More For The Money - Bags That Don't Skimp On Style - une femme d'un certain âge

More For The Money – Bags That Don’t Skimp On Style

While many designers have returned this season to producing elegant, understated bags, it’s not necessary to pay designer prices to get a well-made, stylish bag that should last for several seasons.  Once you’ve found a few brands and styles you like, keep an eye out for sales or for retailer discounts for even better deals.
One of my favorite brands for leather bags is Cole Haan.  While not cheap per se, they deliver good value for the money.  In most cases, I’ve found the leather and workmanship to be very high quality, and the styling is often understated and classic. 
Of this season’s bags, the Heritage Jade bag is my favorite so far.  The woven leather, the classic shape, interior/exterior pockets and detachable cross-body strap all add up to an extremely attractive and
functional bag.  I particularly like this Loden color, but it’s also available in black, light brown, and aubergine.  $398 from Cole Haan.
Another Cole Haan bag that combines practicality with style is the Gramercy Archer Satchel, $298.  This one also features the crossbody strap and is available in several colors.
Though I find the styling hit-and-miss, Marc by Marc Jacobs bags offer nice leathers and good functionality at a decent price point. 

I’ve been quite impressed in recent seasons with some of the bags that J.Crew is offering up.  This Brompton Satchel, $298 has really lovely leather and styling, and the henna color below is gorgeous and perfect for fall. 
I’ve rarely seen leather bags under $200 retail that are worth spit, but I’ve found at least one exception this season.
This Talbots leather satchel at $179 has the look of a much more expensive bag.   The leather has a nice even finish, and it seems to be sturdy and well made.  This bag could easily handle work-to-evening wear.  (Une femme loves bags that do double-duty!) is always worth checking, though their merchandise tends to be limited and popular pieces go quickly.  I found several Furla bags (normally retailing in the $500-800 range) at substantial markdowns. 
And finally, the bag that took Paris by storm a few years back, and is still one of my favorites, the “24 Heures” bag by Gerard Darel.  I have two of these that I’ve used regularly for several seasons, and they still look great and are holding up brilliantly.
When shopping for leather bags at a lower price point, some things to consider:
  • Leather should be of even texture and thickness.  Leather on less structured bags should be soft and pliable.  Leather that is stiff or feels papery or dry will probably not wear well.
  • Croc or ostrich embossed leathers on bags at lower price points often look cheap. Same with snakeskin prints. YMMV.
  • Hardware should be solid.  Clips and O-rings should close completely. Shiny coated hardware can chip or tarnish with wear; solid nickel or brass hardware in a brushed finish is often a better bet.
  • Check stitching.  Loose stiches or ends are an indication that the bag may not hold up to serious wear.
  • Put what you normally carry in the bag and see how it fits and feels.  Is the bag easy to get in and out of?  Does it feel comfortable on the arm or shoulder? 
  • When shopping on discount websites such as or it’s a good idea to stick to brands you know and trust.  Also, make sure that the e-tailer has a generous return policy.
Do you have any favorite sources for inexpensive leather bags?  Do wear your bags for multiple seasons, or do you replace more often?
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  1. September 23, 2010 / 11:57 am

    I’m not a person who buys a llot of bags. However, I fell in love with and have bought myself several bags from Longchamp over the years. I find them to be very well-made and stylish (in a way that is classic, so good for long-term usage). I’ve got their Rosine mid-sized bag in red, black, and coffee-brown: I find it goes with everything, both casual and dressy. This season, they have it in a silver–which really gets me!

  2. September 23, 2010 / 12:22 pm

    I agree that Talbots bags are great, especially at the price. I have several of them. I’ve also found some nice bags at TJ Maxx. Even at outlet prices, not inexpensive but great quality. I tend to rotate bags so they stay nice for several seasons.

  3. September 23, 2010 / 1:37 pm

    I deeply admire your Darel bag, the colour so subtle and interesting. I’d buy the J. Crew. Big logo on MJ bag a turnoff for me, as is any lower priced ‘homage’ of a bag like the Kelly. Your tips for assessing a bag are great. I need at least one outside pocket for subway pass, plane tickets etc. (We’re thinking alike. Next week, I’m posting on lightweight bags.)

  4. September 23, 2010 / 2:44 pm

    I LOVE bags…your Darel bag looks great, no wonder that you have 2!
    I do use my bags for years but can be wooed into buying a new one every year…never spending over $500…unless of course I get a windfall and I will go straight to a Chanel shop!

  5. September 23, 2010 / 5:36 pm

    I have proven myself, over the years, completely incapable of buying lower-priced purses. So I buy a new one every 5-10 years instead:).

  6. September 23, 2010 / 6:14 pm

    Miss J believes a bag should last for years and years. She doesn’t care about a name brand as much as she does about knowing a bag will last. And if one pays attention, one can tell.

  7. September 23, 2010 / 8:12 pm

    I like Cole-Haan, also. I wonder if the Desert Hills Outlets will have either of these styles?
    I also like a small California company, Roche Leather Company. Their handbags are completely without logos, which pleases me, and very good quality for the money.

  8. September 23, 2010 / 8:36 pm

    I have to say I loved Cole Haan bags when I visited USA last year as did Mr SE who bought a gorgeous supple leather bag for his computer… Great selection of bags for us Deja in this post – thank you. x

  9. September 23, 2010 / 9:54 pm

    These bags are lovely – good quality and good looks, just about all of them would work for me.
    I generally just have one bag for winter and one for summer, and use them for at least a couple of years. I’ve been using a well made Canadian bag, but it’s looking a little worn on the corners so I’ll be thinking about a replacement this year.

    Having said that, I just bought an inexpensive bag recently with a kind of ‘animal’ print look, and now I’m wondering if it looks cheap. I’ve posted it on my blog and I’d love your opinion.

  10. metscan
    September 23, 2010 / 3:35 pm

    You shared great tips for bag buyers! I´d only add that the bag must feel good and be proportioned for you to tote. I agree that it is safe to stick to one or two labels, labels, which you trust. Choosing something classic is also a good choice.

  11. September 24, 2010 / 3:24 am

    Oh, those bags are tempting — I’d add the Cole-Haan Gramercy satchel to my wardrobe in a heartbeat if I had the dosh.

    My “problem” is that I never really manage to get out of a black bag (or black shoes, mostly). I have lots and lots of shoes and bags, for both summer and winter. I keep thinking I’m going to go for an aubergine bag, but I never quite manage…

  12. September 24, 2010 / 10:59 am

    I have several Cole Haan bags and have found them to wear very very well. My black Cole Haan is going on three years now–and I still feel very spiffy when I carry it.

    In the past, I have found very nice leather bags at Banana Republic. I have a large brown leather tote from Banana Republic which still looks great after several years. While I don’t carry it as a everyday bad very often now, it will be a good leather tote forever. That makes it a very good buy.

    Thanks for the tips on how to buy quality.

  13. La Belette Rouge
    September 24, 2010 / 4:14 am

    The Brompton has been calling my name. However I just bought a new Michael Kors bag so my bag money is out of the bag, so to speak.;-)

  14. September 24, 2010 / 2:20 pm

    I’ve discovered that Fossil’s leather bags are also very high quality at a reasonable price point. The leather is very supple and smells wonderful, the hardware is solid, and there are no tacky logos. I am utterly in love with the black bag I bought this fall for about $150. It looks much more pricey and is great for everyday.

  15. September 26, 2010 / 1:46 pm

    I’m a bit behind on responding to comments, my apologies for that. I do read everyone’s comments daily and very much appreciate them!

    Pearl – yes, Longchamp have done some very nice bags in recent years. I’m not familiar with the Rosine bag but will go look it up.

    NancyDaQ – yes, I’ve even seen Cole Haan bags at our local TJ Maxx. If you go regularly there are some great finds, but I think the good stuff goes fast.

    Duchesse – I really love my Darel bag, and keep going back to it. I’m with you on the outside pockets, but they’re harder to find right now.

    hostess – if you’re serious about looking for a Chanel bag, you should also check out online consignment stores like Fashionphile and Ann’s Fabulous Finds. While not inexpensive there, you’ll pay less than retail, especially since Chanel seems to introduce price increases every few months!

  16. September 26, 2010 / 1:53 pm

    metscan – I’ve really been inspired by your well-honed bag collection!

    LPC – that’s a perfectly good way to approach it as well. Your bag is gorgeous and such a classic design that it won’t look dated.

    Miss Janey – that’s so true. These are just a few examples I was able to find online, but careful brick-and-mortar shoppers can probably find tons more.

    SewingLibrarian – I’d bet the outlet will have these bags in a few months. I don’t think they generally get the new stock, but I could be wrong. I’ll check out the Roche bags.

    Semi Expat – thanks! I think when Cole Haan sticks with what they do best, good leather and classic designs, they really deliver.

    Northmoon – as I commented on your blog, I think the animal print you chose is abstract enough that it doesn’t look “imitation.” It’s a really nice color too, and I think you’ll get a lot of use from it.

  17. September 26, 2010 / 2:05 pm

    Rubiatonta – one of the things I like about bags in colors like aubergine or olive green, or even a deep espresso brown is that they work well with black.

    LBR – Michael Kors has been doing some nice bags lately. I’ll look forward to seeing it.

    Susan – I’ve seen some BR bags in the past that were quite nice. They did a version of the dome bag a few years ago that was really gorgeous.

    caffelatte – when I was out yesterday I made a point to look at the Fossil bags and you’re right. Especially those in the “vintage” line have some really great leather and styling.

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