Spoils of the Thrift: Vintage Roses and a Little Lou Taylor

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I first started thrifting when I was 15 years old. I was a punk kid who loved Vogue and hated the automatons in my high school, all of which shopped at the same 4 stores in the tiny complex we called a “mall” in Northern British Columbia. I no longer remember why I even set foot in our local Value Village (might have been Riot Grrrl or might have been my fledgling anti-consumerism) but I started going regularly. And I thrifted everything: vintage boy’s vests, “old man” checkered pants, plastic earrings, colorful wrap skirts and jackets in carpet patterns with sparkly (and itchy) stitching. I found Hello Kitty pillow cases and plastic children’s lunchboxes with old 80’s super-heroes decals, half peeled off and faded. Nothing remains of those early days but a vintage navy wool vest with a chain link pattern and an unbinding love for the hunt.

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Spoils of the Thrift: Vintage Gucci Bag.

Whole Bag

This is either the greatest thrift of my life or a lesson in spotting the fake. Either way, when it comes to authenticating vintage designer bags (or designer bags in general), it’s no easy task. With the rise of “super-fakes,” fakes so good that only an expert in-house inspection can tell you whether it’s counterfeit (and even the experts get duped), it’s harder and harder to be absolutely sure that yours is the real thing. And standing there on the main floor of Savers, I realized I didn’t have the first clue about authenticating bags. And I can’t even tell you why I hesitated, except for the reason that every thrifter hesitates over a faded and probably fake bag: What if? 

After two days of a crash course in authenticating (re: the internet), I’ve put together four tips you can use on the hunt, four basic checks that will help determine whether or not you should take the risk and hire an official authenticator (more on that later). Now these rules are not hard and fast and there are exceptions. There are also detailed guides on Ebay and elsewhere to get into the nitty-gritty of authenticating but we’re not here for that. We’re here for basic one-shot rules that you can remember for future thrift finds, should you be so lucky.

(And yes, the idea of “authentic” is dubious, deeply flawed and obviously suspect. All I know is that if this is real, I’m going to freak out).

Location

Location is a good but not entirely reliable indicator. While Savers and other thrift chain stores keep anything of real value behind a special counter, this does not mean that you won’t find a designer bag on the main floor. Even though I found this little Gucci bag out in the purse mayhem section that is the Savers I frequent, this doesn’t mean it can’t be real. Presumably someone deemed it a fake but since Savers employees are not experts in the vintage history of major fashion houses, they may well have simply determined this bag a fake simply because it doesn’t look like anything Gucci currently makes (nor do they have the time to thoroughly check). It’s also old, faded and stinky. And there’s the “fake” bias. Fakes are so ubiquitous that everyone assumes it has to be a fake because the real deal is too rare to be believed (I believe). So if you stumble across something designer on the main floor, don’t discount it right away.

Above all: follow your instincts. Thrifting is 50% instinct and 50% espresso enthusiasm.

Zipper pulls 1

Hardware:

Ok, so you’ve found something interesting on the main floor or behind the fancy counter. What’s your first stop? Authenticators often rely on feel so give your bag a good grope. Does it feel like good quality leather? Or does it have a “cheap” slippery feel? One of the reasons I paused over this bag is because despite its obvious age and wear, the bag is still extremely sturdy. Then check all the hardware: zipper tags, metal links, etc. Not only should they be of obvious quality (not plastic, rusted or otherwise flimsy) but this is also where (depending on the designer), the brand will be imprinted. Look for logos on both sides of the zipper tabs, on the metal connections and anywhere else a logo could be lurking. Now check the depth and regularity of the imprints. Everything should be uniform, spelled correctly and properly stamped. If one or more of the letters look “light” to you, that’s a yellow flag.

My bag has no Gucci imprints in the metal hardware connecting the handles to the bag but it is uniformly imprinted on both sides of the zipper pulls. The outer leather is rough  but the interior has soft high quality leather as do the handles. So maybe. 

Logo Pattern

Logo: 

When it comes to logos, certain things are obvious. The Gucci logo is a set of two facing G’s. The left side faces up, the second faces down. Not E or C or P. If the bag is a printed monogram bag, the logo should be uniformly distributed. Check the overall pattern for symmetry/regularity. Some education helps here–Prada, for example, never uses grommets in its famous metal “triangle” logo so if you find a Prada bag with grommets that’s a dead give-away–so it’s worth doing a little research on the big labels. Next you want to check the tag. Italian handbags are not made in China (obviously) but you also want to check here for uniformity of the logo (no spelling mistakes, even imprint, etc). Labels are tricky because fake bags now carry serial “numbers” but if the numbers look like they’ve been imprinted by a blind person, that’s another yellow flag.

Mine are a little irregular but nothing crazy and the Gucci logo is uniform throughout the bag. Good sign. 

Stitching

Stitching: 

Stitching is your last stop and a major one. If everything looks kosher, you now want to do a detailed inspection of the stitching on every part of the bag. No one is perfect so you can account for a little bit of variation, but if the stitching looks like someone sewed the bag while also drinking copious amounts of gin, that’s a huge red flag. If the stitching doesn’t match up or runs over into another section, that’s a red flag. If it is crooked or missing stitches, that’s another red flag. Why do people pay thousands of dollars for a bag? Because of craftsmanship. If the bag doesn’t look good to you, it’s probably a fake. This bag has excellent stitching except for one section at the top where the stitching narrows but it’s the only variation I can identify. It’s a pretty glaring mistake but not terrible so it’s enough to warrant a question mark.

We’re back to maybe. 

Hiring An Authenticator:

After employing these four rules, I still don’t know for sure and so I’ve hired an authenticating service to take a look. Authenticating services are inexpensive and generally reliable. You photograph your bag in detail and for $20, you can have an expert decide for you. Perhaps it’s not worth dropping $20 into a bag that is probably fake except that this bag has enough positive details to warrant a second look. Authenticators also do “pre-purchase” checks so if you are eyeing a vintage designer piece online and want verification, you can employ them to check for you. I used Authenticate First but there are others.

So is it vintage gold or vintage fake?

AF05754 14687 Andrea Gyenge - Vintage Gucci Bag 052715Verdict: Authentic. I’m now the proud owner of vintage Gucci bag, circa late 1970’s, thrifted for $4 from Savers! It’s a lesson in the magic of thrifting, friends. Anything can happen even now when the stores have gotten so good at identifying vintage pieces so don’t despair on those treasure-less days. The thrifting gods reward dedication. Happy thrifting!