Janet's Vintage Finds

A Vintage Purse Shopping Guide

vintage handbags 1950s purses

Tips for Finding the Perfect Vintage Purse

There’s nothing like a vintage handbag to complement the right outfit. Whether it’s a dressy night out or a special occasion like a wedding or anniversary, a vintage bag can be the perfect accent. In Europe, some women are embarrassed to carry shiny new bags, writes Tina Craig of Bag Snob, in an article she penned for Harper’s Bazaar. Why? Simple: a vintage accessory sets you apart from the trend-followers. It marks you as someone who recognizes and appreciates classic styles.

If you don’t like the idea of buying standard off-the-rack purses from department stores, vintage bags may be the answer. They provide that special touch that separates you from the crowd.

But where do you find these perfect accessories? Ideally, you would have a stylish grandmother with a penchant for designer bags that she saved for future-you in a dust-free cedar trunk or closet. You could then browse through a selection of vintage classics with full confidence in the authenticity of each bag.

Alas, few if any of us have such fashionable and forward-thinking relatives. In reality, it isn’t always easy to tell whether a bag is old or just made to look that way. Classic bags from decades past by top designers like Chanel or Gucci are rare and expensive. You can usually identify those bags by their price tags—if the price doesn’t shock you, it probably isn’t the real deal. However, many attractive vintage bags made by lesser-known designers are quite affordable. And many genuinely vintage bags have no label but are of perfectly good quality and design. It comes down to how much you care about labels.

For many of us, the name brand really isn’t that important when it comes to vintage handbags. What matters more is how a bag looks and feels and whether it suits the occasion or outfit you have in mind. So how do you tell if a bag is vintage when the label is either obscure or missing altogether? You may never be absolutely sure but it helps to make a careful assessment before you buy. Here are a few tips for making a smart selection:

Trust your instincts. If buying in a store, carefully consider the quality of the materials and craftsmanship. If it feels light, cheap, or synthetic, it probably isn’t vintage. When purchasing online, look closely at the photos. Conscientious sellers post clear pictures of bags from multiple angles, along with close-ups of the labels, when present.

Ed Robinson Petit Point Purse | Robinson Petit Point Handbag | Petit Point Evening Bag | Vintage Purse | Needlepoint Clutch
Petit Point Purse listed by CarolinesKitchen. $249.

 

Black Clutch - Clutch Bag - Evening Bag
A 1950s vintage clutch on Etsy.

Read Reviews. Check up on sellers’ reputations and read reviews from previous customers. Look for trends. There can be legitimate reasons for one bad review but several customers expressing dissatisfaction should raise red flags.

 Feel the bag in your hand. If buying in a store, pick up the bag and hold it. If a bag feels light and insubstantial, it might not be vintage. Even if you’re buying online, check the description to see if it’s lined. And don’t be afraid to ask questions. Most Etsy sellers, myself included, love to receive queries and comments from buyers and we usually answer very quickly. One nice thing about Etsy versus a massive retailer like Amazon is dealing with individual shop owners who offer personal customer service.

Vintage Clutch - Black Beaded Clutch - Clutch Purse - Vintage evening bag
Fine beadwork elevates this 1940s clutch (Etsy).

Notice Details. Genuine vintage bags are carefully crafted. Look for quality workmanship in the stitching. Note whether the hardware looks cheap. Beads should be attached securely. Interiors should be fully lined.

Be alert to fake leather. Real leather is made from animal skin, which, like human skin, is full of natural imperfections. If the surface of a purse is perfectly uniform or smooth, it’s probably not genuine leather. It should also feel supple and flexible, not stiff or hard, and will regain its shape after being wrinkled.

Caterini Bidini of Bidini’s Fine Leather Handbags offers some useful tips on how to use your senses to make an educated assessment:

Vintage Leather Shoulder Bag - Vintage Purse - Vintage handbag - Vintage Bag
Vintage Italian leather shoulder bag on Etsy.
  • Real leather scratches. If you run your nails over the surface and nothing happens, it’s probably not leather.
  • Real leather has a “leathery” scent whereas fake leather might smell like glue or plastic.
  • Although you probably won’t want to spit on a bag in a store, it can be another way to eliminate fakes. Leather absorbs saliva whereas synthetic material will not.

 

Happy Searching!

 

 

 

Here are a few more great vintage bags listed by some of my fellow vintage sellers on Etsy:

1960s animal print handbag, leather clutch
1960s animal print purse from 86Vintage86

 

 

Le Regale Beaded Shell Clutch
La Regale beaded shell clutch from IsabellasVintage.

 

1960s Gold Lame Clutch Ornate Clasp Formal Cocktail Handbag
1960s Gold Lame Clutch from TrendRevival.

 

vintage purse lizard print leather brown handbag tote clutch 1960s 1970s retro
Vintage Lizard Print purse from MoiVintage.

 

  • Stay Tuned for my next post on vintage purse styles, starting with the reticule. Want to receive these posts in your inbox? Sign up here.

About Janet

Welcome to my blog where I talk about vintage collecting, retro fashions, and home design ideas and tips. I love scouring thrift shops for vintage housewares, purses, and other odds and ends and revisiting styles from the ’40s and ’50s.
Some of my other passions include hiking, being in nature, reading good books, music (have a little facility with guitar, mandolin and piano), and sewing. I live in West Hartford, Conn., with my husband, two sons, and two dogs (a springer spaniel and a Cairn terrier).

4 thoughts on “A Vintage Purse Shopping Guide

  1. Terrific tips, Janet! So true about leather scratching. When asked on occasion how I knew something that was unmarked was leather, I’ve often given that as one of the reasons. Another way that one can help to date (at least ballpark wise) vintage purses is by if they have all metal zippers, as – much like with vintage clothing – such was the norm prior to about the mid-1960s.

    Thanks for sharing your expertise in this area with us.

    Have a gorgeous July!
    ♥ Jessica

  2. Totally agree about vintage purses being a great alternative to new. I’ll take an authentic vintage bag any day over new. And hunting for them is so much more fun! And as far as differences, one of things that stands out for me is the linings in many vintage purses are often much more luxurious than new. Satin or faille fabrics that feel so much nicer than the synthetics lining today’s purses. And then there are those cute little mirrors that were included in many of them! Love that 🙂

    1. Hi Theresa, totally agree about the linings. I love the luxurious satin in many evening bags. Also, having a compact mirror attached is so cute, not to mention convenient. Thanks for your stopping by and commenting! Janet

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