She estimates her bag collection is worth $85,000

Your response to our first two editions of Closet Confessionals has been totally overwhelming, so before we get to the third, we have some news: we’ve decided to turn this series into appointment viewing. You can check back here every Thursday at noon for a new look into how one of our anonymous readers makes their money and how they decide when to spend it.

This week, we’re featuring a bag lover that started from modest means and who now owns her own business, and her very particular interest in Hermès bags serves as her chief personal splurge. For future editions, we’re always looking for people with different stories—different incomes, different backgrounds, different levels of financial responsibility—than those we’ve already featured, but we can’t do that without your help. If you’d like to be considered for your own Closet Confessional, all you have to do is fill out the form below! We promise to keep all your identifying details confidential.

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The Basics

Age: 41
Gender Identity: Female
Location: Mid-Atlantic
Occupation: Small Business Owner
Industry: Design
Income: $350,000

The Bags

Are you a PurseForum member? Yes

How many bags do you own? 24

How much is your collection worth? $85,000

What is your most expensive bag? Hermès Kelly Sellier in a rare leather.

What are the most important brands or pieces in your collection? I am a true Hermès fan, and most of my bags are from Hermès. For the sake of anonymity, I’d prefer not to get into specifics, but I have many different Kelly bags and both a 35 and 30 Birkin. All are neutral colors.

What age did you get your first designer bag, and what was it? In my mid-20s, I found myself still living like I made no money while earning my first substantial salary in the corporate world. With no student debt and a very affordable studio apartment I lived in on my own, I could afford to spend but didn’t. My boss at the time was a very cool gay man, a few years older than me and our job was to travel a lot. We worked in corporate retail, which meant we spent a lot of time in malls all over the US. Hard not to shop constantly under those circumstances, but I had spent many years as a college dropout working my way up the retail corporate ladder and was not accustomed to having a six-figure income. My boss finally made me stop wearing sunglasses I got from the Halloween store (I’m not kidding) and buy a “real” pair. After I didn’t sit on them or lose them for six months, I splurged on a Marc Jacobs bag that seemed so extravagant at $800ish. It was so heavy—it was the era of all those Chloe and Marc heavy leather bags with lots of hardware. I remember feeling so proud and also mildly terrified of it. It was gray, and I got color transfer on it pretty quickly, but hey, there are two sides to every bag.

The Shopping

How often do you buy new bags? This year I have bought no bags and will likely not buy any unless an outstanding special order from Hermès arrives. Last year I bought three: two Kellys and one Birkin. I got one Kelly in Paris, and that was a very special experience.

I don’t buy when I have the “urge” for a bag, I have to buy when I am busy with work and have lots of well paying jobs, as I am no longer working in the corporate world—about nine years ago, I left to start my own creative design practice. It was a huge change. I did a year of unpaid interning and worked as a very low-paid apprentice during the transition. I had saved a considerable sum during my ten-plus years of working well-paid jobs, but was reluctant to shop at all because my income was so uncertain as I had no idea if my business would work, let alone support me in my previous lifestyle. I’m grateful that I spent many years with a pretty low income before finding success, because it was not that hard not to shop for a few years. My husband is also self-employed, and he worked very hard during that time so that I could focus on learning a whole new set of skills. I didn’t buy any new bags or really anything beyond the necessities for the first three years of my new career. I acquired my first Hermès Kelly from my local Hermès boutique after completing the biggest job of my career, four years into my business. Any new bags I buy must be paid for by work, if I don’t have the work on the books, I can’t look at new items. Well, I’m always looking, but I’ve learned not to ask, try things on or tempt myself when times are slow.

Which stores do you frequent the most? I am not really into other designer labels, so I spend the most time in Hermès, and I love my local Neiman Marcus. I have a few great SAs in the area but Hermès is a big, big splurge, so I prefer to spend on one great item there rather than spend too much time looking for things that I don’t really need or that I might tire of quickly. For me, Hermès price points dictate that less is more in my closet.

Do you ever buy second-hand bags? Yes!

Where do you buy used? I love to look at The Real Real, Ann’s Fabulous Finds and Fashionphile. There are also a few great eBay sellers, but if you’re buying high-end, you need to use an authenticator as there is a lot of garbage to sift through.

Do you sell old bags to pay for new purchases? I don’t sell to buy something, but I do sell bags that don’t work for me. Hermès isn’t exactly a walk in the park for getting the exact bag you want, and honestly, I started out buying things used to see if I liked the size, shape, style, etc., before buying something new from the store. I’ve sold via all the stores I listed for buying.

Who influences your buying decisions? I have always been a bit of an outsider, so I don’t buy anything unless I truly love it. If I’m unsure about why I want something, I try to spend some time thinking about what purpose it will serve in my wardrobe. I have a pretty messy, casual job most days, so I don’t need fancy ready-to-wear or dresses and heels. I follow the designers and fashion houses on Instagram, but only because I find their presentation and imagery inspiring. I do some handcraft in my work, so craftsmanship is very important to me, it’s why I fell in love with Hermès as a design house. They value their craft more than anything. I’ve been fortunate to get to know some people in the company and I can say that though the prices seem truly insane for just about everyone, and I know how everyone feels about the hoops people jump through to get a bag, they do that so they can support the thousands of people that work in their ateliers. If nobody was salivating for a Birkin for months or years, I don’t know that they could keep up the level of detail in their other products, and the lesser known product lines are just incredible.

I don’t love the influencer community or how the wave of people posing on IG with the latest and greatest is making everyone look the same. All the individual elements are beautiful in their own way, but now it just feels like a uniform, and I’m not into it. After a few tries with pre-owned pieces, I bought my first new-from-Hermès Kelly because I knew it would be a bag that would work for me literally forever. And since I don’t look or dress like the typical fashion person on the Internet, no one knows what brand it is most of the time and I love that. Fashion used to be a way of standing out, and I hope at some point it gets back to that. Instagram seems to have made it about fitting in and always having gobs of designer goods on at one time.

Are sales associate relationships instrumental to your shopping? Totally, the whole Hermès PurseForum is about how to get what you want from Hermès! I love my SA and the whole staff at my local store. I am hardly a huge spender or VIP, and as I’ve said, I don’t look like a typical client, so I’m happy that I have access to the items that I want—whether they can get them in a timely fashion is another issue. It can be hard to wait for the right bag when you want something now! I waited two years for a clutch once, and my very first Kelly took eight months from when I had the money in the bank and made the request. And I was happy it was only eight months because I thought it was going to take another six months.

We joke on the Hermès forum that they put something in the fragrance in the store that makes you forget how “normal” shopping works. And yes, I know it’s a crazy process but I LOVE my Hermès bags so much. If you’ve never held one or compared one to another premium designer, you can’t understand. They feel substantially different, they last forever and they are practically indestructible. I have pieces going back to the 60s that look like new. Every stitch shows the person that made it, they are objects for life—not fancy bags to be babied or trophies to wave around, no matter how many celebs carry them or how many people think they are a symbol of success. They can be those things to some people, but at the end of the day, it’s an incredibly high-quality bag that commands a ridiculous price because you never need to buy another one. Whether you want to buy another one is a whole other story!

The Money

Who pays for your bags? I pay for all my bags, with the exception of the one time my then-boyfriend (now husband) bought me the only Louis Vuitton bag I’ve ever loved. It is a Monogramouflage Speedy from Marc Jacobs/Murakami collection for the Brooklyn Museum. It is totally my style, he loved it on me because it was so weird and bought it as a total surprise. We knew nothing of the brand, never bought anything else there and I still have it and adore it. It’s so unusual that many people ask me if it’s fake when I do bring it out. I could never sell it, even though it’s worth about four times what it retailed for now. One guy followed me around the grocery store and made a crazy offer for it. He was an LV nut and said they never come up for sale.

Do you set aside a budget for your bag purchases? My self-employed income fluctuates so much, so the bags I buy are usually preceded by a good year with work or a crazy big job that generates an unexpected bonus that I bank for my next bag. I’ve had amazing years with work but this year is quieter, so I’m trying to keep my spending in check and not tempt fate by asking my Hermès SA for anything. I have learned from previous uncertain times that while Hermès loves to play “hard to get,” there will always be another bag when the time is right. No bag is worth being stressed financially or having to sell things in desperation.

My husband and I pay for most things equally, I cover our health insurance premiums and he gets our mortgage (sadly, they are about the same!) We both buy groceries, meals out and stuff for the house. We did some work on our house a few years ago and used an inheritance from my husband’s family for that. We have no debt and our house was incredibly affordable because it did need a bunch of work, and we only use credit cards for our regular expenses and to get points or cash back. They get paid in full every month, for the budget police in the comments.

He is a saver and I am only good at saving for things that I look forward to. I’m never more mad than when a house expense eats into fun money, especially stuff like pipes that you can’t even see! We don’t have kids and have no plans to have them, we contribute generously to several animal and education focused charities every year. His income can fluctuate from year to year as well, but not as wildly as my own so we make retirement contributions in lumps rather than monthly. We also have some real estate holdings and investments accounts from when we both had salaried jobs, but we leave them be for retirement.

All that said, I generally keep about $10K in separate account for Hermès “emergencies” or general shopping, and I’m fortunate to work with a lovely SA and store manager so I get to request bags on my wishlist at Hermès biannual buying trips, called a podium order, and I have a special order bag being made for me right now. With podium orders, it can be six to ten months, so if I know I really want the bag, I need to be prepared. My special order is not expected for quite a while, but Hermes can be unpredictable, so it’s better to have a cushion so I don’t have to say no. During slower times with work, I’ve passed on some great bags, but when this special bag arrives, I do not want to say no. I know everyone says this, but I think it will be my last bag for a while. The only other Hermès bags on my wish list are very rare, very expensive (even relative to other Hermès bags), or both rare and expensive, so unless something dramatic changes with my income or my husband’s income, they remain true daydream bags.

The Taboo Topics

Have you ever purchased a counterfeit because you couldn’t afford a designer item? No, I really value originality but also, I wasn’t interested in designer items when I couldn’t afford them.

Do you ever hide purchases from your significant other? My first instinct on this answer is no way, because I pay for things myself but truthfully, I guess I do hide by omission. My husband doesn’t have a clue about how much most items in Hermès cost, and frankly, he would probably not approve because he’s a frugal guy. He has bought me an occasional gift of a shawl or bracelet and I think in his mind, everything in the store costs $1,000, which is fine with me. My SA and I joke that he’s happy, so let’s not burst his bubble. We both work very hard, his income is more stable than mine but I think it would be hard for him not to judge me for what I know is an exorbitant price tag. We have joint and separate accounts but I manage all our finances for both our businesses so at the end of the day, he trusts me to be responsible and I don’t want to do anything to violate that trust. If he asked me directly, I would tell the truth, but he never has. I have, however, designated a trusted friend to be the executor of my bag “estate” should anything happen to me, and I would do the same for her. Do you know that meme? “My greatest fear is that I will die and my husband will sell my bags for what I told them they cost.” It’s the truth, but in my case, it’s what he assumes they cost.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve done to afford a bag? Last year I bought three Hermès bags, one of which was very unexpected and I only knew about it maybe a month before it arrived in the US. My SA saw it was on its way from Paris and was a bit of a grail bag for me. So I ended up taking two quick jobs that weren’t my usual style and gathered up the cash to make that bag happen. It wasn’t exactly crazy, but it is not the way I like to do things.

The Rest Of It

Any other expensive hobbies or passions? I guess I would consider staying self-employed my major personal extravagance. I have a good bit of experience and could command a much better and more stable salary by going back to working for a big company, but I value my flexibility and happiness. I’m having a slow year and it’s forcing me to work harder for less and also resist the urge to shop the way I might have during busy times. It requires patience and faith in my talents to just ride it out and control what I can with the day to day. I’m happy knowing that I know how to live with way less and that my happiness doesn’t come from material goods or how much I earn.

I do love my fitness and spend a fair amount of my disposable income on boutique workouts, a fancy gym and regular trainer sessions. I recently started a regimen of monthly facials because they work and I’m loving the results.

We don’t travel much due to our focus on work, so we have spent a fair amount renovating our old house and are now finally furnishing it. Our master bathroom renovation was way, way over budget but totally worth it, as it feels like a boutique hotel. We love our extended families and travel with them or to see them when we do travel. No one in our family is into things, we all prefer experiences like being together or fabulous memorable meals. We have some nieces and nephews to spoil with fun trips and we love that, as well as giving them back to their parents at the end. We all wish we had more time together, not more stuff!

[Editor’s Note: All interviews are edited for grammar, length, and clarity]

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