handbag fund I’d seriously doubt that there is anyone reading this that has not felt some effect of the economic circumstances that most of the world is currently facing. If you don’t know what we’re talking about, then you’ve probably been living in a hut on an island somewhere. If that’s the case, then your tan looks nice and you probably want to turn around and head back before we delve in to the rest of this post. Trust me, you don’t want to know.

Ok, for all of you non-hut-dwellers out there, level with me here. The malls aren’t as crowded, and if you talk to the sales associates for a while, most of them will freely admit that business is down. There are bankruptcy rumors for pretty much every retail business I can think of, and while certainly not all of them are true, some of them probably are. But there are people still buying bags, and maybe different bags than they would have a year ago. Maybe not, though. Everyone internalizes these huge financial issues differently, and ultimately everyone is going to deal with them differently as a result. And consumers aren’t the only ones trying to sort all of this out – brands are too, and so are retailers. So what does all this mean?

When economic circumstances change, so too do social circumstances. How we’re feeling about ourselves and our society financially impacts how we interact with each other and how we perceive others in a multitude of ways. So what does that have to do with fashion in general, and handbags in particular?

Well, handbags seem to function as a bit of a bellweather, as far as fashion goes. Second to only cosmetics and perfume, bags are the way that designers introduce their brand to a larger audience of consumers. Bags don’t need to fit or flatter in the same way that ready-to-wear does, and almost any bag can be comfortably carried by any woman with the cash to fork over to buy it. They can also more easily justify their staggering price tags – you wear a bag every day, but a dress may only see use a handful of times. If handbags aren’t selling well, or if tastes change because consumers feel differently about what their bag says about them, then that’s something that is very, very important to a global, billion-dollar industry. We vote with every dollar we spend, after all.

In the interest of full disclosure, much of this is just personal observation. But on the other hand, if there are any handbag “experts” out there, I guess we’re some of them. I spend 8 hours a day looking at and pontificating on purses, for better or for worse. And it seems that, lately, a few things have changed. Logo bags have been declining in popularity for some time now, but it seems like more people are resistant to them than ever. No one should be ashamed of what they can afford, certainly. But how one portrays one’s wealth when more and more people with previously prestigious and high-paying jobs are out of work is something to consider, and seems to be something that a lot of people have considered. When your peers are the ones that suddenly don’t have jobs, does it change things?

It also seems like high-end retailers are adding more and more lower-priced lines to their inventory. This bags aren’t cheap by any means, but they may be lines that larger retailers like Neiman Marcus or Saks may have shied away from a few years ago for fear that they wouldn’t fit with their ultra-exclusive brand image. By the same token, they may be brands that would have garnered less attention in headier timers. The early aughts were pretty rococo, and having a bag by a previously anonymous designer like Tano or Belen Echandia may have not had as much of an appeal as it currently does. Attitudes were different, so the things that were considered desirable were different to a lot of people. We may have been in need of a taste reset, though; just take a look back and you’ll see why. In this way, maybe the recession is indeed a “natural market correction” in more ways than one.

And then there’s the sales. The much-talked-about Saks sale in November has some people speculating that it could have changed the way that consumers perceive the luxury goods market for years, if not decades, to come. I think that’s a bit of a stretch at this point, but the sale environment has certainly encouraged more and more people to wait for the discount. It’ll almost certainly come, and the days of the obvious It-Bag may be over, at least for now. Things that never would have gone on sale in 2004 are seeing their prices cut generously, but maybe it was time for a price reset anyway. Things were getting ridiculous, no? It remains to be seen whether designers will alter their MSRPs voluntarily or force retailers to do it through discounting, but one thing is clear: a lot of people aren’t as willing to pay what they once were for a handbag, and a lot of them realize that they don’t have to.

So what’s your personal experience with your bag habit and the economy? Noticed anything changing? Think I’m completely wrong? Let me know in the comments.

P.S. Please consider supporting our small, bag-loving team by clicking our links before shopping or checking out at your favorite online retailers like Amazon, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, or any of the listed partners on our shop page. We truly appreciate your support!

Share Your Thoughts With Us

  • Kia

    Ahhh finally somewhere to express my feelings on the whole situation! I am a total, utterly, insane bagaholic (recovering). And I’m not independently wealthy. I have money and I work hard to make it and I’m trying to get to the point where I can make it work for me. My bag buying seems to be cyclical in nature feast and famine in fact. I was stocking up my closet like crazy in early ’05 and then when I found out I was pregnant that was it! I surely had more pressing and important things to spend my money on! And even as much I wasn’t to get like the little Kate Spade diaper bag or what have you—they really don’t hold much for what they charge you. Yeah that didn’t stop me before with the 5 inch gold lamia Chanel but these were different times. And so time went buy and the kid grew up (she’ll be three in April) and around late ’07 I had another feast period. And buy ’08 spring. It hit me like a ton of bricks! I can no longer afford this habit! I have been blessed to have a stable well paying job. My 401K has not taken a huge hit in the market. But my house has and times are hard and could get much harder before they get better. And I think more and more otherwise “normal” woman with a bag addiction do have enough restraint to know ok this is the time to settle down get my money right and make the best of what I already own! It was hard but I have ignored ever Coach coupon the company sent me for the Pentagon City store since June ’08. I finally went in this month because I was getting worried they would take me off the list if I didn’t buy anything soon. So, I got two key chains! I will put them on my pink leather Coach bag from 3 seasons ago and call it a day! So, yes I would say I am seeing the difference in society glamour has a new look. Targe’ is becoming the place were “Jane Smart Shopper” looks for a bag that is going to do what they are supposed to HOLD STUFF! And, I have rediscovered my closet. I pulled out a bright mustard yellow Marc Jacobs patent leather bag that I hadn’t even carried yet! That will be my summer piece. I had an old lime green Juicy Couture dyed blue that will work in the fall—be inventive! If you really must have something, make it a quality staple piece and save up to get it. My tan Chanel quilted caviar bag is the first thing I pull out for any dressy event so for me it was worth it. I definitely relate to what the article was saying about you bag always fits! In an effort o scale back my life I have decided to not get new clothes or shoes for spring or summer. But if I can keep pulling out nice bags (be they old) from my closet I am personally going to still feel stylish and well dressed. Best of luck to us all! ~K~

  • QueenMAB

    My bag buying has definitely toned down. Logo bags don’t hold as much of an appeal, although I still love LV. I currently search for beautiful, well made leather bags that are unfamiliar in my market: Balenciagia, Rebecca Minkoff..
    And, I used to change bags every day to get the most out of my purse closet. Now, due to layoffs in my company it just doesn’t seem appropriate. I carry a work bag and switch out mainly on weekends unless I can’t carry what I need.
    I also have opened up my closet to friends so that they will get used. What good do they do me just sitting there.
    I hope that someday soon there there will be a more positive outlook for everything. Until then I’ll sit tight and be very thankful for what I have.

  • Jen

    I have the remarkable luck of having an office (with large window) that looks out onto Michigan Avenue in Chicago. I have a view of Saks, Neiman Marcus and the Water Tower. Sometimes, I like to stand at my window and watch shoppers going back and forth. There are a lot of people walking, but no one is carrying any shopping bags. Seriously. No one. Even in November for the pre-Christmas sales, and even in January for the post-holiday sales. Has it affected me? Most definitely. I have an array of Balenciaga, Lanvin and Chloe bags sitting in my closet, and today I came to work carrying my nylon Tumi tote. It seems gauche to carry anything else in this economy. And when I do buy something at Bloomies, I have them put it in a black packable shopping bag that I carry with my precisely for this purpose because I don’t want it to look like I’ve been shopping. Ridiculous and hypocritcal? Hell yeah, but I still do it. My 401K has taken a massive beating, so I won’t even go into Barneys for fear that I might lose self control. I haven’t bought a bag in 9-10 months, which is seriously a record for me (and believe me, there are a number of bags that I covet right now).

  • MizzJ

    I would agree that there are definitely a lot more sales and retailers trying to gain the favour of consumers, but as far as handbags go, I haven’t noticed that dramatic a decrease in the prices. Just by judging what is featured on this very blog, it seems there is an endless supply of ridiculously priced merchandise – that new Alexander McQueen satin clutch anyone?? Certainly it would seem that Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld are ignoring the economic situation by putting out absurdly useless and expensive bikes! However, part of the exclusivity of a luxury brand is the fact that it’s so expensive not everyone can afford it, so I suppose you can see why these brands refuse to lower their their prices, but in terms of pure economic sense, ignoring that most people won’t pay $1000+ for a clutch is just plain stupid – and could lead to them disappearing forever.

  • Mrsshoegal

    With all the sales I am hard pressed to buy any designer bag for retail. I work hard for my many is all seriousness as much of bag junkie as I am it’s seriously not worth it, it is after all a just leather purse. Does buying a designer handbag make you a better person heck no. Can a gorgeous bag make you feel better absolutley. So I have changed my spending habit I dont pay retail for anything anymore and I don’t think you have too.

    Designers’ should lower prices during these shaky times. I mean when I started buying designer bags they were a good 40% -50% lower and nothing has changed except maybe quality going down so how does that work prices go up quality goes down.

  • Carolyn

    I am a bagaholic but never paid full price for my bags. I have worked retail and at least would get my employee discount. I will not by retail for a bag, which means i have passed on some great bags, but I will wait for a good deal. This is the market for a bargin hunter and there are some great choices out there.

  • Crystal

    I’d be interested to know what sources you used (if any) when compiling this entry. It’s a very well-written analysis; I agree totally, especially about the point with the lower-priced lines– funnily enough, I prefer some of them to the higher-end counterparts (Marc by Marc Jacobs vs. Marc Jacobs, for one)– is that just a reflection of my own personal tastes or of the industry really re-shaping its marketing? Thanks for sharing!

  • Jan

    I’m probably a bad person to ask because I have never paid full price for any handbag that I own. I think most of them are very overpriced and that you are “paying” for the name- more than the quality of the handbag. Truthfully, I know Hermes is the holy grail, but when I look at them and there are no pockets etc. in most I’ve looked at that are over $7,000-I just don’t get it. The reality is that most people could put a downpayment on something-car, home etc. It just seems crazy and wasteful. As I said, I know that’s not popular, but much as I adore my many bags, I just can’t spend full price for a bag even if it’s supposedly “the best” there is. JMO

  • Arm Candy Lady!

    Great blog…I have noticed this too & I am all for the market re-set, it’s finally afforded me the opportunity to checkout luxury brands that I would have never taken a 2nd look at, such as Christian Louboutin. Now I own 3 pairs of CLs…yeah!!!

    In regards to handbags, I already left the logo designer handbags behind, since I have been on the hunt for designers that are more exclusive, well at least I feel that way since everyone does not readily know the bag I am carrying, it’s like my own sweet little secret & I LOVE it!!!

    Thanks for posting this insightful blog!

  • Pursed and Ready

    Recently, I’ve experienced a case of bag backlash.

    Like so many women here, I work hard. I’m not a big earner, but when I have some extra to spend, I indulge my weakness for bags.

    Recently, I fell in love with a collection of bags from a certain logo designer. Normally I don’t really favour this brand, but this particular collection was so fun and fresh, that I found myself coveting a couple of the bags…and so I bought them. It was a stretch, but I could afford them, so I thought “Why not?”.

    Strangely, instead of excitedly wanting to share my haul with my friends, I felt a slight sense of shame, and did all I could to hide the store bags that I carried the purchases home in (not at all successfully I might add). When I did share my loot with some friends that I thought would be equally thrilled, I was heaped with scorn for my “wasteful” purchases, and given lectures.

    Since then, the company I work for has started undergoing belt-tightening, so it would be completely unseemly for me to rock-on-up with one of the latest logo bags. In fact, in a work situation, they would be a total liability.

    In short, I now have two glorious bags that I love, but am completely unable to use. How ironic.

  • Jane

    I think the rejection of status bags was in the making before the economic crisis hit this crescendo, but there’s always going to be a desire for them. What the economy makes clearer, I think, is our culture of instant gratification. We want the latest designer goods whether we can actually afford it or not. It’s sad and unfortunate that people are deep into credit card debt over handbags (or shoes or clothes) but it happens a lot.

    I’m not going to feel guilty about the expensive bags I own because they were bought with money in the bank, not money I hoped will materialize after I charged it on a card. That being said, I don’t buy often, (once or twice a year) but I make what I do buy count – good quality, functional design, real love for the bag so I actually carry it.

    If retailers want to offer lower priced lines or more sales then all the better for consumers. I don’t need to pay thousands of dollars for a bag if I can find something fabulous for much less.

  • Shawna

    It’s funny – just the other day my husband asked me what other handbags I need. I laughed and said, “need?” are you kidding? That would be none. I said, there are a few bags I “want.” But the kicker is… would I give up installing air conditioning in my house to buy a new LV? No, probably not. I am keenly aware of how far my $$ will and will not go. I’m a huge planner and want to be prepped for the future. I plan on having a fabulous retirement – some day. So, at this point, I’m thrilled with “just looking” and happy with my small collection of purses that I love. I want to have a good nest egg.

  • inadelle

    I’ve always been a bag/shoe person and I believe that many luxury brands are no longer churning out works of art then they are of tired-looking logo bags. Innovation in fashion is something I treasure but of course there is always the issue of practicality.

    Which is why I have always admired bags that have stood the test of time and are made to go with many different looks. However, it IS a want and not a need. For me, I would rather invest when the stock market is low and reap the benefits or even travel with the money used to buy a single designer bag.

    As for Chanel ignoring the recession, we shall see how long that lasts. I love Chanel , but to me there’s a thin line between being an exclusive brand and being plain insensitive to the current world economy. They can’t deny they have been affected… after all they did lay off all those workers but I don’t see the point of having so many price increases when it’s the same bag!

  • me

    When things get so out of control people are just buying to show that they have money rather than to enjoy; the economy fixes the problem. The Great Depression came after the Roaring Twenties, which started out great and fun and turned into a look at my money situation. I feel like recently was similar to the twenties and while there is now more economic stability this sure feels more like the thirties. Prices were sky-high and retailers had a skewed opinion. Now prices are lower and many women are able to appreciate more that they might be able to buy a nice bag. And it won’t be an It Bag, they want it to be beautiful and last as long as it can, not just until next season.

  • Anastasia

    Speaking as someone who lives on the other side of the world (Australia), that sees a customs tax as well as a V.A.T. charged on most items, the prices tend to be outrageous.
    What I can’t help thinking about, only because I know about it, are the huge and I mean huge mark ups. Just today, I saw a pair of shoes (not handbags, premium designer handbags seldom go on sale here in Australia, and we have very few outlet stores) that I was craving, at half price and even then that half price was AUD $500.00 – which makes me think that the wholesale price has to be around fifty to eighty dollars at the most. The full retail price was $999.00. So many times I snap out of my girlie shopping trance and ask myself who these designers are really fooling. Is a Chanel classic 2.55 really worth more than the three thousand dollars Australians pay? I doubt it. I can buy a compact and classic (and authentic) Louis Vuitton for less.
    Then there are designers. I think Marc Jacobs takes the piss, thinking women will pay anything for his name. Dolce & Gabbana handbags are eyesores most of the time and Bulgari handbags are overpriced for the name alone. So, I do believe that we pay more for a name than the quality because there are many bags that aren’t worth the amount (the materials don’t cost that much: I saw a premium vinyl designer bag for more than a thousand dollars…and it’s vinyl ffs).
    Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy looking at bags in boutiques and browse through department stores, but one look at the price tag is sobering enough. I think I’ll wait a little longer. This recession has made me really reassess what I need on a daily basis rather than fit in. Nevertheless there are bags out there that are still ridiculous for the price. I mean, come on, more than four thousand for a coated canvas LV Kalahari bag because Marc Jacobs designed it? I don’t think so, but there are many people (monied people) in other parts of the world who don’t really have any fashion sense, who prefer to pay for a name, to show their friends how trendy of fashionable they are, when they’re really putting money down the drain in terms of quality. The money can be spent on other quality products than overpriced handbags. For example, I’m on the market for a good quality watch. I’d rather put the three extra thousand dollars toward a Cartier Tank, than an O-T-T handbag.

  • Merve

    I have always been a bagaholic so my colleagues and friends dont hold it against me that i still splurge on all the bags i want despite the recession. Plus i earn my own money and i spend it. Its never on credit and i never go into my savings! Thats me trying to justify my blatant over spending. The general trend within my group of friends is a move away from blatant logos from big houses (Except Chanel Hermes) and towards more interesting unknown designers. Where as before we would have seen a cute gucci bag and said right lets buy it, now we prefer to hold onto the 2k and put it towards something we really really want. Those spur of the moment handbag purchases for me are limited to below 1k for sure like the DVF Stephanie. PB always has lots of posts about great bags all averaging 2k and the point is that in the recession im just not gonna go after one unless im absolutely sure i want it and it has to be quite classic. For example i might love a random yellow bag but im not gonna buy one. My job is secure, i have no debts but still im curbing my spending because there is a recession. To be honest the huge discounts that stores are offering only interest me for clothes. I dont care if i wear a last season dress/coat etc but for my handbags im a little more picky. Plus in Europe maybe we dont have as extensive stock because all the handbags that i want rarely make it thru to the discount bin or the designers i want dont do sales. The three bags i have bought so far this year are sold out everywhere…what are the chances im gonna run across one in the sales? I might see a bag that i like in the sales but i never think its a good idea to plonk down money on a previously overpriced, item that didnt get sold, just because its 50% off. I know im a bit odd but i really have an aversion to handbag sales.

  • gpc

    Wow, great posts. I don’t know if we are in an era of “retail guilt” or just more thoughtful, prudent purchases. Really, what has really changed other than the fact that the current economic situation is in the tank, i.e. there are still those who can and cannot afford to buy $2000 handbags. This is the case now and when the economy was booming. I have to say, I am a bit resentful of continuously being told that I must now make sacrifices for the greed and over consumption of others. I am a working professional, and so is my husband and fortunately, our job condition is secure. We have no children, by choice. We did not buy more house than we could afford – as a matter of fact, we rent. We save for our future. We are cognizant of the need here and abroad, and we donate to causes important to us. As for handbags, I love them, yet I am not a collector or thoughtless purchaser of them. I buy discreet styles that are classy and will remain timeless. This has been the case for me when the economy was great and now. Again, I think, with the media’s help, the current economic condition is forcing a social climate that magnifies the perception of the “haves and have nots”. Once the economy picks up, we won’t even be thinking about this anymore…

  • Timber

    I once longed for and coveted Coach bags. I would drool over each new catalogue and visit the their stores often. I made sure that when I made my purchase, it was done for practicality…this would be the bag that I carried every day. No I wasn’t one who would change her bag each day. I have learned to love the feel of finely crafted leather bags with their silk linings. However, I agree in this economy it seems almost shameful to buy a “quality” bag from someone who’s name is famous. Ladies, if you can afford the bag, buy it. Why should you suffer if you were the “ant” and watched your pennies when everyone else was playing the “grasshopper”? You are actually helping the economy in indulging your “needs” as long as those “needs” don’t prevent you from paying the rent, buying food, and the other necessities of life. I for one look forward to that wonderful experience of being the first to put my hands on wonderful supple leather, the softness of it, and the richness of it. Since I can’t enduge my senses through food (goes straight to the hips) why not induge it with something that I don’t have to worry that is (a) will makes my jeans tighter, (b) they really weren’t that into me or (c) just didn’t give me the thrill. Why if your jeans are from Target, something has to be well….truly enjoyed.

    The Ant who is helping the economy!

  • hazel

    My bag buying is about the same as ever, but I’ve always been really picky and look at way more bags than I ever buy. I do like that the economy is making the bags less logo-y, I’ve always hated big logos.

  • voiceofreason

    i have an average income and i deeply debate spending even 200 on a bag. but i live in new york city where you feel like a weirdo if you are holding some dumpy five year old bag while everyone walking past you has chanel or the latest it-bag. so i try and challenge my style and look for great deals and sales. plus like many other ladies here have expressed, i love the look of a great bag, and the feel and smell of high quality leather.

    nevertheless its insane to me that people spend thousands of dollars on a bag. i don’t even get how anyone has that much money to spend on something like a handbag! i’m not judging anyone, if you can afford it go for it, but i’m just saying that whenever i see a bag above $500 i just roll my eyes. its more like artwork to me, not something i can afford to carry on my arm and fill up with my daughter’s toys and bottles of vitamin water.

    point is: if you read this website because you love to look at beautiful new bags, but you know that there is no way in hell you would ever buy something that costs four digits, you are not alone. thats me all the time, not just during a recession.

  • pixiepoo

    An astute observation that as bags go, so goes the economy. What I find disturbing is the way so many people have been made to feel ashamed of owning something nice. Or of having more money than others, even though it was hard-earned. I think this is related to class differences as much as it is to the economy. How dare you carry that purse, don’t you know you are no better than anyone else? Please dummy-down your wardrobe as well, you have no right to dress up when the rest of our culture is warning you to dress down. Beware of any society that wants to make you the same as everyone else. Perhaps we should all earn the same salary no matter what work we do. Then we can all carry the same handbags (as long as they are the same price) to make sure we don’t stand out from the masses in any way. Amanda, you are the ultimate purse expert, can you please choose one that will suit everyone?

  • Cakebaker

    Great post pixiepoo.

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