When Did Accessories Get So Expensive?

Remember when shoes didn't cost more than your rent? When a designer handbag was extravagant, but could be acquired without selling a kidney?
These days, it seems like any It shoe, bag, or accessory that glossies tout as a must-have (we're guilty, too) clocks in at four figures. And no, you're not going crazy — designer shoes and handbags have been steadily increasing in price since the early 2000s. Ahead, we track the inflation, and provide a little insight into why exactly it costs an arm, a leg, and your mortgage to afford them.
Illustration by Naomi Abel
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Once Upon A Time...

When it comes to expensive shoes of yore and ladies who bought them, we look to Carrie Bradshaw to provide the answers; Carrie averaged $400 for each pair of super-expensive Manolos she bought (her pièce de résistance, those satin-blue wedding shoes, rang in at $525).

Remember being shocked at those prices? Now, the same shoe that was once was known as the most expensive designer option available is considered a good deal. Manolo Blahnik CEO, George Malkemus, told WWD" "People say to me, 'Manolo is such a bargain,' and I say, 'What!?'"

Photo: Courtesy of Manolo Blahnik
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Buyers' Remorse

Even department store executives are complaining about the climbing prices. Daniella Vitale, chief merchant and executive vice president of Barneys New York, told WWD last year, "The prices have shot up dramatically. We still open up at $395 in designer ballet flats, but I would say that those are really becoming the anomaly. [It] is a bit concerning because the success of shoes and the business of shoes is based on people buying multiples. The concern is that if the average price point continues to go up, people will stop buying multiple pairs."

Lanvin Python Ballet Flat, $1,150, available at Zoe.
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A Mixed Bag

If you wanted a statement bag in the '90s, chances are you were a bazillionaire. To acquire a Chanel 2.55 or an Hermès Kelly or Birkin bag meant getting placed on an exclusive wait-list for a couple of years, and then forking over around $10K for your very own.

Needless to say, it wasn't an every(wo)man's sport. However, the '90s saw a huge increase in the designer accessories department, with bags like the Chloé Paddington and the Balenciaga Motorcycle making it a lot easier to buy a recognizable status bag.
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Pointing Fingers

How did this happen? Well, first, many of the accessories being manufactured have started to come in smaller runs, which jacks up the factory costs and increases value. For example, Manolo is able to get a better rate for an order of 10,000 of the same shoe, whereas Charlotte Olympia might only make 300.

However, Christian Louboutin, producing close to 600,000 pairs a year, averaging out at $750 each, doesn't fit the mold. WWD reports that Louboutin CEO, Alexis Mourot, is very cognizant of consumer sensitivity, when it comes to price. But he brings up the the rising value of the Euro as the controlling factor: "When you price 500 euros in dollars, [if] it’s $750 to $780, you say, ‘Oh my God! $780 looks pretty high, but 500 euros isn’t that crazy.'"

Christian Louboutin Pigalle 120 Pumps, $625, available at Net-a-Porter.
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Wait No More

Due to the high demand of handbags in foreign markets (especially in Asia), many designers — including Hermès, which famously abolished its five-year wait-list — have announced the end of the wait-list altogether.

Counter to the laws of supply and demand though, with more product on the market and the iconic status accessories available to all, prices haven't actually decrease, but rather, have began their climb upward. The Céline bag — one of our favorite handbags of all time — costs nearly $3k, despite it being on the shoulder of every other girl we pass while walking through The Meatpacking district.

Photo: Courtesy of Céline
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Conditioned To It

How much of this rise in cost can be attributed to our feeling used to four-figure prices? Will designers continue pushing the limits as to how much we expect our stuff to cost? Will we ever feel okay about paying $680 for a sneaker, even while taking into consideration the meticulous design process, high-quality materials, and small-batch factory restrictions?

Photo: Courtesy of Isabel Marant
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Paying For Personality

Having a recognizable handbag or shoe immediately sends a message about what kind of person the carrier is: discriminating, fashion-forward, prestigious. Those kinds of statements can't be bought for chump change, and brands are realizing that people are willing to shell out season-after-season for these material "bragging rights." That brightly colored, mega-trendy, canvas satchel you see on the street can inspire a whole rainbow of feelings ranging from jealousy to disgust — something your tattered tote bag wouldn't ever inspire. But at the end of the day, it's a $1.8k canvas bag… and it's not even leathah!

PS1 Medium Floral Canvas Bag, $1,855, available at Proenza Schouler.

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