A bag has the power to uplift, elevate, and pull together an outfit.
A few weeks ago, I was at a vintage sale when I saw an elegant older woman walk in—a typical off-duty and well-manicured New York lady. She wore a long Moncler puffer coat, sensible light-wash jeans, and simple Stan Smith sneakers. Her bag was fantastic, though unrecognizable. It wasn’t covered in a monogram nor a teensy logo (as far as I could see). It was black, square, and discreet. But this anonymous medium-size piece was of obviously stellar quality: Kevlar-thick leather, a sturdy shape, and over-the-shoulder practical. Upon a second glance—or rather, a squinted stare—I realized it was a Tod’s bag with a vintage veneer. It was almost nondescript, yet, it was the most impactful purse I’ve seen in quite some time.
A bag has the power to uplift, elevate, and pull together an outfit. It’s a status symbol, whether you’re an exec hauling a Louis Vuitton Neverfull, a fashion girl parading a Bottega Veneta lime green Cassette, or a vintage lover clutching the horn handle of a Yves Saint Laurent Mombasa. I often think of Mary-Kate Olsen who carries a trusty, well-worn, and recognizable Hermés Kelly bag. The visible everyday use combined with the knowledge of how much that bag must cost speaks volumes about Olsen and how she approaches fashion.
More powerful than these purses are the anonymous and well-made ones. A few years ago, I saw stylist Mellany Sanchez wearing a stellar shoulder bag fashioned out of deliciously rich camel leather with an unbreakable strap. On the front, there was a circular clasp in the shape of a panther, which I wasn’t familiar with. Turns out the piece was from Cartier, and, to be honest, I didn’t even realize they made bags. “I was looking for a perfect shoulder bag that was structured, compact, and easy,” she says. “It has been my go-to bag for three years, and I haven’t bought or replaced it with another.”
This kind of stellar piece is easy to find on resale platforms for a good price. A fantastic obsidian black leather tote from Tod’s with not one scratch followed by a killer turquoise suede shoulder bag with snakeskin embossed handles also from the Italian leather House are both on The RealReal. In another instance, I stumbled upon a vintage black leather Anne Klein tote with an avant-garde handle and hand-braided detailing on the seams. I also recall a square alligator-embossed red Henri Bendel clutch with an elegant gold shoulder chain.
Looking at new offerings, there’s Tory Burch’s killer shoulder bag titled the Small Marshmallow Satchel that boasts the most epic ’90s shape, a long waist-grazing strap, and a two-pocket interior. The unlabeled Banana Republic Vida bag has become a TikTok sensation, and it comes in rich brown and supple black leathers and suedes. The user @tannerleatherstein—a leathersmith who dissects and analyzes goods from Prada to Fossil—recently cut up Madewell’s attractive $168 Sydney shoulder bag, and praised the quality and craftsmanship of the piece.
Of course, an identifiable bag—whether it comes from a big name house or a buzzy label—has cultural cache. There’s nothing wrong with that. But the anonymous luxury bag is seductive with its unpretentious attention to quality. An It bag will elicit a compliment, but the anti-It bag is actually the ultimate conversation starter.
This article was originally published on Vogue.com