How To Tell If Your Vintage Designer Bag Is Actually A Fake

Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
When you score an incredible vintage designer bag, you've got full bragging rights. After all, the other chumps out there paid full retail, and you got it for a fraction of that...but those aforementioned bragging rights only apply if your vintage designer bag isn't a fake.

You can gain some sense of security by making sure you're shopping at trustworthy secondhand retailers. And it's important to arm yourself with a detail-oriented eye for spotting real vs. fake. Before you drop your hard-earned cash on a long-awaited investment piece, you need to be sure you're getting what you pay for. Plus, buying a fake has more of a domino effect than you might realize — its impact goes beyond the fashion industry, with links to everything from child labor and sex trafficking to organized crime. It's not that those of us with smaller budgets shouldn't own designer bags, but contributing to mass-produced counterfeits (not to be confused with inspired-by "knockoffs") is bad news on a global scale beyond just commerce — not to mention illegal.

So with the help of our friends at Vestiaire Collective, we've outlined seven fail-proof ways to tell if a vintage bag is real. Keep these in your back pocket and you're sure to find a vintage gem that's all your own — because there's nothing better than when someone asks you where your bag is from and you can proudly say, "It's vintage, and guess how much I paid for it!"
1 of 7
Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Start With The Exterior
You can start to tell whether a vintage bag is real or fake before you even open it up, thanks to a few dead giveaways on the exterior of the bag. First, take a general glance at the overall shape, size, and appearance of the bag.

"Look at the overall silhouette, then front, back, bottom, and interior," says Jacquelyne Cortel, U.S. authentication lead at Vestiaire. "A surprising number of fakes may have their dimensions off by a few inches or have a bottom seam that shouldn’t be there." So when we say it's all in the details, we mean it.

Believe it or not, another way to spot a fake is to give it a whiff. And keep your eye out for other signs of mass production. "If it reeks like chemicals, has handles covered in plastic, or hangtags with fabric swatches, these are all signs of mass-produced fakes," explains Cortel.

Speaking of mass-production, higher-end fakes are getting more and more sophisticated, which means they're more difficult to distinguish. While some fakes smell of chemicals, others might use real leather — but there are other ways to tell if the material is the real deal.

"Suede materials are easier to discern with a swipe of your finger. Is it soft with a texture that moves in the direction you’re swiping? Or is it rough and coarse?" adds Cortel. "Pay attention not only to the material, but also the way the material is sewn together. Often times, fakes will use lesser quality thread that is too shiny or a shade off."

Trust your gut and maybe even take reference photos along if you're looking for a certain bag and want to be 100% safe.
2 of 7
Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Check Out The Logo
One of the most important aspects of a vintage designer bag is its logo. Pull your magnifying glass out for this one, because things can get tricky (and we're only half-kidding about the magnifying glass).

The key is to familiarize yourself with the designer's font and realize that most counterfeits won't have the same level of detail. "Most brands have a recurring signature font that you’ll see on a majority of their bags," explains Cortel.

"For instance, Prada bags from the mid-'80s to now have a signature 'R.' Pay close attention to where the curve of the top of the 'R' connects to the diagonal right leg," Cortel says. "There should be a notch right under that curve."

These tiny nuances in the shapes and lettering of designer logos can make all the difference in determining whether the bag is authentic.
3 of 7
Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Give It A Lift
Due to the materials, hardware, and overall make of a bag, it's a good idea to actually pick a vintage one up off the counter, or maybe even tote it around the store for a minute.

Get a feel for the weight of the bag and keep in mind that fakes can be both lighter or heavier than real vintage bags. Vestiaire explains that while hardware — say, the padlock on a Chloé Paddington bag — will often be way too light on a counterfeit, other fakes, like Hermès Birkins, will go overboard trying to replicate luxurious leathers and end up way too heavy.
4 of 7
Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Move To The Interior
Some may say that a serial number is a surefire way to authenticate a vintage designer bag. But this isn't always the case and it's important to pay attention to other interior details, such as pockets and zippers, to figure out whether a bag is real.

"Always try to find the serial number, but don’t be turned off if you can’t; sometimes they fall off," Cortel states. So, while a missing serial doesn't necessarily mean a bag is fake, a serial number that doesn't make sense or is a wrong shape or font, does.

Corel also explains, "Some bags may have a convincing exterior, but an interior from another world." So, take a close look at interior pockets, materials, linings, and hardware. Extra pockets that shouldn't be there or low-quality, poorly sewn linings are signs of fakes. "Some linings are not completely sewn in (you can pull them inside-out), while some are sewn down. Know which your bag should have," Cortel suggests.

Don't overlook the zippers, either — they can be a tell-tale sign of real or fake. "Depending on the designer, they may use their own branded zippers or common brands like RiRi, YKK, and Lampo," says Cortel. "Familiarize yourself with which one your designer uses and make sure those engravings are crisp and detailed."

For example, a fake Louis Vuitton bag might have zippers with the "LV" engraving on one side, but not the other.
5 of 7
Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Keep Time In Mind
One unexpected aspect of vintage bag shopping to keep in mind is simply that these bags are older, meaning that some elements in the design of the bag might just be different than they are today.

"Vintage bags don’t follow current brand standards or have as many identifiers as current bags," says Cortel.

From the fonts to the interior linings, the serial numbers to the holograms, differences in these details could simply indicate an older year of production. Your safest bet is to not only familiarize yourself with a baseline of what the bag should look like, but also to judge the bag's overall quality.

"Authentic vintage pieces will have high-quality, hefty materials that withstand the test of time, similar to vintage clothing," Cortel explains. "Look out, especially for chintzy zippers and lightweight hardware."

Clearly, you don't have to be a total expert to distinguish real from fake — an eye for overall quality can go a long way.
6 of 7
Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Be A Brand Expert
Each major handbag brand has its own defining characteristics that you can familiarize yourself with and keep in mind while shopping vintage, and Vestiaire clued us in on a few major ones below. Ask yourself these questions to determine if a vintage or secondhand bag is real.

"Does the authenticity card have a rainbow reflection? Does the serial/hologram not have gold and blue flakes (year 2000-present)? Fake!"

"Does the bag come with an orange authenticity card? For Birkins, are the keys connected to an O-ring? Does the interior zipper pull not stay horizontal (it falls vertical)? Fake, fake, fake!"

Louis Vuitton
"Is the LV logo upright front and back (only applicable to styles without a bottom seam, like Speedys)? Is the hardware tinged green? Does the date code not make sense? Fake, fake, fake!"

"Is the casing overdone and sloppy? Is the bag and hardware extremely lightweight? Is the hardware lacking Givenchy engravings? Fake, fake, fake!"
7 of 7
Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Shop At A Trusted Retailer
The safest way to guarantee that your vintage bag is real is to buy it from a trusted retailer with a reliable authentication process. But of course, it still helps to have your own working knowledge of the process to cross-check before you spend any big bucks. Read reviews, get recommendations from friends and trustworthy sources, and do your research before jumping into a vintage bag purchase. You deserve the real deal and a close eye for detail will get you there.

More from Shopping


R29 Original Series