To me, there is nothing worse than a shoddy handbag. I don’t like them because when I was growing up, any good-looking bag that I owned eventually turned into a tattered mess of ripped seams and scuffed pleather. Each time one of my favorite bags gave out I was left feeling frustrated and trapped in a constant cycle of needing to find a new go-to piece that I could then wear for only 8 months before it too, disintegrated before my eyes.
I knew that poorly-constructed mass-market bags quickly went from cute and fun to downright unreliable, but it was only once I could actually afford better bags that I was able to develop a keen eye for the immediate markers of quality construction. A good bag isn’t just any old sack thrown over your shoulder but a vision brought to life. It is the product of a well-thought-out process where the designer researched, planned, and prototyped it into being as chic, comfortable, and dependable as possible.
Considering this, I noticed that most bags I have owned over the past few years (both contemporary and high-end) seemed to have at least one of four major characteristics that I think shoppers should look for when wanting to buy a well-constructed “good” bag:
It Appeals to Your Senses
Handling a well-made bag is a sensory experience. I know that sounds weird, but a bag’s ability to appeal to your senses plays a considerable role in making it either totally irresistible or a complete no-go. Just as a gorgeous dye job in a unique color or buttery smooth texture can draw you in, the awful fishy smell of poorly-processed leather or constant noise of dangling hardware can easily turn you away.
It has a Human-Centric Design
We all love a bag for its style but nothing beats good design. Bags are meant to be used so extra special bags are ones where the designer intended for it to solve a problem.
Just think of the backstory of the Birkin – Hermès designed it for Jane Birkin after she complained that she could never find a good travel bag and now, 38 years later, many consider the Birkin ﹘ with its spacious interior and secure turn-lock closure ﹘ to be the gold-standard for a handbag. This same focus on problem-solving human-centric design also gave us the awkwardly-shaped Dior Saddle bag that was made to fit perfectly under the arm.
My point being: a well-constructed bag not only looks stylish but is made for the unique situations of your everyday life. It’s the carry-on bag that perfectly matches the dimensions of the overhead bin, a posture-supporting backpack, or the adorable clutch with a rechargeable battery pack sewn into the lining so you can charge a smartphone on-the-go.
This is no secret but the stitching on a well-built bag always feels sturdy. The thread is always tough, extremely heavy-duty, and locked permanently in place. More often than not, well-constructed handbags are held together with a saddle stitch (like how books are bound) or a backstitch (done by sewing backward from the conventional direction) to keep the thread from fraying and to ensure that one popped stitch doesn’t unravel the rest of the line. Tough stitching shows us that there was some level of quality control; the bag was tested on how much weight it could hold or how it might get tossed around when going from one place to the next.
It’s Comfortable to Wear
Since we have all just accepted that it’s totally fine and normal to voluntarily tote around half a pound or more of stuff as we go about our everyday lives, we should at least be mindful of how carrying certain types of bags physically make us feel.
A well-made bag will more evenly distribute the weight of its contents and will gently lay against your body. On the flip side, poorly-constructed bags are cut and assembled in a way that the unsupported weight bares down and causes stress on the joints/muscles or has straps that dig into your skin. Well-constructed bags usually only do this if you overstuff them but even still they are more likely to have some safeguards in place to protect the wearer (padded straps, structured bottom, etc.) so they never have to worry about getting friction burn or a pinched nerve.
All in all, a decent bag is one that suits your needs in the short term, but a truly great well-made bag is one that will be of service for many years to come. Its construction considers how each panel of material, each piece of hardware, and each inch of the stitch will all fit together to make up a bag that is built to last and bought for life.