Discovering a high-end designer bag is a thrift score even the most adverse to thrifting would celebrate. For seventeen bucks, this huge vintage Gucci tote seemed almost too good to be true. I gave it my usual once-over in the store, checking for frayed stitching, tears, funky odors and stains. It was clean - and even came with its original control tag. All my years of thrifting had paid off. I had located my thrifting holy grail.
Or so I thought. On the way home, I was nagged by the thought that the bag might be fake. After all, who in their right mind would donate a near-perfect vintage Gucci tote? Had I just wasted seventeen dollars that could have gone to better use? Though I carried it on my arm the very next day, I couldn't shake the feeling that I might have been swindled.
According to the International Chamber of Commerce, counterfeiting makes up five to seven percent of global trade, or $450 to $500 billion. Buying counterfeit merchandise helps keep sweatshops and child labor in third world countries in business. While any name brand is at risk for counterfeiting, the most commonly ripped-off labels include Louis Vuitton, Kate Spade, Christian Dior, Prada, Gucci and Burberry.
So, how can you tell the difference? Experts say it’s the small details that are often overlooked by manufacturers of designer knockoffs. All you need to do is take the time to pick apart the fakes to reveal their many flaws. Here are some tips for identifying and avoiding counterfeit bags at the thrift store.
Understand the difference between an illegal fake bag, a designer-inspired bag, and the genuine article:
- Illegal fake bags make every attempt to copy a genuine designer bag, right down to the very last logo, tag, and hardware. Fakes copy everything about the designer bag, and pass themselves off as the original brand, with no attempt to distinguish themselves as look-alikes. It's illegal to make fake merchandise, and while buying it is not illegal in most countries, doing so supports illegal activity.
- A legal knock-off/imitation is "designer-inspired" but is not a direct copy. Such a bag does not claim to be the original designer's bag and does not attempt to use the trademarked symbols, logos, or features, and as such can legally imitate the style and colors of a bag while avoiding breaching copyright. Without close inspection, it can be easy to mistake a legal knock-off for the real thing.
- A genuine designer bag is made by the original well-known designer and the bag's logo, hardware, attachments, etc., are all congruent with the original design - down to the exact positioning and number of such features. Tags, signatures, or marks stating the designer's name form an integral part of the bag's overall design and authenticity.
Know the signs of a fake knock-off bag:
There are numerous signs that can point to a bag's lack of authenticity:
- Stitching: Look closely at the stitching of the bag. Sloppy, slanted, and uneven stitching is a sign of a poorly made, and therefore, fake bag. Some knockoffs do take the time to stitch the lining into place; in these, look for threading that is pulling in spots. A real designer bag would have near-perfect threading. Designer bags will always have quality stitching because it is part of the designer's reputation to produce a quality item.
- Tags or labels: Check the inside tags – are they stamped into leather or hand-stitched? An obvious fake will have no name on the inside tag. Check outside tags as well because many designers include authenticity labels on the outside of the bag.
- Material: If it's leather, it should smell like leather. If it's supposed to be durable canvas, it should be strong and well stitched. The material can communicate a lot about the bag's quality. If the real bag normally has a pattern inside, fake bags typically will not. Often, the lining inside a fake bag feels cheap and thin.
- Logo: Logos are often a slip-up area for copies. The designer name might be spelled slightly differently, such as Carter instead of Cartier. A logo embedded into a pattern, such as Louis Vuitton's alternating "LV" design, should be continued throughout the bag without interruption.
- Hardware: It’s difficult for counterfeits to exactly duplicate the hardware design of authentic items. For example, authentic Gucci Horsebit bags will have complete closed connecting rings while counterfeits will have a break in the rings.
- Serial number: Some high-end designer bags have serial numbers on a tag or stamp inside the bag. An authentic Gucci bag, for example, has a brass plaque inside the purse that says Gucci Made in Italy on a leather tag with the serial number embossed underneath.
- Handles: Genuine Louis Vuitton handles are made of an entire strip of natural leather. When first purchased, the handle is light tan in color; over the course of a few weeks, it should oxidize and turn into a darker, cognac color. Fake bags don’t change color like this because the handles are usually painted.
- Do your research: If a Coach bag has a leather strip down the middle, the strip should say "Leatherwear." If it doesn't, it's a knock-off. Louis Vuitton purse snaps are monogrammed, as are those from Gucci. Knowing where a bag is made helps as well. Coach bags are made in China, not the United States.
My Gucci bag is made from heavyweight vinyl-coated canvas that feels substantial. The stitching is even and straight. Solid brass logo hardware is present, as well as a rounded interior tag (knockoff Gucci bags have a rectangular or square tag with sharp corners.) An authentic vintage Gucci also has a brass plaque inside the purse that says Gucci Made in Italy - it will be on a leather tag with the serial number embossed underneath, just as mine has. Furthermore, the serial numbers on my bag correspond to those present on a vintage Gucci bag. Serial numbers on vintage Gucci bags almost always start with a 0, 1 or 2. Ninety-nine percent of NEWER authentic Gucci bags do not start with these numbers. If you see a Gucci bag in a style from a recent collection with serial numbers that start with 0, 1 or 2, the bag is fake.
Have you ever bought a designer bag at a thrift store?