Knowing Your Limits

Another Birkin? Did she sell a kidney?”

Une femme was having brunch with a friend yesterday, when the subject of mutual acquaintance’s expanding Birkin collection came up. This inevitably led to the price discussion, and how much was too much to spend, even for the supposed Holy Grail of bags or any other single item. Even though I probably could save up for an Hermès bag, (though I tend to prefer the Bolide) I just can’t bring myself to spend five, six, seven thousand or more for a bag. I love good handbags and I love good craftsmanship, but I Just. Can’t. Do. It.

Reading some fashion blogs, one marvels at a writer’s “dozens” of Hermès bags or Chanel jackets, or even couture gowns. Do some of these women have an oil well in their name? It can be disorienting to spend too much time reading websites like that, or even browsing the “Designers” forums at The Purse Forum. It can start to skew your idea of what “normal” spending is.

What is the upper limit you’ll spend on any one item? Do you have different limits for different items? (I’ll spend much more on good, classic accessories than I’ve ever been able to bring myself to spend on a single item of clothing, geau figure.) Is there any single Holy Grail item that you’d spend whatever you had to to acquire? The Comments Lounge is open for discussion.

Update: We haven’t done a poll in a while, so I’ve added one over to the right on this topic.

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  1. Wrestled with H. bag lust for last decade: spend more than my son’s annual college tuition on a handbag? Am still recovering; here is what I did:
    1. Bought a “Fakin'” as an experiment. A decent Birkin replica to see if I liked carrying a 35 cmbag. Found out it’s essentially a briefcase, and really heavy with stuff in it. Now sits on a shelf as a storage box.
    2. Then bought a Bolide style at made by Bree, one of their classics, a good quality bag, has worn like iron.
    So this has reduced my lust to a low flame.

    A good friend worked at Hermes; her advice: buy a 35cm Kelly (for which you can get a shoulder strap)- way less costly than Birkin and more functional. I’d still do this if I could handle the self-censure for spending this much.

  2. Even Kelly’s are now $6-7K and up. I actually like the Kelly style best, but couldn’t see myself wrestling with those straps to get in and out of the bag. That’s why I gravitated toward the Bolide style. But it’s all academic at those prices.

  3. My problem is that I have these artificial limits on how much I will spend for certain items – ridiculous dollar amounts that have nothing to do with quality of construction, design or anything else. For example, I can’t bring myself to pay more than $50 on a pair of shoes. No matter how good; no matter what the color or construction. Fifty dollars. No more. I don’t wear suits anymore because it is not required where I work, but when I did, I couldn’t bring myself to spend more than $125 on a wool, lined suit. That. was. it. I also never could convince myself that with the cost of materials and buttons and labor, a good wool coat was worth paying $200+ for. Totally crazy, considering that really good coating costs $35-50 a yard, plus there are linings and interlinings and shoulder pads and buttons (and a zipper if you are looking at a really good lined raincoat that you can wear year round and take the lining out for spring, summer and fall). But $200 is this psychological limit. With bags, because i don’t look for “name”, I’m just looking for the best quality leather and construction in a basic color. If I had $6000 to invest in something, it would not be a hand bag. With the economy looking the way it does for the indefinite future, I don’t think investing in that would be wise – I’d be more inclined to put that $6K into new energy efficient doors, windows and insulation.

  4. I’d have to say that I probably would not spend more than $300 on a bag or item of clothing (with the exception of a coat). Most of my things are far less than that – and I’ve just realized that I have a few Hermes scarves which are slightly more and were special gifts.
    I suppose if I had millions and could buy a Birkin with the same thoughtfulness and consideration that I’d spend $300, I’d do it.
    I believe if one can afford them (all relative I suppose) one should have beautiful objects. But, if you do, you’d better be writing a check for the six or seven or ten thousand to a charity too.

  5. I’ve got a $600 handbag, a $500 jacket and 2 pairs of $300 boots. They are the most expensive things in my wardrobe, except for my wedding gown (12 years old now!)
    Those items were complete splurges that I don’t plan to redo. However, all 4 items make me incredibly happy and feel fabulous whenever I wear them.

  6. Toby, are you shopping at consignment stores? (Adore them!) Have you ever had this happen: you spend waaay above your limit, giving yourself the ‘cost per wear’/’it’s quality’ pep talk and then the thing hangs in the closet because you are intimidated by it? I bought a few Hermes pieces (on sale) like that. 20+ years ago I would eat oatmeal to pay $600 for an Armani silk blouse, not anymore!
    The things that have given me the most pleasure for the cost are my pieces of vintage jewelery and Hermes scarves.

    Also I’ll spend hundreds on good shoes (Arche) because I work on my feet- and b/c the colours are luscious.

  7. I can’t even check off the bottom category on your poll. Once a piece of clothing reaches the hundreds of dollars level I reframe it to “art” – merchandizing, specialized market, novel ideas, technique and execution, sometimes buzz. And I’m not in the art collecting market.


  8. Hmmm … I once spent $800 on a leather coat … and $350 on a leather jacket … and just shelled out $250 for a pair of sneakers (my orthopedist swears they’ll help with my bad knee pain) … I don’t know if I’ve ever really set limits. It’s always just been about how much money I have when the shopping wants doing. I’ve spent a lot on fountain pens, and I really think I’d pay any price for a custom made underwire bra! (oh, just the idea of a high-quality, made-just-for-me bra … [sigh]

  9. Dejpseu: On the puzzle of ‘how on earth does one fund an expanding Birkin collection’, may I recommend, if not already seen, a most unlikely Merchant-Ivory film Le Divorce featuring Naomi Watts, Kate Hudson and Glenn Close? You will see an interesting explanation for a woman coming into a Birkin bag (or more than one)!

    The film incidentally also exposed the Anglophone world to the current Mme Sarkozy’s singing talent because the film features one of her songs Quel qu’un m’a dit from an eponymous album. As you can guess, it is set in Paris and yes, involves an American girl and her family from LA. 🙂

  10. Shefaly – I’ve seen it, and read the book (which is a fun read that gets into a lot of the cultural differences between American and French women). Actually the bag in the movie and book is a Kelly, not a Birkin, but yes I imagnine that some of these women with multiple H bags have some wealthy and generous men in their lives. That movie implanted in me the lust for a red Kelly, but unless I inherit one, it’s probably not to be.

  11. Dejapseu: But of course, it was a Kelly! It is available in the Hermes store in the film which is highly unlikely for a Birkin 🙂 I was merely extending the possible explanation to cover the Birkin.

    My interest in both these bags is diminished by the minor consideration that a bag that could contain me on a good day is an unlikely candidate for my own shoulders 😉 So I limit my interest in Hermes to scarves, perfumes, jewellery and (some) clothes.

  12. To anonymous 8.52, it sounds like you make really well thought out and considered purchases, I wish I was like that! Duchesse, that’s exactly what happens to me, I buy something expensive and then am totally intimidated by it – my clothes are far more glamorous than I am.
    Back to the bag, it is a beautiful bag – on the outside only. There is no thought or design to the interior and its akward to use – does that have a whiff of pyschology 101 pertinent to its users?

  13. There are always limits but I never skimp on lingerie. I’ve been known to spend more than 250.00 for a bra with matching undies (I always match, it’s my thing) but the bras fit perfectly and look gorgeous and, as I’m not flat-chested, I feel that this is a relevant expenditure. After all, what price beautiful, comfortable, well-fitting design. It makes everything else I wear look better.

  14. I have several “repkins,” or non-indicia Birkin replicas that have become my everyday bags. If I had $6K right now, it goes into my IRA/retirement fund.

    As for high-end spending, the most expensive item I’ve ever bought is a pair of Manolo Blahnik Carolyne 50cm black slingbacks.

    I had to bite the bullet and put down the $525 for them because I just wasn’t finding my size, which is a 40.5 or 41, at consigners. Later this year, I plan to buy a camel pair of the 50cm Carolynes.

    Next year, I’ll do navy. Those are the only three colors in that heel height. I haven’t tried on the 70cms.