The PurseBlog Guide to Choosing Your First Designer Bag

Making a big purchase for the first time can be nerve-racking, so here are our best tips to help you make the best choice

No matter your age or budget, buying something fancy for the first time can be a daunting experience, especially if that thing is for nothing other than your own enjoyment. There are a lot of emotions wrapped up in money and how it’s used, and even for seasoned shoppers, breaking a certain spending threshold for the first time can be a roller coaster of anxiety—just ask Megs, whose own experience with her first Birkin made her feel physically ill!

That being said, the heart wants what it wants, and sometimes that means taking the leap and buying a bag, and the first one is always the most nerve-racking. Buying something fancy for yourself for the first time always involves a lot of guesswork about how doing it will make you feel and how to make sure you make the right choice. Unsurprisingly, we have a lot of opinions on exactly those topics, so if you’re feeling nervous about taking the plunge for the very first time, we have some tips to set your mind at ease.

1. You Don’t Have to Spend Tons of Money

It’s totally possible to get an awesome designer bag, even from a top-tier brand, for less than a thousand dollars. We do periodic updates on the best ones out there (here’s our latest listings), and if you have your heart set on a brand you want to buy from but don’t have the budget for one of its most famous offerings, there are still great, functional options for less money from almost any label. Usually, those come in the form of camera bags or simple totes, which have the added bonus of being super useful to have around.

2. You Don’t Have to Go All The Way

Truly classic bags like the Chanel Classic Flap or Dior Lady Dior are often priced in the mid-four figures, which means they’re often either a budgetary impossibility for new bag lovers or too much of an initial financial commitment for a shopper who’s still figuring out if designer bags are something they want to get into, even if those funds are available. You don’t have to get hung up on a Holy Grail piece that seems impossible—shop around! It’s perfectly normal to try out other things while you work your way up to your an ultimate dream bag, and doing so helps you figure out if spending all that money on the bag in the future is actually what you want to do.

3. It’s Totally Fine to Buy Something Trendy

A lot of fashion spending advice, especially when you’re relatively young, will tell you that the only things you should spend big bucks on are sober, sophisticated, classic pieces that you will use for years. If you’re the type of person who dresses that way, or who has a career that will benefit from you carrying a neutral Bottega Veneta bag to the office every day, then sure: buy classic.

But if the types of things you love are trendy or colorful or highly embellished, well, that’s fine too. Above all, fashion should be an investment in your own joy, and what gives you joy now might not be the type of thing that can be sold for a profit in three years or handed down to your granddaughter. There’s nothing wrong with loving a bag for two seasons, or loving one for ten that everyone else moves on from after two. The thing that matters is how you feel when you carry it.

4. Usability is Key

What you should consider, though, is how much you can see yourself personally using the bag, especially if spending the money makes you nervous. Choosing something you’ll want to use frequently—whether that means a roomy tote in a neutral color or a fun weekend bag to carry for the next six months—can help offset the anxiety that often comes along with a big purchase you don’t frequently make. And you’re the only one who really knows what you’ll use or not use, so try and trust your instincts.

5. Consider Pre-Owned Options

When I first gained an interest in designer bags as a college student, I quickly realized the best way to economize my new obsession was to buy pre-owned bags from third-party sellers. At the time that meant eBay, which still houses an enormous selection of designer bags, and now there are a whole host of businesses like Vestiaire Collective and The Real Real, which are dedicated to reselling the best of strangers’ closets. Not only did buying pre-owned bags limit my initial expenses while I tried to figure out what I liked and would use, but I knew that if I carried something for a few months and decided I was done with it, I could probably get all my money back by selling the bag again on eBay.

6. Know the Return Policies

Feeling buyer’s remorse for an unusually large purchase, especially when it’s one made for your personal enjoyment alone, is fairly common. If you choose to buy a new bag, make sure you’re aware of the retailer’s return policy and the documentation and time frame you’d need to keep track of in order to get your money back. At least for me, knowing that a decision can be undone if I change my mind always helps me feel confident in making a big purchase, which is often enough to avoid buyer’s remorse before it starts.

7. There’s No Perfect Choice

If you’re waiting for a flaw-free handbag to come along, you’re going to be waiting a long time. Personal preference varies really widely in everything from lining type to zipper placement, so there will probably be something about every handbag you encounter that you’d change. If something about a bag really bothers you, that might just be the little voice inside of you trying to tell you it’s not the right one. If the flaw isn’t enough to offset the other things you like about the bag, though, then try not to worry about it. After you get used to using the bag, you probably won’t even notice it anymore, and it’s unlikely that any bag will ever come along that is exactly what you hoped it would be, down to the last stitch.

8. Everyone Has an Opinion

This might seem like an odd thing to say for someone who’s just spent over a thousand words giving you patently unsolicited guidance on what you should or should not get for your first designer bag, but try not to give too much credence to third parties who feel compelled to comment just because you want to buy (or have just bought) something that costs a lot of money. For reasons I can’t entirely explain, a designer bag is the kind of purchase people feel compelled to comment on, so prepare for a potential weird comment from a coworker, friend or sibling, and try not to take it to heart. The only thing that matters in any of this is that you like what you bought and you’re comfortable with what you paid for it.


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