If you think about it, few things you own are held as close to you as your handbag. It carries your keys, your cash, your wallet, your phone, your daytimer and all the prized possessions you can't bear to leave the house without. You use it more often than your watch and you wear it with everything. When you're in the car, it sits on the seat beside you, and when you're in a shop or a restaurant, you don't let it out of your sight for a second. And no matter how many spin classes you miss, your bag always fits.
Is it any wonder that some women are willing to spend more on a handbag than the price of their first car?
In the world of investments and finance, there is a term for high-ticket pieces such as oil paintings, coin collections, Faberge eggs, 18th century French Bordeaux, Louis Vuitton luggage or HermÃ¨s Birkin bags. They are called "alternative assets".
Unlike shoes or winter coats, well cared-for handbags have a relatively high resale value. Once you tack "vintage" onto it - for handbags 20 years old or more - you can even sell for a premium. Many women use auction sites to sell investment handbags, with prices close to retail and sometimes more for hard-to-find or sold-out styles.
Not that you could bear to be separated from your bag. But it's always good to know there's a market.
So how do you identify a wise investment handbag from a costly mistake?
- Choose carefully. Review all the options and comparison shop. This is not a decision to make on impulse. You want this bag to be your best friend, right beside you, through thick and thin, forever. Maybe even pass it on to your granddaughter one day. (The least your granny could've done was left you a little Chanel 2.55, no?)
- Craftsmanship counts. Speaking of granny, you know that blender she received as a wedding gift in 1937 and still uses today? That's the kind of longevity we are looking for. A bag worthy of an investment equal to a year of tuition at university, is one that the designer invested extra time and extra care in creating. Look for finishing with fine details, hand weaving, solid hardware and stitching that is meant to last. The details inside the bag should be every bit as refined and beautiful as the outside.
- Lock up your inner vegetarian. Sorry to say, but canvas and fabric bags will never be long-term investments. They fade, rip and wear in ways that are not easily repairable. Leather on the other hand, develops a wonderful patina over time. Crocodile, alligator, snakeskin, calfskin, pony and other animal skins are durable, easy to weather-proof and the more exotic they are, the more valuable.
- Think classic, not trendy. Don't even look at the new styles that came out this year. "It" bags are not the same as "Investment bags". Forget about what the kids are wearing this spring and think like Jacqueline Onassis and Princess Grace, both of whom carried the iconic HermÃ¨s Kelly bags that have never gone out of style.
- Neutralize your palette. Some brands, such as Balenciaga, will sell hot colours of an 'it" bag for a short period of time, and then discontinue them so as to make them more rare. This means that a savvy shopper who picks up a clutch in hard-to-find eggplant can make a quick sell on eBay or Craigslist for possibly more than she paid. We call this speculating. When you invest for the long-term, you look for classic camels and browns, basic blacks and natural animal skins.
- Think big. Big name, that is. When choosing a handbag that will appreciate over time, big-name labels do mean something. Select a brand that has stood the test of time, such as HermÃ¨s (Euronext: RMS), Gucci (Euronext: PP), Louis Vuitton (Euronext: MC) or Chanel. These companies have staked their reputation on creating luxury items that become heirloom pieces. Not only can you be assured of a quality product, you will have the benefit of committing to a designer that won't embarrass you ten years from now.
- Finally, this is no time to buy online. Buying from a reputable department store or straight from the brand boutique will ensure you will always have somewhere reliable to go back to for advice on wear and care.
Actress Mary-Kate Olsen is often spotted with her favourite investment bags by Proenza Schouler and Chanel on her arm. "My life is about taking one item and wearing it a hundred ways, depending on my mood or what I'm doing or where I'm going," she says. A well-chosen investment bag can do this, accompanying you through a lifetime of situations.
So whether it's your core RRSP holdings, your husband or your handbag, you want to select something you can rely on. Something you can look at two years from now, or twenty, and say, "Yep, still hot." Something that won't come apart at the seams and will only get better with age. A good investment will give you confidence and a sense of well-being. And that's something to hold onto.