Going thrift store or yard sale shopping for bags can be just as much fun for a gal as a kid in a candy store; Except we can grab all we want and keep them. Besides the fact that 100 thrifted bags may cost the same as one Alexander Wang or Kate Spade bag, to me it’s all about the quality of vintage and having the original bags that sparked, say, the chain bag movement. And one may be thinking, “But I don’t want a used bag. That’s gross.” On the contrary; Many vintage bags or bags that end up in thrift stores are there because they sat in a closet for years, unused, and were finally cast away into the wild-thrift-yonder to mingle with the used and the tattered. And those bags are there waiting, just as the not-so-perfect ones. I myself don’t mind a pen mark here or there- or the black hole filled with bobby pins, tooth picks and gum wrappers, but for those who do, there’s hope in the thrifting universe.
I’ve narrowed down the search for the best vintage bags to six types: those bags that frequently make it into circulation in my own wardrobe as well as my fave fashionistas’. And yes, guides are always nice when thrifting, but as I always say, never limit yourself too much when thrifting. Go with the flow. Buy what’s calling to you. If it’s not on your list, but it has a glow around it and a choir of angels singing in the background: grab it.
The classic bag that never goes out of style. Since the early 1900’s this bag has been a chic accessory that has stood the test of time due to it’s clean, simple silhouette. Over the years, we’ve seen it vary from shiny patent to soft leather, embossed snakeskin to beads galore, geometric print to subtle floral embroidery. No matter how it’s styled, it will always remain the staple bag.
From basket bags to woven leather totes, bags with basket weave come in all shapes and forms. They are ubiquitous in thrift stores ranging from sturdy petite picnic-basket styles (chic and classic) to colorful straw beach bags (festival-worthy boho). I always have a couple in my collection as the woven look fits in well with so many outfits.
The most classic-cool bag there is. The flap-and-buckle style denotes a utilitarian, messenger vibe making these bags ideal for everyday wear. Throw it on with jeans and a t-shirt or wear it with a dainty floral dress while out to lunch. These bags were huge in the 90’s, so you can find plenty in thrift stores that still have lots of life left. My brown leather 90’s Liz Claibourne satchel is my go-to bag.
The Beaded Mini
These lovely little bags can be found not only at thrift stores and yard sales but also at antique stores, and they can date back a few centuries! Any time I have a formal event to attend, I always turn to my trusty collection of little Victorian beaded purses. And it’s not a problem if they are old and fragile. You many only need to carry one once or twice a year.
The Graphic Canvas
I love finding quirky, graphic bags from the 70’s and 80’s. They’re definitely something for casual looks or to carry books in to school or beach gear to the shore. The perfect sister bag to your main one. All-purpose and fun!
Whether it’s the quilted leather chain bag, the all-weather leather dual-strap satchel or the monogrammed bag, thrift stores are filled to the brim with bags that are almost like the real thing- but upon closer inspection are not. Since you can never score these things on Ebay of Etsy (it’s just a wee bit illegal to sell ‘em.), one of the best places to find them will be on thrifting expeditions. Besides, sometimes it’s only the inside that looks different, so why not!
Runners Up: Lucite Handle Bag, Bowling Bag, Patchwork Bag, Mini Leather Wallet Bags
And if you see a bag that’s unique but almost too insane for your collection, buy it, wear it once and then donate it back so the next girl can do the same! Just don’t let it sit in that closet forever. There’s nothing sadder than a crazy-awesome vintage bag sitting in storage.
NOTE: All bags pictured were thrifted!
By Whitney S Williams
Photos by Whitney