Do We Value Our Purses Enough?

And what does this have to do with price increases?

When I dove into the world of handbags (although I am not a veteran), the inherent personality of a purse drew me in. A signifier of individual taste, a repository for your most intimate belongings, and, if well looked after, possibly an heirloom for generations to come! A rather overly-romanticized lens, I imagine, for not all of us have the luxury to associate so much sentiment with what is, at the end of the day, inanimate.

And yet, it is this manufactured sense of naïve fantasy that the world of luxuries has traditionally thrived upon. It is why Y2K nostalgia has such a chokehold on our generation, even amidst a trend toward quiet luxuries. It is this magic that has us scavenging through our parents’ closets in search of trinkets of years past, proudly donning them, in all their scuffed and faded glory, as veritable badges of honor (or, if they happened to be particularly covetable, flipping for a mark-up on resale).

So, how exactly do our purses become so unfortunately impersonal? Is it because heritage luxury houses, now headed by corporate conglomerates, resort to cost-cutting and mass-manufacturing methods to maximize their margins? Or did we, as a community, collectively relinquish our ability to cherish what’s ours?

The Slippery Slope of Sentimental Value

Not too long ago, there was a time when purchasing a pricey purse was associated with the landmark events of one’s life – a marriage proposal, a job promotion, or a memorable trip. In other words, we immediately formed an intrinsic connection with our handbags, aside from their function as objects of daily use. Having had my very first “grown-up bag” moment with a saddle Proenza Schouler PS1, I am no stranger to this feeling, nor, I’m sure, is much of our PurseBlog community.

As it turns out, however, the line between marking momentous occasions with the occasional splurge and actively gamifying the process of building up a collection of high-value purchases is dangerously thin. And even if we’ve been lusting after a particular piece for months or years potentially, the dopamine high we derive from each subsequent acquisition becomes gradually slimmer, as a knowledgeable commenter pointed out when I posited last week, “You’ve purchased your Holy Grail, now what?

But in an inflationary atmosphere, where both luxury prices and, subsequently, our individual price ceilings, are continually stretched beyond our means, is this sentimental value really the best judge of (a handbag’s) character?

Saks Bags in the Wild 14
Monogram pieces retain the most value. But are they also the most ubiquitous?

Instant Gratification = Price Desensitization

Enter price-hikes, the tried-and-tested means of alienating the masses and appealing to the moneyed. Of course, luxury has always been expensive. But recent price increases have been particularly brutal and so frequent across the board that they’re now less likely to be met with outrage than with silent resignation. And it’s a pattern not limited to the luxury market – as housing prices soar, many today have similarly accepted renting or moving back to their parental homes as a permanent solution.

What truly exacerbated this, however, was the COVID-19 pandemic. On the one hand, with logistical outages and raw material shortages, brands faced a very real scarcity of products across outlets globally instead of merely the artificial sense of scarcity they wished to curate. On the other hand, idle shoppers with stimulus checks developed an unhealthy obsession for high-ticket purchases as a means of emotional spending (as witnessed by an optimistic season of maximalism post-COVID). Yet others took to assessing their collections through a critical lens, realizing that, at the end of the day, their bags’ intrinsic value was fairly minimal, and consequently offloading them onto the resale market.

The Supreme x Louis Vuitton Collaboration was one of the brand’s most popular.

Thus, brands found themselves grappling with the reality of their situation. What had started off as a means of meeting sales targets amid pandemic pressures soon turned into a bi-annual or even tri-annual ritual of price hikes, faced with increasingly desensitized shoppers recklessly shopping for a short-lived sense of gratification, and resellers now flipping their wares matching the inflated retail prices. So much for scarcity, eh?

Is Resale to Blame?

However, in an ideal universe, price hikes wouldn’t be as bad as they sound. As fellow PurseBlogger Alan Tang elaborates, price increases are a means to safeguard the perceived brand image and the investment value of a purchase, reassuring buyers that not only would their bags not depreciate, but, in the off-chance, they might even appreciate in prices! And this comes in conjunction with the luxury house’s attempts to manipulate the resale industry, traditionally a major source of grievance, both from a supply as well as a copyright standpoint, since fakes have historically more readily infiltrated the secondhand market than the primary (although the possibility cannot be ruled out).

Art Basel Week Bags 14.jpg
Limited edition pieces often sell on resale for well above their retail price.

In fact, at the end of the day, all of the price increments and secretive tactics can help lead buyers to hold onto, and thus, value, their belongings more rather than flip them over for a profit. For brands, this would have the dual advantage of desaturating its offerings from the market while converting resale buyers into direct clients. And it is arguably the ease and proliferation of reselling platforms that have made brands more ubiquitous and, consequently, seemingly less valuable to buyers, who can now, unlike previous generations, burn through high-ticket purchases with the speed of fast fashion.

Ultimately, buying luxuries is largely a superficial exercise concerned with projecting a certain image of oneself. The longer we hold onto said luxuries, however, the more they attain the character and personality of the wearer. And in today’s largely impersonal and commercialized handbag climate, perhaps that’s the truest expression of individuality.

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11 months ago

Resale is so tricky – and I think more influential than we realize. I feel like my buying habits have really changed (and not for the better) as a result of resale. 10+ years ago, I bought bags because I loved them and intended to wear the s**t out of them. And if I made a mistake and bought a bag that didn’t work for me – the options were very limited. I would have to find a friend or other personal connection who would be willing to buy it or take it to a physical consignment store. To be honest – I usually just wore the bag anyway because the options to get rid of it without losing a ton of money were so limited. And I bought less because I wanted to get my money’s worth out of my bags by using them. Now when I buy, my idea of getting my money’s worth is very much wrapped up in what I think the resale situation might be. And as a result, I buy more bags (running out to get that “classic” ahead of the latest price increase), and use them less (because a bag with noticeable wear and tear won’t resell as well as a bag in perfect condition). I don’t know what the answer is either.

11 months ago
Reply to  Kit

True that. I bought a preloved Chanel classic flap which is sitting in storage. It’s not the most functional bag but I love it and reluctant to resell it. I have the Celine bucket bag which is at the consignment shop and has been there for months. Nobody wants to buy even though it’s priced so low as it has no resale value. I’m thinking to take it back and use it until it’s beat up. I have purchased a black Chanel flap brand new previously and sold it at cost price because wasn’t in love with it and the buying experience. Bought LV dauphine chain wallet and sold it a few months later because it was not functional and the monogram was just too flashy (for me). Now I’m using a Le Sport Sac camera bag which is washable and LV diane bag which is not flashy because I got the black leather version and the size is great and functional.
Moving forward, I will buy what I like for brands that have no resale value or stick to Chanel.

11 months ago
Reply to  Rosie

I am thinking about the same thing – do I switch to just Hermes and/or Chanel – and know that if I want to sell, I won’t lose a ton of money. Or do I buy based on what I feel comfortable spending knowing that I’m not going to be able to resell at or near cost. All I know for sure is that I hate that resale has become such a big factor in my bag preferences/purchasing. Right now I have settled into a two-tier system – I have bags from Hermes and Chanel that I largely don’t use because they “retain their value” and I want to preserve the possibility of resale at a good price someday. And then I have other bags I actually wear because they “don’t retain their value” from brands like Gucci, Chloe and Tory Burch – and don’t worry if they get wear and tear.

11 months ago

I’m so happy I never got caught up in the hype of frenzy purchasing because of a price hike. I think if you do your research most designer bags do not hold a resale value to pay an exorbitant price over retail especially if worn. For me I like to know a bag is going to meet the function that I need.

11 months ago

LOL! I value my bags a lot because I paid for them and they bring me joy.