Thursday, August 15, 2013

Buying (and restoring) Second Hand Bags

I struggled with what to title this post, so let me just explain what it is really quickly.
I buy a lot of expensive items second hand. I prefer to save money for something I really love (like traveling). Items that are quality, well made and durable are great second hand purchases because they last and last!
This post is about buying bags used or from places like eBay where they may have never even been carried! It also includes 3 fixes for common leather issues.
First of all, if you're buying a premier bag second hand such as Chanel, you'll want to be sure that it is verified. Chanel is such an expensive brand (bags are generally between 2 and 10 thousand dollars this season) and is often (very often) replicated. We've all seen the cheap ripoffs, amiright?? There are some great guides you'll want to check out, such as THIS ONE or THIS ONE, before buying anything online or second hand from Chanel. Similar guides can be googled and found for nearly all premier brands. Please take advantage of them so that someone else doesn't take advantage of you. I recently saw someone buy a "New Authentic Chanel" bag for $40. I promise you, it was authentically fraudulent and that's about it. No one sells a $4,000 new bag for $40. Always check the guides, always check serial numbers. Look to see if you can find the bag on the actual site as well, or in archives. There are many sites that archive seasons past of premier brands. If the bag isn't there, it definitely isn't real.
Then there are less expensive, high quality brands that you would find in a department store and are less likely to be fakes. A good example is Fossil and that's what we're working with in this post.
I really like Fossil bags, they're well made- usually from entirely genuine leather. They last forever and the designs are simple, which is a good thing if you're buying a bag to keep for years. Something too trendy will quickly need to be replaced, but a simple time-tested design can be used for years and then be resold when you're ready for a change.
All of that to say that I keep very few purses. I hate changing them out and I want them to be very nice,  which is expensive if there are several involved. I have one tan-ish leather bag and then the black one in the photo. The black saddle bag is another Fossil which I bought from eBay. It was still currently being sold in stores for $200, but was a store model that had it's key fob stolen. For me, this is a non-issue since I remove the key fob from Fossil bags anyway. I like my bags to have as little branding about them as possible. Store models and returns are often sent to outlets or sold to online retailers like the person who sold me this bag. You'd be surprised how little damage a bag needs to receive in order to be unfit for sale in the boutique or department store. Generally, the little dings or issues are things that we would do to our own bags within a few days (or hours, as is the case with my other tan bag) of owning them. In the end, I paid $50 for this bag- shipping and taxes included. That's 75% off!
However, when brands sell their bags to these second hand retailers- they mark them up so that they cannot be returned to the original retailer. For example, my bag had FGW written in stinking sharpie marker on the flap (!?!?!?!?) and a slit cut into the bottom, which is standard Fossil practice. Let's address how to fix those issues first.
Permanent Marker. This one really bothered me, because every time I open the flap to get into my purse, anyone could see the markings all across it. So frustrating. However, after extensive googling I found that on nubuck you could use a mixture of 1/2 vinegar and 1/2 rubbing alcohol to remove sharpie. The bag isn't nubuck, but the soft interior was similar and worth a go. I tried it on the flap, both with a Q-tip and washcloth, vigorously working at the markings and they were removed. YES! As back up beforehand, I also considered mixing a small amount of RIT dye and applying it over the sharpie or even coloring over the sharpie with black. Lastly, I was going to use E-6000 glue to put a patch over it. None of these were necessary for me, but are options if necessary for you. 
The patch was especially interesting. I was going to buy a piece of thin leather from Hobby Lobby (it's around $3) and use my embosser to put a design on it before applying. (*always test an inconspicuous area before applying anything to leather. All photos are not enhanced or retouched in anyway so you can see the damage before and afterwards accurately.)
Slits/cuts. Follow this awesome youtube VIDEO for instructions on how to fix a cut in leather from a man with 20 years in the business. It was so easy! But again, I thought it was super annoying that they cut a slit in the bottom to prevent returns as well. To be fair, the slit is generally repaired before being turned over to the second hand retailer (either with glue or reinforcement with another leather). Still helpful if you come across one unfixed OR if you slit your leather yourself! (photo by Thriftamology on eBay)
 This is a stain on our nubuck sofa being attacked.
Stains. This wasn't an issue with my black bag, but I constantly stain the leather on my tan bag. However, nothing has been a match for plain old cornstarch. Whether it's a couch or a purse, put some corn starch on the stain and within several hours it will go away. The first day I had my tan bag (which I did pay full price for) I got a manicure with my mom. At the end the technician used a salt scrub on my hands, which I thought I had washed off. Apparently it was still all over my hands and I put a HUGE oily hand print on my brand new bag as we went to leave. I was so enraged. ENRAGED. I could hardly think straight. But, my dad gave me some of his leather cleaner for his couch and it worked perfectly.  I turned it over to see what the ingredients were, and it was literally 100% cornstarch. I've used regular cornstarch on all of my stains ever since and it has never failed me. Water marks? Juice from watermelon? No problem. Cornstarch pile overnight and use a soft brush or dry washcloth to brush the dust off in the morning.
In my opinion, it's better to buy a couple of really nice, high quality bags and use them for a few years than to waste money on cheap junk. Sweet, wonderful John is constantly annoyed about a bag he bought me last year from Target (not hating on Target, I stinking love that place). He paid like $35 for it and it started falling apart within a couple of months. The straps literally ripped off. For $15 more, I bought an entirely leather bag which will last for years. Sometimes "cheap fashion" is actually more expensive in the long run. If that speaks to you, check out places like eBay or high quality second hand or consignment shops and use these tips to score something fantastic. We have some incredible, upscale consignment boutiques around here, and you may as well! For more tips on restoring a vintage bag, click HERE.
Technically I'm still on vacation, but due to a series of crazy events, I'm home. I have lots of great stuff heading your way- a little R&R was just what the doctor ordered! All the best, and as always, thanks for reading!


  1. I absolutely loved this entire post!! Fossil is my favorite brand and I've gotten plenty of items from thrift stores-they usually have slits and sharpie though. I'm going to use the cornstarch too! Thank you!!

  2. Wow, Awesome post about bags.

  3. I got a gorgeous cranberry Fossil Explorer 2 weeks ago - brand new, got caught in a rainstorm on Friday night & the dye has run all patchy - looks like tie dye. Any suggestions?

    1. So sorry for the delayed response! Try covering the entire bag in cornstarch for several hours. Maybe it isn't the dye as much as the water. How very distressing!

  4. Hello! I absolutely love this posting!! I ADORE fossil bags! I was wondering if the whole cornstarch idea will work on marker stains also? I recently purchased one with marker stains in the back. They look like they're fading but they still bother. Do you think the cornstarch will help in that department? 😯

  5. Hi!:) I can't seem to get the marker off of my wallet. I tried using alcohol &vinegar but just makes stain lighter. Any other advice on what I should do? And thanks for making this blog:)

    1. Oh that stinks! What kind of leather is it, and what color?

  6. Do you think the cornstarch would work on the leather straps of a Michael Kors bag I have? The trim is called Ballet, it's a light pink color. Soo cute, but doesn't mix well with daily handling. I Just got the bag this week and I'm noticing the straps already showing some discoloration!!


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