Whether we are beginners in the market, seasoned buyers, or simply people who’ve been watching others carrying handbags, pretty much all of us have our fair share of purse pet peeves. Some might be centered around the very existence of a top-zip, while for others, the lack of said zipper is a big no-no.
And while purse peeves are a real problem for us handbag-lovers who would have otherwise adored the beautiful design of a bag had it not been for its contrasting quilting, they are subjective to a large degree. They are also likely to vary between individuals depending on their own ideals of functionality, trendiness, and style.
But, one can’t really deny that there are certain – if I may say so – widely acknowledged elements to handbags that can make them look significantly less expensive than they actually are. And while not all of them are likely to cause equal exasperation to all users, steering clear of them, whether you’re purchasing a high-end or a contemporary purse, is more likely to leave you feeling satisfied. After all, we’ve heard countless times that the devil is in the details, and these bothersome details, in particular, could prove to be dealbreakers when it comes to choosing the right handbag.
So what are they? I thought you’d never ask!
Whenever you’re veering out of the leather territory, be it velvet, denim, PVC, linen, tweed, fur, or faux leather, you run the risk of losing the purse’s luxury appeal. While I’ve questioned countless times whether a particular denim purse is designer or an Etsy DIY, transparent PVC bags rarely look even slightly luxurious. And faux leather is something that’s almost always advisable to avoid – their exaggerated pebbly texture or their oily waxy shine is a dead giveaway. Plus, most start peeling within at best a year’s worth of use – an eyesore on all counts.
However, genuine leather, at times, presents its own set of challenges that make your purse look less dignified – a metallic shade or patent leather, while relatively versatile, can look rather tacky if executed in a sloppy way, while smooth leather that’s covered in scratches isn’t a look one might want to opt for either. On the other hand, distressed leather, unless done in a highly specific, Balenciaga-chic Olsen-like manner, might just end up earning pitiful glances from onlookers. And finally, suede without a good nap and not well cared for frankly looks a lot like burlap rather than something that costs a pretty penny.
Overly shiny hardware not only draws undue attention but can look gaudy as well. But dull brass isn’t particularly pleasing to the eye either, and more often than not, might end up looking like the aforementioned shiny hardware tarnished to this point.
At the same time, metal chains need to look and feel like they have a certain weight – dinky, lightweight ones appear low-quality and flimsy. Similarly, fragile hardware is also a functional pet peeve – you never know when the clasp will randomly pop open, and your belongings go tumbling down.
Flimsy hardware also tends to be rickety – a Bottega Chain Pouch dupe from River Island that I once saw on an acquaintance looked pretty cool for a hot second. That is until she actually maneuvered to open the purse – the terrible jammed-up hardware ensued some squeaking and was enough to dismiss any admiration I had towards the particular bag.
But the lack of certain hardware, like metal feet, feels inexpensive too – not only does it make the purse more prone to falling over, but also susceptible to dirt and damage.
While zippers should technically fall under hardware, zipper-related troubles are simply too many! Certain zips tend to be so jagged that they scrape the user’s hand and hurt the skin. Similarly, the quality of the zipper itself matters – they should move smoothly and quietly, but not be so slippery that they slide open by themselves. But the biggest nuisance I find when it comes to zippers is metal zipper ends. Zipper ends that hang open aren’t a particularly good look. A better alternative is to have them tucked in like the Céline Luggage Tote, right? But certain purses tend to have little plasticky bits of metal at the zipper ends and that’s probably my biggest pet peeve – nothing cheapens a purse as much as a metal zipper end. Okay, I’m done ranting now.
When stitches are visible, it becomes of crucial importance that they are straight, small, and unobtrusive. A lot of brands also tend to deploy contrast-stitching as a design feature, so that makes any flaws or crooked seams all the more apparent. At the same time, as we see on the Coach Willow Tote, the two edges seem to be sewn/glued together, which can devalue an aesthetic. Even besides that, crooked logos, thin, flimsy-looking straps (which the Neverfull is guilty of), and other such technicalities tend to leave us with an impression we don’t quite expect of a four-figure purse.
With one group of designers assiduously supporting monograms and another religiously shunning them, are they, after all, tacky? The jury’s still out on that, but most agree that logos, especially from contemporary brands, rarely exude a luxury aesthetic. But do you know what does feel gimmicky? Brand names or initials on stuff in a HUGE font.
Speaking of on-trend monograms, something that really looks inexpensive is an obvious knockoff of a high-end designer bag that’s hot right now – not just among high-street retailers but also imitations from other brands that mirror the original way too closely – a giveaway that you have chosen something cheaper than what you actually wanted.
At the same time though, if you’re going for something that’s exactly the polar opposite of what’s on-trend right now, you run the risk of looking dated, or at the very least “unfashionable”. As PurseForum member glendaPLEASE describes, “RN, it seems like small, structured, top handle and multi-wearable bags are hot hot hot, so something the complete opposite of that, like a big slouchy hobo bag, looks outdated in comparison.”
So that was my round-up of design features that can cheapen the overall outlook of a purse, regardless of whether it’s designer, an affordable luxury, or from the high street. But ever so often, it isn’t a particular physical property, but rather the psychological response it triggers, that makes us perceive certain features as inexpensive-looking. In fact, some might argue that any well-taken care of and put together purse can look expensive.
So, what do you think makes handbags look inexpensive?