all so surprised when she didn't escalate the incident to their management.

    Sorry to hijack your blog with my personal rumblings. I'm just so excited with my first BV purchase. I am only going to buy BV and in future, Hermes from now onwards.

  22. Cecelia, hijack away! CONGRATULATIONS! You can't go wrong with a BV Intrecciato bag. Such a classic and the workmanship is incredible. My goodness, what a price difference! I know that designer goods are far cheaper but boy, that's a significant saving. I'm just aghast to read that one can actually buy a fake from their very own boutique!!!

  23. Thanks for your encouragement!

    BVs bags are very addictive, I am already planning my next BV purchase!

  24. Cecelia, did you manage to put your new BV bag to good use? They're so understated. I think handbags in general, are extremely addictive.

  25. Not yet. I was planning to send it for waterproofing first, until a member at purseforum says there is no need to. In addition, the new bag is heavy...seems that it needs to take a while for it to soften and some weight distribution theory per a fellow member.



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