Designer handbags, and indeed luxury goods in general, are “investment” pieces, hold a lot of “history,” are “well-made”, support “timeless design,” are “dream bags…”
Believe me, and I’m ashamed to admit, I’ve justified my purchases using those exact reasons. No matter how much we try to run from it, though, they are still seen as class symbols, especially in China. When I refer to luxury designer brands, I am talking about Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Chanel, Marc Jacobs, Christian Louboutin, Hermes, Prada, and the like. Bags, accessories, clothes, and shoes. And for the even more ostentatious, luxury cars.
There was a brief year of my early 20’s in which I coveted and was able to purchase obscenely expensive (>$1000) leather bags. It all started with ExtraPetite’s Chanel bag review video. My reasoning was something like, if I was going to only own one bag for the rest of my life, why not splurge on the “best of the best” instead of buying 20 “just okay” bags? Why was there any reason to buy a bag, get tired of it, buy another bag, get tired of it, and continue the cycle forever? If I had the “best of the best,” there would be no reason to buy another bag.
This is one thing where if I could, I would scold my naive early 20’s version of myself. She thought she knew what she was doing, but oh, she was so wrong. So, so wrong. The intention to own one bag instead of 20 was good. The justification that there was a “best bag of them all” was completely untrue.
Owning an expensive bag costs a lot more than just what you pay upfront. Carrying it around in public made me self-conscious. I could be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and I’d be out more than one grand. Even storing it in my closet made me nervous – fires, floods, and robberies do happen. Traveling with it was even worse – I had to make sure it was stored properly to avoid ruining it. Unless you’re the type of person who loves taking care of “stuff” as a hobby (some homeowners find a lot of pleasure in housework, and some car-owners love working on their cars), you may find that you suddenly have more stressful “errands” to run in the name of taking care of your bag. A luxury leather bag is typically made of high quality leather. Leather usually requires occasional cleaning and conditioning to keep it in good condition. Unless you’re the type of person who buys an expensive purse and leaves it on display as a work of art instead of using it every day like I did, bags can and will get dirty. They can get scuffed. Scratched. Stained. And just like the minor ding you might inflict on your car, the flaws, as they add up, might drive you crazy, as they did me. Every little ding consumed my mind. After seeing my bag get more dirty and worn, and I spent hours looking for the best leather cleaners and restoration products that would magically restore my bag to its original state. I even searched for leather restoration companies and couldn’t let my expensive bag fall into someone else’s hands.
Essentially, I no longer really owned the bag. The bag owned me by occupying my mind and time. Perhaps there was value in keeping it, as some bags do increase in value over time with price hikes. Perhaps if I had endless amounts of money at my disposal, I could pay someone to maintain my stuff for me, or buy some kind of ridiculously expensive safe to keep them in. Wouldn’t that still occupy my mind though, and complicate my life? While I didn’t go into debt or pay a single penny of interest or fees for anything I bought, I paid the hefty price of opportunity cost. I lost so much time, so much mind, and so much money on stuff. Stuff!
It was not long before I fell out of love with my designer stuff. I looked at all my designer things and my immediate reaction was disgust. Disgusted by what they represented and disgusted that I was shallow enough to be obsessed with them in the first place. This was the beginning of my realization that I needed to own up to the fact that what I choose to buy and consume does represent me. I sold all of my luxury designer items, one by one (surprisingly, I made a profit on one of them, but I ultimately lost money), on eBay or Yoogi’s Closet (which is fantastic consignment company, by the way). Every item was another pang of guilt. Fortunately, it has been quite a few months and I don’t regret selling any of them.
People are not necessarily shallow if they happen to own luxury designer brand items (in fact, most of the time, they are not!) – sometimes they are gifted to them by relatives or sometimes they bought them pre-owned, like I did. And I don’t mean to say expensive stuff is always a waste of money – in fact, there is much to praise about a lot of high-end designer products. I still get excited by designers creating eco-friendly furniture, practical techwear, unique/minimalist jewelry, interesting household objects, and selling them on Etsy or through small companies. I still buy interesting creations if I find them noteworthy enough (future buyer’s guide to be written!) to add to my small collection of things. But if something is really so stupid expensive, like a $5000 bag or a $1400 pair of shoes, perhaps we ought to consider why they cost that much and what they represent, not just to us, but to society at large.
Before we buy something, perhaps we ought to ask, does this item, in all of its glory, truly represent who we are and what we aspire to be? No one item will represent us entirely, but again, we consume physical objects just as much as we consume ideas. As consumers, perhaps we should have the right to know why that price tag is justifiable for what it is. After knowing what it feels like to own luxury name-brand stuff, I have to admit, I am so, so glad that I am past that phase of my life.