Dress by Dôen last year. Similar here.
Bag by Faithfull the Brand. Sold out everywhere but Bloomingdales.
Vegetable-dyed clogs by Swedish Hasbeens. Similar here.
Okay, not technically wearing a "designer" bag per se in these pics, but I have collected quite a few secondhand ones now! And most of them recently. As in the past three or four years, ever since I discovered the magical fact that you can buy a vintage Chanel purse, and it's just as nice (if not more special) than a new Chanel purse and at a quarter of the price. A Chanel bag keeps its value, so even the secondhand ones are usually quite pricey, BUT there are ways around that if your heart is set on Chanel (or Chloé or YSL) and the wallet does not quite allow. I'll be going into that in the post below, along with a few other tips and tricks I've picked up along the way!
I actually enjoy collecting all kinds of bags. The straw one above is a Faithfull the Brand (one of my favorite sustainable brands) basket bag I bought on sale at ShopBop. (It's sold out everywhere but Bloomingdales for some reason. Maybe because they haven't put it on sale. Click the link above if you still dig it!) Or, if your heart is set on a designer bag, and you're interested in both a budget AND earthy friendly option, read on below:
1. Proceed with Extreme Caution
I don't quite understand why some bags are so valued above others to the point that people would buy fakes just to have a bag (ostensibly) from that brand. Chanel bags really are truly beautiful, and I'm not sure if I've seen a fake. I have walked past these terrifying stalls that pop up off Canal Street, where the world's most shifty-eyed people coax you to check out these sad, huge piles of fake YSL and Louis bags for twenty or so bucks a pop. There's a weird, make-shift, off-putting, nervous vibe to the illegal enterprise of fake bags that makes me walk faster. Although, last time I was in NYC, I noticed out of the corner of my eye, the bags looked pretty legit.
So why buy "real"? If you do look closer at a true designer bag, a Chanel, for example, it is exquisitely sewn. The material is gorgeous and soft-- I prefer caviar leather to lambskin both for easier upkeep and because the lambskin makes me sad to think about even secondhand. I can't quite understand why people would bother buying fakes just to pretend to have a certain kind of bag. I mean, I guess I get it, but it seems silly. (If you Google "concept of authenticity and fashion" there are SO many fascinating pieces on the subject. Here's one.) In a nutshell: I think quality always matters more than labels. Sometimes labels can even look a little vulgar. I feel like Instagram has made me sick of a certain pair of double Gs. There are SO many exquisite bags out there that are not designer. I love Polene Paris, and really lust for one! Sézane makes gorgeous bags. And Rouje has started to make not only straw bags, but cute leather satchels as well, not to mention that this summer, I can tell you, harmless bamboo and straw bags are in. There are incredible vintage options as well, and Clare V makes some cute vegan bags, too!
However, if you do want to buy a designer bag secondhand, you do have to watch out BIGTIME for fakes marketed as the real thing. Unlike the at least semi-honest knockoff dealers in Manhattan, some people will actually try to charge you more for a fake bag than they would if they were just selling them as fakes. The whole thing is kind of creepy and puzzling. Metaphysical questions of authenticity aside, it's soul-crushing to spend your hard-earned dollars on an item that isn't "real". I realized what a close brush I had with this issue when I bought my third designer bag. A gently used Céline bag bought from a random seller on eBay. I realized, when I received the very cute but plain black leather bag, that it would have been so, so, so easy to replicate a fake. Only after buying the bag, did I spend the time authenticating it. I'm 99% sure it's authentic, and of course eBay guarantees its purchases, but I think the whole thing could have turned into an ordeal. Now I spend time beforehand authenticating my purchase myself. With Chanel, your bag should come with at least an image of a serial number and an authenticity card that helps give you peace of mind, although I guess those could be very easily faked. The issue people don't consider is that designer bags are good investments: they don't depreciate much in value and they're often "guaranteed" by the designer. I've heard you can take your Louis Vuitton bag to be repurposed for free, although I haven't tried it yet with my own secondhand ones. That's all to say, if you're plunking down money for a certain bag, you should take the time to make sure you're actually getting what's being advertised.
2. Shop from Reliable Secondhand Retailers Only
There are a few shops I trust now on eBay like Linda's Stuff or Cocoa's Fab Finds or Luxury Garage Sales. I would urge caution shopping on eBay from sellers of designer bags with fewer than several hundred (or even thousand) ratings, and even then do your homework! I have yet to purchase from The Real Real, but I've checked out their site extensively and have heard great things. One of the things I like about the retailers I mentioned above is that they're all really good about disclosing any flaws-- an aspect of secondhand designer bag shopping that I'll go into in my next point. Tradesy can be good as well, but the prices are usually a little steeper and if you do have an issue their customer service is horrendous and their return policy is Tradesy credit only. Some other vintage and secondhand sellers that I love are Rice and Beans Vintage (Anine Bing consigns her stuff there!) and a consignment shop in Ridgefield, CT called Bring 'n Buy (will check if they have a website).
If you're really into thrifting, there's always a chance you'll spot a designer bag out in the wild, but that's pretty darn rare/ unheard of. I did just get into collecting vintage Etienne Aigner bags (although how cute and vintage is this new one) and then I found TWO of them at Shop Greene Street this past week for only $18 a pop! (Greene Street is a consignment shop in the Philadelphia area.) But that kind of sighting is pretty rare and even rarer in the case of high end designers. I'd say hunting around online for the bag of your dreams at a price point that works for you is a better use of your time and wallet! That brings me to...
3. It Is 100% Possible to Afford a Designer Bag, But...
Yep, there's a "but". My first Chanel bag had a big scratch across the back and some wear on the corners. The seller disclosed all the issues, and the price and dark lipstick red color were incredible, so I went ahead and purchased it. If your heart is set on owning a Chanel bag or a Saint Laurent or what have you, it is possible, but you may have to lower your standards to "gently used" or even very used until the price matches what you can reasonably afford to purchase without breaking your bank account. (I don't think you should break your bank account! As a blogger, I felt it would help grab people's eyes if I featured a vintage Chanel bag with my thrifted outfits, so it was a worthwhile investment for me. But as I wrote above, there are plenty of beautiful non-designer bags out there that will look stunning with any outfit.) However, the good news is that sometimes sellers will overstate an issue. I recently found my first (gently used) Chloé bag at an excellent price. The seller described it as having dirt on it, but the pictures looked fine. I could discern no dirt! I crossed my fingers and made the purchase. The bag arrived so quickly! (Bought from My Designerly. They also offer layaway FYI, as does Rice and Beans Vintage!) I could discern NO DIRT on the pale gray bag whatsoever. It looks brand spanking new. (You can see lots of images of it and my other vintage designer bags on my Instagram @IsabellaDavidVintage.) I decided not to question the goodness of the gods and remain mystified but happy I got the bag.
4. Be Patient and Flexible
Spend some time, or even A LOT of time, hunting around for the right bag at the right price for you. You'll learn so much about different bags and different price points this way. You'll get a good sense of what's out there and what constitutes a good price, and you might even find a hidden treasure on sale that you hadn't even considered before!
The Truly Great Story of How I Got My First Designer Bag
Wait, did I claim you can't find designer bags out in the wild? How could I have forgotten the all-time greatest story of how I thrifted my very first designer bag-- a Louis Vuitton satchel. I was living in Soho at the time and working as a catalogue model. This was 2010, but I had just moved in with my now husband, whose apartment it was. Everything in that neighborhood was too rich for my blood, so I tended to stop into the Second Time Around Consignment shop on my way home to console myself for all the boutiques I had to pass on by. (One of my best thrift tips is to thrift where the wealthy people live. They will wear a stunning dress ONCE and then toss it, because, and I quote "I got photographed in it." This was from an ordinary but wealthy girl that I met in NYC who equated Facebook with the Daily Mail.) This particular STA branch was just off Prince and closed a couple years ago. (There's a Housing Works in Tribeca now, and I'm dying to stop in there one of these days!)
Anyway, so around that time, way back in the early part of the century-- ha, this story is making me feel old--Bravo had just started a short-lived reality show set in the consignment shop. The day I went in and found the Louis bag hanging in an ordinary rack alongside a bunch of other random purses, the three diva stars of the show happened to be working. I brought my find to the counter, and I could tell pretty fast from their unfriendly stares that semi- Bravo fame had gone to their heads. It was almost like the cameras started rolling, because they were primed for drama, because the beautiful bag gleaming there on the counter became the focal point of said drama. I mentioned already that I was completely broke back then and only living in Soho because my boyfriend (now husband) already had an apartment there. But that day was special, so I was treating myself to what I thought was a $125 bag. I had just happened to have gotten paid in cash for a miserable catalogue job in Midtown, and the money was still warm in my pocket. (Miserable as in they'd roll out these racks of ugly polyester clothes and you had to put on and take off one hideous garment after another for hours and hours without breaks or food. Modeling is definitely not a glamorous career unless you're one of the handful of supermodels.) Anyway, I laid the bag carefully on the glass counter, and one of the women, who I recognized from the show, sniffed like a British duchess before a commoner who had not curtseyed.
"This is not priced correctly," she said, eyeing the bag. I almost apologized as if I had been the one to misprice the bag! "This bag should be more than that."
My heart sank. It was on the tip of my tongue to ask how much the bag was, but before I could get the words out, with one fluid motion, she swooped the bag up and put it behind the counter with the other more expensive items.
"Wait," I said. "I still want the bag."
That was false. Actually, I now mostly wanted the bag, because her rudeness angered me. The way she was treating me was exactly the way I'd seen her disdainfully treat customers on the Bravo show. That same mixture of contempt and ill humor that bespeaks unwarranted drama and probably attracted the producers to her in the first place. She looked me up and down slowly, giving me the oddest sensation that a camera was recording the scene. It was Pretty Woman-in-that-boutique level upsetting and surreal. Her behavior was also a little crazy. SHE WAS ACTING FOR CAMERAS THAT WEREN'T EVEN THERE! And then she said it. I'll never forget. A Bravo Reality villain worthy line.
"You couldn't afford it."
I went very hot and then very cold, and suddenly, I was transformed into the superhero version of myself I wish I could be all the time. I literally have a name for her! I call her Brooklyn Izzy. (My mother is from Brooklyn and my father from France, but I mostly grew up in Virginia. From that odd combination, most New Yorkers assume I'm Canadian, because, I'm that mild-mannered, polite, and (I quote many a New Yorker) "so nice". I stutter. I'm shy. I would never seek out a conflict, but sometimes, every now and then, a conflict finds me. And not just any conflict triggers the superhero version of me. It has to be the kind that fills me with a righteous fury, when I know I'm 100% in the right as I was in this case. And when it does, it's like this other personality jumps into the tollbooth of my mind, does a quick change into a cape and takes over, and NO ONE crosses Brooklyn Izzy.
"So how much is it?" I asked her.
This time she told me a price (out of thin air mind you), but she cut the camera-worthy antics.
I took the cash out of my pocket in what was maybe the most baller and possibly foolish (considering how broke I actually was) moment of my life and I slapped down THE EXACT amount. $375. Everything I'd been paid that morning. A stupid but stunning act of bravado. And oh so worth it.
I completed the transaction, and then it was as if the petty spirit of that reality show infected me too for a moment. It wasn't great, but I looked at her and the other guy from the show who had joined in, drawn to the scent of brewing drama. I was still cool, calm, and collected, operating with that lightning running through my veins.
"This is going to make a great story on Yelp," I told them, and they got SO upset.
At first the woman in charge accused me of threatening her with Yelp, and I had to point out it was her own words I was going to repeat. I was so calm and matter of fact that she calmed down, too. (Brooklyn Izzy is always says the exact right thing at the right moment. WHY cannot I be her ALL the time instead of my usual tongue-tied self??) If she didn't like her own words, I pointed out to that fame-crazed woman, why did she say them? I think that's when she apologized, and I mostly kept the story to myself. (It's been nearly a decade, and the shop is closed now.) I never shopped in that shop again. It's closed now, and through the secondhand grapevine I heard a rumor that, ironically enough, it was a potential issue with shady practices!
I guess it was all worth the encounter with crazed Bravo reality stars, because it's been almost ten years and I still use and love that bag! And it still looks great!
So that brings us back to the beginning: like I said when I started this piece, tread carefully. Even secondhand, the designer bag game is both a thrilling and a dangerous one! May the odds be in your favor!
What's your best thrift score? Have you ever bought a gently used designer bag? Where did you make your purchase?
I often say my favorite part about thrifting is the chance it offers me to learn more about designers who would otherwise be out of my price range. I actually first learned about the designer Ulla Johnson on Instagram. A happy result of a newfound interest in #sustainablefashion! However, when I Googled where to shop her pieces, I was crushed to learn her silk dresses ran in the $500 price range. Even her blouses were about $300!! I think it was around then I fell in love with eBay, Poshmark, and online consignment retail in general. Instead of scavenging for whatever treasures I happened upon, my thrifting took on a more x-marks-the-spot flavor. (FYI I haven't shopped from the Real Real yet, but I've heard excellent things, have browsed extensively, and noticed they have a supreme selection of Ulla Johnson pieces!)
My tailored online searches do sometimes help me find Ulla's pieces on sale on sites like ShopBop. (I just bought her popcorn Baranco tote for summer for 60% off here!) But I was thrilled when, on one of said searches, I found the embroidered Ulla Johnson peasant blouse I'm wearing in this post (above). (Only $75 on eBay. It's also a size 2, but I gambled on it anyway. Because peasant blouses are cut generously, it fits me fine! I also own Ulla pieces in sizes 4-10! Size doesn't matter. Fit is king!) The score reaped even more rewards after I posted it to my Instagram stories: one of my Romanian friends messaged me to tell me I was actually wearing a traditional Romanian blouse!
"Really?" I wondered, privately questioning how Mircea could know that. Wasn't the top simply an embroidered shirt? Wrong! So wrong! My pretty blouse was far, far, far from "simple" as it turns out. "Google 'la blouse roumaine'," my friend urged me. So I did only to learn, much to my delight, how truly layered and textured the history of my old, thrifted shirt really is...
Henri Matisse "La Blouse Roumaniane" painted in 1940
I believe fashion is art. It can express many things. Even a simple pair of blue jeans and a white t-shirt expresses a state of mind. Even a NorthFace jacket and Uggs does the same, even if it's not the most original look. However, I don't mean to criticize the desire to conform. (When I was younger, I used to bitterly resent conservatively dressed people, because of the odd looks and comments my outfits garnered outside of the Lower East Side. Now I shrug my shoulders, because the LES, I know now, is a state of mind.) As far as conformity goes, in this year and in my region of the world, NorthFace jackets and Uggs are as ubiquitous as Romanian blouses once were in another part of the world. It could even be argued that the uniform of a warm black jacket and comfortable shoes is worn just as much to express age and social status just as the Romanian blouse was embroidered with flowers and images to do the same. Whether you think your outfit is fashion or not is beside the point: your clothes speak. If your outfit expresses a desire for comfort, that's up to the individual to choose function over form, but I do think people who wear fantastical colors and shapes and do so fabulously are a lot more fun (for me) to look at and promise to tell a heckuva lot more fantastical tales.
For example, there is no NorthFace jacket that inspired an artist as the Romanian blouse has done. In fact, the blouse has experienced a modern revival outside Romania because of a famous painting in 1940 by Matisse called "La Blouse Roumaine", which is why my top now exists and how this top I'm wearing is now deliciously referred to in the fashion world. The painting then inspired Yves Saint Laurent in 1981 to explore traditional Romanian costumes in a now landmark fashion show, from reincarnations of long, luscious skirts to crowns of gleaming braids, and, finally, the peasant blouse whose colors and embroidery not only express the wearer's status but are also distinctive markers of different regions of the country. Later on, designers such as Tom Ford and Phillippe Guilet drew inspiration from the same source. Now, Ulla Johnson is offering her own take on the traditional garment.
Why do you think so many designers have been inspired by this blouse? Do you own one?
In the end, what struck me in my reserach was how not one but FOUR Romanian and French writers, artists, and poets are said to have inspired Matisse's paintings and sketches of the Romanian blouse, as much as the gift to Matisse of an "IA", which is how the Romanian blouse is referred to in the community, by Romanian artist Theodor Pallady did. Some might look and see a blouse, but now I see Anna de Noailles' love poems, I see Matisse's endless sketches of soft female forms reclining in a nimbus of color and light, I see an online community devoted to stories around the Romanian IA or la blouse roumaine. Most of all, I now see these luminous words of Matisse's, discovered only now through my research into this beautiful piece, "“Color helps to express light, not the physical phenomenon, but the only light that really exists, that in the artist’s brain."
To me, fashion is color, a walking bit of art that reflects my own light and those of the souls around me. Secondhand or new, designer or not, I will clothe myself with color and light and silk and dreams, even if *dramatic sigh* I alone must take up and wear all the world's beautiful castoffs to do so. #thriftersoftheworldunite
A Slow Fashion Diary