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6.8.2022

VINTAGE CHANEL HANDBAG BUYING GUIDE

One of the questions I get asked the most about the world of vintage is how to source a vintage Chanel handbag!

Since they are a rather big investment and continue to go up in price each season, I thought it would be helpful to share everything that I’ve learned over the years sourcing for Sweet & Spark. Many of the pieces in our collection came from private sellers and direct relationships with vendors but we also sourced a lot from eBay and many online websites including Rebag, One Kings Lane, Fashionphile, Etsy, Farfetch, Tradsey, Poshmark, Vestiaire Collective and The Real Real.

I’ve found that many people are worried about the quality and authenticity of shopping for luxury vintage online but with a few tips and tricks, I promise that you too can build the confidence to invest in making a big purchase online. The great news about large marketplaces like eBay and Etsy is that seller reputations are highly valuable so vendors typically take your questions and concerns seriously and if things ever do escalate, eBay and Etsy will step in and help mitigate disputes. And in my experience, they typically lean in a favor of protecting the best interests of the buyer. 

STYLE & SIZE

In this post, I’m focusing on tips for how to purchase Chanel Bags from the 1980s & 1990s (and in a few cases, the early 2000s) because those are the decades that are distinctly different from both the older and newer decades. When most people think of vintage Chanel handbags, what comes to mind is the iconic dreamy yellow gold hardware on the chain strap and interlocking cc clasp as well as, the buttery softness of the lambskin quilted leather. 

The reason behind the rich yellowy gold color of the signature hardware was because Chanel only offered 24kt gold plated finish on their handbag hardware and jewelry collections in the 1980s and 1990s. The high gold count in the plating is why it’s so deep in color and wears so well over time. Sadly, the 24kt gold plating was discontinued on their hardware and jewelry in the early 2000s and the hardware on newer bags tends to tarnish a bit more quickly with wear these days. You can tell if a bag has 24kt gold hardware by the rich yellow color of the plating and also there is a little indented marking on the CC at the turnlock. 

Back when we had Sweet & Spark, a lot of customers would inquire about caviar leather handbags with 24kt gold plated hardware, which unfortunately is a very rare combination because there was only a season or two when they introduced caviar leather (bumpier in texture and therefore slightly more durable) in the late 1990s/early 2000s before discontinuing the 24kt gold plated hardware. 

When I think of iconic 1980s & 1990s Chanel handbags, a few different quilted flap styles and sizes come to mind. The popularity of the style and the quality is what will determine the price. Black is the most sought after color and therefore has little elasticity with pricing. The Chanel navy color standard is pretty dark but not nearly as popular, so sometimes you can get a break on price if you’re open to navy. It can be hard to visually distinguish between black and navy online so make sure to closely read the listing before making your purchase! 

As for fashion colors (red, pink, beige, browns, etc.), there are far less of these bags available in the classic flap silhouettes and therefore will usually be more expensive than black. Since luxury goods, especially Chanel, hold their value, there will always be a general market price to shop look within. Anything too far outside of that range should be questioned thoroughly. 

One last thing to note is that between the 1980s and 1990s there were small variations to sizes and details with most noticeably to me being that the older 1980s styles sometimes had chunkier seams along the edges of the front flap and corners. While that doesn’t seem to have a big influence on price, I personally prefer the cleaner lines of the 1990s styles (which most of the bags I’ve featured in my round-up are from)! There’s a great resource on Yoogi’s Closet for dating Chanel Handbags for your reference here.

Chanel Small Square Flap Bag

This is my favorite style because unlike some of the other classic flap bag styles, it has a longer strap (20″) and can be worn as a crossbody. This style came in two different sizes. The smaller measures 6.5″W x 5″ L x 3″W and the larger is 8″W x 6″L x 3″W. The going price range for these styles in good condition (minimal imperfections) is between $3,500- $5,000. 

Chanel Full Flap Rectangular Bag

This classic style often can be one of the most affordable. Keep a close eye on the sizes here because some have 17″ straps while others have 20″. The 17″ length can usually only be worn as a shoulder bag but not necessarily as a crossbody. This style measures 9″W x 5.5″L with varying widths between 1- 2.5″W. The going price range for these styles in good condition (minimal imperfections) is between $2,400- $3,500.

Chanel Double Flap Bag

This is the most iconic Chanel handbag style and therefore there is very minimal price variance. Keep a close eye on the sizes here because there is some variation in the width and height. This style measures between 8.5-10″W x 5.5-6″ L x 2.5″W. The going price range for these styles in good condition (minimal imperfections) is between $4,500- $5,500. 

Chanel Jumbo Flap Bag

This style screams 1990s ultimate workbag to me! And believe it or not, they can often fit a small laptop. This style came in two different sizes. The smaller of the two measures 11.5″W x 8.5″ L x 3″W and the larger is 13″W x 9″L x 4″W. The going price range for these styles in good condition (minimal imperfections) is between $5,000- $6,000. From my research, there doesn’t appear to be much difference in price between the two sizes.

AUTHENTICITY

Since authenticity seems to be the place where people struggle the most with trust, we’ll spend a lot of time here discussing what to look for! If you’re new to shopping luxury vintage online, I actually recommend shopping on eBay because the sellers typically provide a lot of detailed information compared to other sites like Rebag, Fashionphile, Poshmark and The Real Real where the descriptions and range of photos tend to be more limited. I’ve also found, particularly with The Real Real, that there is a lot of variation in quality left up for interpretation through a limited amount of information.

While eBay recently rolled out their own authenticity guarantee program, depending on your confidence, it’s not something I think you necessarily need proof of from eBay in order to make a smart investment! Okay, let’s start with the best keywords to search for. I like to do searches for both “Chanel handbags” and vintage Chanel handbags” as I’ve found that not all vendors include the word vintage in the product descriptions. These are a few of the sellers I’ve repeatedly purchased from in the past and trust- Brand JFA, Rebag and Boom2Hanten.

I absolutely adore the eBay app, I find it so user friendly and you can easily save your favorite searches and even set alerts for when new products are added that match your desired keywords. I usually like to purchase from listings that are buy it now because I’ve found that bidding for luxury bags in particular is very competitive and if you win, you usually only save a few hundred dollars. However good to note, there are apps out there that you can pay for to have them do automatic bidding for you so that you don’t have to be available at the exact time an auction is ending. In the past, I’ve used an app called Auction Bid Sniper for eBay. You have to pay for credits to use the app but it’s worth it if you are a serious shopper!

Once I’ve found something that I like, I first check the sellers reviews and carefully read over the description of the bag (don’t forget to double check the color). Many sellers are international and have some of the best selections and quality. In my experience, many of the best cared for pieces come from Japan and are in even better condition than I expected from the photographs. Sellers that are experienced and authentic will take the time to fully disclose all of the signature details and markings of their handbags. Another thing I check before purchasing is how many sales that seller has under their belt. If it’s under a 50 and the photos or description are questionable, I always err on the side of caution and skip it! And /or it never hurts to reach out to the seller with any specific questions you may have to clarify details. Sometimes I find myself requesting additional photos if I need that to help boost my confidence about the quality of the bag. One other thing to clarify before purchasing from an international seller is who will be responsible for the cost of import duties. Due to the high cost of a bag, this can add about $200- $300 to your purchase at the time of delivery. You’ll want to make sure you’re clear about this upfront so as not to be surprised when Fedex or DHL holds your shipment until you pay for the duties & fees! 

Lastly, before making the final purchase, you’ll want to check the photos provided to make sure there is a serial code in the bag. For privacy reasons, many sellers don’t like to reveal the full code so it’s okay if it’s not fully disclosed!  Some bags will come with their original authentication card and/or box but that is also not the norm for bags from these decades and should not affect the resale value at all. Other signature markings you want to confirm is that there is a Chanel stamp inside the bag with a the little r, otherwise know as the registered trademark sign. Yoogi’s Closet has another great post with general information on Chanel handbags here to help you verify signature details and markings.

QUALITY

The quality is all up to your personal preferences but it will significantly affect the price, and therefore resale value, more than anything. I highly recommend you carefully check the front and back panels of the bag for any significant scratches or nicks in the leather that take away from the beauty of the bag.  Any small nicks and scratches, especially around the corners, will be considered normal given the age but anything that is outside of normal wear and tear (and visibly takes away from the beauty of the bag) could devalue the bag by 10-30%. The inside of the bag is a bit more up to your discretion and you can probably save a hundred dollars or so if you don’t mind a little additional wear. Additionally if the bag hasn’t been stored properly in a structured box, you will notice its shape may be creased, dented or sagging. You’ll also want to be careful with any discoloration on lighter leather or fabrics. 

Although the 24kt gold plated hardware is very durable and ages well, you will want to check the chain strap and front interlocking cc for any tarnish. The hardware from these decades should age evenly, anything that has a lot of variation has likely been overused. Sometimes the turnlock can age more quickly than the strap due to over usage of opening and closing the bag. And/or vice versa if the strap wasn’t properly stored inside of the bag.

I hope this post helps boost your confidence shopping for luxury online! I find it so empowering and exciting to shop on eBay because the inventory changes over so rapidly, there are always new listings to drool over! If you ever need an extra set of eyes before making a big purchase, feel free to DM on Instagram or shoot me an email and I’d be happy to shed some advice for you. Also, if I missed any big questions you may have let me know and I can add them to this post. This will be a good one to bookmark!

And I will leave you with a few other vintage Chanel fun facts and finds. Below are some round-ups of less popular bags that are more affordable, around the $2,000- $3,500 range followed by a round up of more rare and highly covered bags pushing the higher end of the collectors range between $5,000- $15,000! Lastly followed by some other iconic quilted styles from the 1980s and 1990s should you be interested in going for a more of a twist on a classic.

LESS POPULAR STYLES

HIGHLY COLLECTABLE STYLES

OTHER QUILTED HERITAGE STYLES