RealStyle | First Designer Bag
RealStyle | First Designer Bag

Expert Take: How to Buy Your First Designer Bag

Words by Jody Hume | 7.18.18

Buying your first designer handbag is indisputably a rite of passage. A bag can define your look. It can serve you for a lifetime. And it is, of course, a big decision. Luckily, the world of luxury consignment lends itself to firsts, unveiling an array of designer options you may never have even dreamed of owning.

“Shopping consignment allows you to buy into the history and heritage of a brand,” says our Handbag Valuation Manager, Kiara Cooper. “You have the opportunity to buy bags you saw years ago, and classics that aren’t readily available in the retail market. With luxury consignment, you never know what you’ll find — it’s a treasure hunt.” But how do you know if your first bag should be on-trend or classic, Chanel or Céline, when there are so many possibilities out there? Read on for Kiara’s tips.

Ask Yourself The Hard Questions

RealStyle | First Designer Handbag

Is this Chanel Medium Boy Bag “the one”?

The first step in finding the perfect designer handbag is easy. Daydream. Envision yourself commuting to work in the morning, all the essentials for your 9-to-5 packed. Or waking up on a lazy Sunday morning and getting ready to head to brunch. Or maybe you’re on vacation, taking a two-week trip to a faraway city where you’ll be venturing between landmarks all day. Whatever you find yourself doing most often, or in a regular capacity, is key.

“Think about the sole purpose of your first designer bag,” says Kiara. “Will it be for work? Do you prefer something easy like a crossbody? How much space do you need?”

And be honest with yourself — are you hard on your bags? Do you put them through all the elements and more? “Think about all of these things before you commit,” notes Kiara. “Durability is a given, as investing in a designer bag means investing in a piece that is built to last. But you’ll want a design that you love, that is functional and versatile and can easily blend into your lifestyle.”

RealStyle | First Designer Bag

The handbag options are endless at our SoHo store.

Once you determine when and where you’ll be using it, start thinking about the bag itself. “A smooth leather such as lambskin is always beautiful to the touch, but it can easily become scratched,” advises Kiara. “Textured leathers last longer, and are perfect for work or travel. Exotic skins like lizard or python can be delicate, and are not ideal for everyday use.” Should you choose to go with a smooth leather or an exotic skin, be sure to handle with care.

And don’t forget about the color. “I recommend going with a neutral, as you will use it more often,” says Kiara. “Black is your best bet, but navy or grey can be very complementary as well.  If you prefer a pop of color, a vibrant red makes a statement unlike any other.”

Consider The Craftsmanship

RealStyle | First Designer Bag

Kiara with a chic Hermès Epsom Constance 24.

While designer handbags in general are sure to last a lifetime, the work of heritage powerhouse Hermès is unparalleled. “Hermès’ undeniable execution and revered craftsmanship date back to the 19th century, a time when the maison specialized in producing saddlery,” says Kiara. “Their handbags are made by craftsmen and women who train for years, and some bags (ahem, Birkins and Kellys) can take up to 48 working hours to produce.”

While Birkins and Kellys are iconic, a bag like the Constance is a great primer and an icon in its own right. “The Constance was one of Jackie Kennedy’s favorites, and its H clasp is recognizable yet refined,” says Kiara. “It comes in an array of colors, which makes finding the perfect Constance incredibly personal. And if cared for properly, its heritage appeal, handcrafted composition and sleek design will ensure a significant return-on-investment.”

Embrace An All-Over Monogram

RealStyle | First Designer Handbag

A monogrammed Louis Vuitton Fetish Lockit bag, a limited edition piece.

Searching for a timeless monogram? Cue another heritage house — Louis Vuitton. “As logos continue to enjoy a resurgence, a Louis Vuitton monogram bag is the perfect investment piece,” says Kiara. “And the monogram, with its chocolate and tan colorway — arguably a neutral — and Louis Vuitton’s storied past ensure the bag will hold its value.”

The brand’s bags are also an excellent choice for those who are constantly on the move. “Neverfulls are beloved because they can fit everything without being too heavy, while Speedys are surprisingly spacious for being more compact,” says Kiara. “And limited edition styles with the monogram are great for those who want something a little different.”

Louis Vuitton’s signature heavy-duty coated canvas is also ideal for a first designer bag. “It’s scratch-resistant, lightweight and waterproof,” notes Kiara. “If the design has the brand’s signature untreated vachetta calf hide trim, note that the elements will affect the leather, though many appreciate the aged, weathered look.”

Don’t Be Afraid Of Trends

RealStyle | First Designer Bag

Kiara assesses the recently released Balenciaga Logo Bazar Shopper Tote XS.

Many handbag enthusiasts will advise you to stick to versatile, neutral-colored classics for your first designer handbag purchase, but sometimes there’s one bag that’s too special to pass on. Insert recent Balenciaga and Gucci here. “Both brands are pumping out fun, on-trend bags every season, and sometimes it’s difficult to take your mind off one once it’s caught your eye,” says Kiara. “Purchasing these pieces at retail for your first designer bag means shelling out a lot on something that may soon feel dated. You want a bag that you can grow with. But in the resale market, these trendy pieces are a smart buy.”

RealStyle | First Designer Handbag

The popular Gucci GG Marmont Flap Bag, featuring matelassé quilting.

Balenciaga’s must-have logo bags and Gucci’s GG Marmonts (along with nearly everything Gucci) are currently in their prime, and are more coveted than ever. “If you decide to take the plunge on an of-the-moment bag, just know that you can consign them in the near future,” says Kiara. “It’s the best of both worlds, like having your cake and eating it too.”

With It bags, like all handbags, you’ll want to make sure you treat them carefully to make sure they retain their value. “If your bag comes with a care card, read all the instructions, and keep the original stuffing and packaging. I make sure to stuff my bags with tissue paper and store them in their dust bags so they’ll retain their shape. Try to avoid over-exposure to sun and try not to get caught in the rain, as some dyed leathers may bleed.”

Keep It Classic

RealStyle | First Designer Handbag

The Chanel Medium Boy Bag is a quick seller in the resale market.

Ah, the inimitable allure of a Chanel handbag. Boy bags, Flap bags… there’s nothing more classic than the atelier’s offerings. “The Chanel 2.55 Flap bag was introduced in 1955, and has been incredibly influential throughout fashion history,” notes Kiara. “In general, Chanel has a great variety of colors and price points, making it an essential for first-timers looking for ‘the one.’”

If you’ve been eyeing a Chanel bag but have some reservations, rest assured that it’s well worth the investment. “With yearly increases in the resale market, I’ve met with some consignors who have been able to gain back more than half, if not all of what they originally paid,” says Kiara. “Plus, purchasing via luxury consignment lends you a multitude of options, including vintage pieces. Vintage lambskin Chanel bags are buttery, and the materials and construction are of exceptional quality.”

RealStyle | First Designer Bag

Kiara inspects a Céline Medium Box Bag.

Prefer something minimal, and equally classic? When in doubt, go with Céline. “There’s an understated elegance to Céline handbags, with their sculptural silhouettes and fine details,” says Kiara. “Phoebe Philo designed with all women in mind, and the handbags released during her time at the label prove to be functional, stylish and timeless.”

Though more under-the-radar than logos and other traditional finds, there’s been an uptick in demand for Céline styles since Philo left the brand. “As a handbag expert and self-proclaimed Philophile, I believe the resale value of these bags is about to skyrocket,” adds Kiara. “They’re chic and sophisticated. Who wouldn’t want to be part of the Céline club?”

Find your first handbag now with our editors’ favorites.

Honoring heritage brands and extending the lifecycle of luxury items.