Designer Bags, Purse Budgets, and Investments

designer bags and purse budgetsLadies, how often do you buy purses and bags? Do you prefer to make one big purchase and buy a quality, name bag — or do you prefer to make more frequent, smaller purchases? Does having a trendy bag matter to you, or do you want a classic style? 

I’ve been thinking about this recently because I’ve been helping a friend look for her first big bag purchase in a while — she’s finally out of the diaper bag phase of her life, has almost 2 of her 3 kids in school, is settled into her “forever” house, etc. Accordingly, she and I have been trolling resale sites like Tradesy and The Real Real, as well as discount sites like Last Call and Rue La La. She’s inclined to make one big bag purchase, and carry the bag everywhere — and she’d like to find a designer bag for around $500.  (We’ve yet to find the perfect bag at that price point — I’ve suggested she look at discounted but new Furla bags for quality, stylish bags, as well as lightly used bags like Mulberry, Ferragamo, and Saint Laurent.

In the past I’ve gone the other way, buying bags frequently but at lower price points. In my lawyering days before kids, there was a steady stream of discounted bags that I paid between $150-$350 for, all with original MSRPs of $500-$700. (You can see a lot of them pictured/discussed in this older post on purse budgets.)  They were all quality, leather bags — lots of Cole Haan, Furla, Botkier, Dooney & Bourke, with the occasional Coach or Kate Spade thrown in — but none of them really qualified as “designer” bags on the same level as my friends with Chloe, YSL, Prada, Chanel, Bottega, etc.  So I’ve wondered over the years — should I have just saved the money up and spent my “purse budget” on a single designer purse each year, instead of four or five little ones? Would that be a better “investment”?

Here’s the interesting thing I’m finding while looking for a purse for my friend: a lot of the designer bags I’m seeing seem incredibly dated to me.  Much, much more so than the fun, sometimes offbeat bags my closet is filled with.  Some of the bags I see are particularly tied to very old memories, such as:

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The Hunt: Stylish, Professional Satchels

stylish satchelsSure, we all know what basics professional women are supposed to have in their closets, but if you’re buying one for the first time or replacing one you’ve worn into the ground, it can be a pain to find exactly the right incarnation in stores. In “The Hunt,” we search the stores for a basic item that every woman should have.

Satchel or shoulder bag, ladies?  Every year we do a hunt for a basic black professional purse that is not a tote, which gets a special roundup of its own. (Here’s our roundup for purses from 2014, 2013 and 2012).  I’ve always had a preference for shoulder bags myself — I like to keep my hands free, and I don’t like a strap crossing my bust — so I was really shocked to see how few shoulder bags are out there right now, particularly in the non-designer realms.  Satchels, crossbodies, and bucket bags really dominate the market right now.  We talked about the crossbody bag a few weeks ago — I’m curious about your thoughts on bucket bags for work, as they seem a bit boho-casual to me. (But: I do love this bag for the weekend.)  Anyway, lots of beautiful satchel bags that look ladylike and professional… ladies, what is your favorite kind of purse for work? Have you found any great stylish, professional satchels recently?   (Angie at YouLookFab had a fun debate on bag shapes this a while ago — to pick up where she left off, are YOU Team Satchel, Team Shoulder Bag…. or are you Team Tote for work?)

Here are a few subcategories of professional purses that seemed deserving of their own mini-roundup…

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Are Crossbody Bags Professional?

Are Crossbody Bags Professional? Are crossbody bags professional?  Could you wear one to a business lunch, or a networking event?  Reader C wonders…

Is a crossbody bag considered professional? I’m tired of carrying a ton of bags to work (briefcase, pump, lunch bag, and purse) and am trying to downsize my handbag. I’m considering purchasing the Lo & Sons Pearl bag. But would it be odd wearing a crossbody to a business lunch or networking event? Thanks!

The crossbody bag is SO HUGE right now. I think they’re cute, even if I wouldn’t wear one myself (busty girls, are you with me?). I would say this is a case of “you do you” and go ahead and wear it if you want to. I particularly think the crossbody is the new wristlet — perfect for grabbing something quickly to run to pick up lunch. (Pictured: another popular option, the Marc Jacobs Natasha, available at Nordstrom for $108-$398.  The pictured leather bag is $365.)

BUT — there’s always a but, isn’t there? — I might caution you in two possible regards that might invoke negative judgement about your professionalism.

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A Weatherproof Tote for Work

Weatherproof Tote for WorkIs it possible to find a weatherproof work tote — a stylish, quality bag for work that won’t be ruined by bad weather? How can you protect your bag from the elements? Reader C wonders…

Kat, I’d like to upgrade my work tote bag to something special but I worry about caring for it when commuting in rain and snow. The best thing about my 20 year old vinyl tote is that it’s indestructible, but it’s also pretty shabby. I’d like something classy but worry about the weather ruining it. Thanks for your advice.

We’ve talked about upgrading to a Prada bag (and upgrading your bag in general), what your tote bag says about you, how to lighten your loadthe best bags for commuting (and the best bags for interviewing!) — but we haven’t really talked about a weatherproof work tote. I’m curious to hear what readers say.

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The Next Step: Bags

How to Upgrade Your Handbag Collection | CorporetteHow to Upgrade Your Handbag Collection | CorporetteWhat are the different “levels” for handbags — and how do you upgrade your handbag collection?  I’m curious to hear what readers say.  We’ve already talked about how to upgrade your professional wardrobe, as well as where to buy grown-up furniture… up next in our Next Step series: handbags. I’m pretty solidly in Bucket 3 at the moment.  I had a lot of fun wearing purses a few years ago, striving to wear a new one from my collection every week — but now I tend to reach for the same one whenever I head out, so I can see the sense in having a Bucket 5 bag if that’s the only one you wear. (Here’s what I usually carry in my bag.)  To me, the must-have details in any bag are a good leather or durable canvas (unless it’s a really fun color that I’ve never owned before — and a good sale), interior pockets, feet, a zipper on top — and I always appreciate an attached key fob and fun lining.  Ladies, what are your must-haves?  Which buckets of bags do you currently own — and have you been upgrading them as you move up the career ladder? Which brands am I forgetting in the different buckets? 

Bucket 1: Budget Bags

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How to Be Taken Seriously When You Look Young

looking young - body languageWhat should you do if you look young for your age, and you do all the basic things you’re supposed to in order to seem older (dress professionally, wear heels, etc.), but you still get mistaken for a college student? What more can you try to get your colleagues to take you seriously?

Reader E wonders…

I’m a college professor (outside your normal demographic, but I really enjoy the conversations here). I often am told that I look like an undergrad. I have two questions. First, how do I respond to this in a workplace setting? With a frosty “Nope, I’m actually in my mid-thirties”? With “I’m told that I’ll be grateful for it one day”? Why do people think this is an acceptable thing to say to someone? Second, how can I actually look older so that I avoid these comments and am taken more seriously? I’m short (5′), which is part of the issue, but I already wear 1-3″ heels/wedges (more would look out of place here and are not my style). I use basic makeup (tinted moisturizer/blush/mascara), wear professional and structured clothing, have nice-looking but understated jewelry (including my engagement/wedding rings), keep my wavy hair shoulder-length and mostly under control, and make an effort to speak in a lower voice. This all feels like Looking Older 101–I need the upper-level class!

Hmmmmn. Hmmmn. We’ve talked about a lot of this before — how to avoid acting young, how to lower your voice, and whether long hair makes you look younger — but it sounds like Reader E has already taken a lot of these tips. What else can be done? I’m curious to hear what the readers say, but I did come up with a few tips. I don’t think everyone needs to take these steps, but for people like Reader E, who have tried everything else and are still frustrated by people telling them they “look young,” these may be the tweaks you need to consider:

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