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When Does a Handbag Become Vintage?

Line of handbags on a white background

When you go searching for buried treasure in a thrift shop or dig through someone’s old things in an attic, you could make some truly amazing accessory finds. But there’s a problem. When you find something old, like a handbag, you might not know if it’s an antique, if it’s vintage or if i’s just retro. What does it mean for a bag to be vintage, how can you find that out and does it make it more or less valuable overall? There are actually some rules when it comes to defining vintage fashion and there are some vintage handbags that are more valuable than the brand-new designer bags you can purchase today. It’s time to learn exactly when does a handbag becomes vintage and what, exactly, that means for you and your fashion.

What is Vintage?

The word “vintage” is often used as a bit of a catchall for all fashion that is less than new. If it’s been worn before, if it didn’t come out last year, then it’s vintage. Right?

Vintage bag with contents spilled out

No. Actually, that word “vintage” has a very specific meaning in fashion, though it isn’t always used the right way. Sometimes, anything used is marketed as vintage when actually, it might not fit the true definition of vintage.

When an item is truly vintage, it is at least 20 years older than the current date. However, it is not more than 100 years old from the current date. Once a piece of fashion is more than a century old, it is antique.

And anything that’s newer than 20 years old but not new-new? That’s retro.

According to the hard definition of vintage fashion, this is any item of clothing that is 20 to 99 years old from the day’s current date. Every year, some pieces of fashion become vintage while vintage pieces become antiques. And every year, the items in your closet become retro because technically, they are no longer the latest and current fashion.

Things in the fashion world have always moved kind of quickly. But now that you know the true definition of vintage fashion, learn how to find it, what it is worth and why vintage is even a thing that people want, anyway.

Vintage Style

Because the look of vintage fashion is so trendy, many designers are creating “vintage style” looks that either use old patterns or that are based upon old patterns, but these “vintage style” items are actually new. They are made to look like vintage fashions in order to take advantage of the trend. If only the look is important to you and you don’t need authentic vintage fashion, this can be a great way to find all the vintage looks you want. Some online stores specialize in carrying vintage style items that are new.

Holding a bag standing outside

However, these items do not have the value that is associated with vintage fashion. Vintage handbags can actually be quite valuable, particularly if they are styles that were extremely trendy or if they were made by designers who are considered to be iconic. A Chanel bag from the 1940s, for example, has a lot of value. You can always resell this bag and get money for it. Vintage handbags can be a great investment, items that get more valuable as the years go by.

Remember, though, that fashion goes in cycles. What is popular today may be out tomorrow. The vintage craze would die down and vintage could become outdated again as people embrace new styles. This could make the resell value of vintage bags go down. Markets fluctuate.

You may choose to invest in vintage style, rather than true vintage fashion, because it can be more affordable than true vintage items. It’s also new. Some people don’t like vintage because they don’t like used items. This way, you can get the look you want while still enjoying new items.

How to Spot Fakes

Vintage handbags are popular. Like, super popular. Everyone wants an amazing vintage bag and some women even go to extremes to make their newer bags look vintage. Some women pay hundreds of dollars on a new designer bag and then go rub dirt and grass and leaves on them to make them look more vintage and worn!

Riding a bike wearing a vintage purse

Yes, it’s a very hot look. Vintage fashion has a certain sophistication. It gets you a lot of style points. All the hot celebs and style leaders pose for pictures of themselves on social media with their vintage clothing and bags. It’s extremely “in” to have older styles.

The popularity of vintage bags is exactly why there’s an enormous market out there for fake vintage bags. There are so many fakes out there, you need to be wary of what you’re buying. Know how to spot fakes so that you don’t get taken for a ride.

Examine the bag closely. If you are buying designer vintage fashion, there are several things you should look at. First, examine all brand logos. If anything about them looks in any way “off,” from the size to the color to the font, you are more than likely holding a fake. Designers are quite particular about their logos. You should also examine the inside of the bag. Most designer handbags have a serial number printed on them somewhere, usually on the inner lining. Designer handbags are an investment, after all, so serial numbers are included to validate their authenticity.

You can also look at the details of the bag. A true designer handbag will be perfectly made. The stitches will be straight and small. The materials will be of high quality. The bag will be well-made overall. No detail will be poorly done or badly made. Touch the metal and the fabric. It should feel smooth and strong and have a little weight to it. If you touch what looks like metal and it feels like plastic, trust your feeling and not your eyes.

There is no sin in buying fake designer items or fake vintage designer items, so long as you know that’s what you’re buying and you’re paying a price that matches what you’re buying. If someone is marketing a fake as the genuine article and charging a price for it as if it was actual designer fashion, this is dishonest and unethical. Do not pay a designer price for something that is a fake and report any unscrupulous sellers through companies like the BBB and Consumer Watch.

Vintage Bags to Look For

You should always allow your own taste and your own personal style to guide you when you’re shopping for handbags, of course…but there are some vintage styles that are highly trendy and therefore, highly valuable. Knowing what’s trending in vintage handbags can help you keep an eye out for those really great finds that are going to be more valuable because of their popularity.


Bag Purse Making Metal Frame Kiss Clasp Lock for Purse Making DIY Craft- Rectangle Resin Beads for Leather Bag Clip (3.15"x1.96") 6Pcs

Handbags made with metal frames are definitely nothing new on the scene, as they’ve been around for a long, long time. But if you can find one with a metal frame that’s covered with beads and/or gems, take a closer look. Bejeweled frames were a popular purse and handbag look in past eras and these designs can be extremely valuable today, even when the so-called gems are simple glass. It’s all about the look of the fashion and not the value of the jewels. These handbags tend to wear out where the frame and the fabric join, so it can be difficult to find them in good condition. If you find one that is, this is a valuable find with a good resell value.


Jessica McClintock Trina Mesh Clutch, Silver

Vintage mesh purses are particularly beloved. These purses were very popular in the late 1800s and the style continued to be made for many years, so decades of style have been captured in mesh. Gold-colored mesh is particularly trendy among fashion hunters. Keep an eye out for any sort of vintage mesh style purse and you could end up with a great investment on your hands. It’s easy to see why this look is so popular even now. The mesh looks timeless and elegant and it really does go with everything. It makes for a super stylish handbag.


Women Clear Purse Acrylic Clear Clutch Bag, Shoulder Handbag With Removable Gold Chain Strap (Gold)

Normally, plastic doesn’t have a ton of value. First of all, it’s pretty inexpensive to make. It’s also everywhere. If you had to count all the items in your home that use plastic, you’d like never even finish. But if you see a handbag made out of plastic for sale, go give it a closer look.

In the 1950s and 1960s, lucite handbags were all the rage. These clear handbags were everywhere and they were in the hands of all the most stylish dames of the day. If you can find a true lucite handbag from this era, you might find yourself with a really valuable piece of vintage fashion.


Telephone Cord, Phone Cord,Handset Cord, Black, 2 Pack, Universally Compatible

If you can find a telephone handbag, you will get yourself an amazing vintage accessory. These handbags were en vogue for a relatively short period of time during WWII, which took place in the 1930s and 1940s. Leather rationing in the U.S. made it hard to find leather handbags of any kind. Those that were made were prohibitively expensive.

Creative designers began making handbags out of telephone cords. These curly cords have a distinct look that creates a truly unique style of handbag that is easy to spot. If you spot one, grab it and take a close look. An authentic telephone purse is worth far more now than it was back in those days. It’s also a really cool look and it truly captures an era that has passed.

Isn’t Vintage Just…Used?

Wait a minute. Isn’t vintage clothing really just old clothing that was given away because it’s out of style, out of date and used?

Pretty much, yes. Once upon a time, if you can even imagine such a thing, vintage fashion wasn’t really a thing. No one wanted to wear someone’s old clothing. It was actually quite unappealing, before the 1960s, to wear something out-of-date and used as if it were new. Secondhand clothing wasn’t cool. It was for people who couldn’t afford to dress stylishly.

Those who could afford fashion wore new styles, the latest trends and the hottest looks. And back then, none of those looks were vintage, old-fashioned or styled to look like something from the past. Fashion was about what’s new, what’s next, not the looks of the past.

And then, a bunch of kids in England changed all of that. It was right around the year 1965 and for some reason, the young people of London decided to embrace used clothing and out-of-date fashions are their own cool, stylish looks. The trend very quickly appeared in New York City as well.

On the other side of the U.S. in San Francisco, young people started to wear items made of velvet and lace. Women wore long dresses, the kind once worn by their grandmothers in the 1910s.

Just like that, vintage fashion was born. Now, it’s quite trendy to wear the stuff your grandparents might have worn. Vintage fashion has become a truly stylish option…and expensive.

Where to Find Vintage Handbags

If you want to get vintage fashion of your own, you could pay a lot for it. Because vintage items are so popular, especially handbags, it isn’t always easy to find quality vintage pieces that are affordable. Scour thrift shops, yard sales, rummage sales and any place where you can find secondhand items. You may find rare gems here. You can also look online, though often online sellers know that their vintage fashion is valuable and they will charge accordingly for it. Search, save up and keep your eyes open for that rare vintage find.

There are many ways to get vintage fashion. You can also get something that you like right now and wait 20 years. After all, handbags are an investment. Sometimes, that means investing time in order to get exactly what you want!


Atlas Obscura – How ‘Used Clothing’ Became ‘Vintage Fashion’

The Facts Shop – Differences Between Retro & Vintage Clothing

Harper’s Bazaar – How to Shop for Vintage Bags

Love to Know – Which Vintage Purses Are Worth Serious Money?