Friday, October 16, 2009

Creating my "Coach Purse" identity.

Early on, I wrote briefly about the Coach purse I had purchased for my 40th birthday. It was about $350, more than ten times what I'd ever paid for a purse. So why did I do that?

I can't say I was buying it because I have an eye for quality and nothing less would do. In fact, my Coach purse, with the gigantic Cs all over it didn't seem especially well made. And if it had been a high quality item, but no one other than myself would have known, I don't think I would have gotten it at that point.

What I was seeking was some sort of outward manifistation that I'd arrived at a certain level. If I were from a certain tribe in the Pacific islands, I might have chosen to wear special feathers or bones or stones to signify some sort of status.

For me, the Coach purse was that status. You may well be reading this thinking, "Good Heavens, how shallow!" And if so, prepare yourself as I read recently in a book by Dana Thomas, that there are Japanese girls who work as prostitutes to earn money to buy Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and Hermes bags.

Purses are the "luxury" item within most women's reach, if they choose to go that route. Unlike a Mercedes or a $600,000 home, if a woman wants a $300 or even $2000 bag, she can probably get it. And because of the profit driven goal to mass market "luxury" with a Coach or Louis Vuitton store next to a McDonalds kiask in many airports, luxury has lost its quality, if not its status. At least according to Thomas's book, Deluxe How Luxury Lost Its Luster. She writes that to mass produce these items, they are often made on an assembly line in China right along side purses that are 1/10 their price, often with a Made in Italy tag sown inside.

I had the canvas purse a bit over a year and it showed its wear considerably. The seams weren't holding up well and the zipper sometimes stuck. And by the time I'd seen my 10th highschool girl with the same bag, and been the recipient of one friend's ribbing about whether I thought they'd crammed enough C's on that bag, I was doubting the wisdom of my purchase.

On the other hand, people really did notice the bag and comment on it. "Nice purse!" I heard more than once when I was checking out at a store. Often the clerks knew how much it had cost, even in stores that didn't sell Coach. And one Saturday morning when I set it on the ground at a garage sale while I was digging through a clothes basket of kids books, a woman grabbed it. I jumped up and said, "That's mine!" as she carried it to the woman running the sale. She apologized and said it probably was unlikely to find a real Coach purse at a garage sale.

I got the Deluxe book at the library a few weeks ago and reading about the shoddy workmanship prompted me to call Coach and explain what had happened. They said I could mail it to them (at my cost of about $15.00 with insurance) and they would assess it for normal wear and tear or workmanship defects.

Today I got a letter in the mail from Coach offering me a $367.14 credit for another Coach product. They do not give cash back, though I would vastly prefer that as never again shall I plunk down $300 for a purse.

In closing, I think I learned a few things. If girls at 16 are caught up in wanting to create an image based on an expensive status product, I can only hope 25 years later, at my own age of 41, they will know better;-). But I also believe there is such a thing as quality or art that does bring you enjoyment, and that is for each person to define for themselves. I have a friend who carries a $1500 Louis Vuitton bag, which she's had for almost 10 years now, that brings her a lot of enjoyment and for her it was worth it.

In closing, one irony is that I often grab all the loose change around the house and stick it in a plastic baggie and toss it in my purse. Then when buying something (I usually pay cash), I was pulling this plastic ziploc bag of change out of my $350 purse and how did that contribute to the whole image thing??? Wish me some personal growth this year;-). Eileen


  1. Eileen, I used to work at a jewelry counter within sight of the Coach products. Part of me wondered what the appeal was, and part of me coveted a specific all black big leather bag I would never ever ever let myself buy. I watched many women who would ordinarily drink tap water instead of bottled, walk a few blocks to save on gas, and roll their eyes at expensive cosmetics, plop down three, four, seven hundred dollars for a bag. I even had one woman tell me she only carries her seven hundred dollar yellow bag on special occasions. Why? She is afraid to ruin it and also to look like "one of those ladies who cares so much about purses". I would wear my fancy bag until it fell apart (-not that it would, I would use saddle soap and umbrellas and never let it touch the floor... ). And my husband loved telling me about one day at the post office where a women in expensive sunglasses, carrying a Louis Vuitton, and sporting a fresh manicure, almost couldn't buy a book of three cent stamps (I think that's 30 cents) because she did not have any money on her. She emptied the change compartment of her matching wallet and dug around for several minutes in the crevices of her screamingly expensive bag. She even asked if anyone near her could loan her a quarter. No kidding.
    As for change, when I was a sales clerk, I took change from every type of person. It just says, "I collect change", don't worry about it. Before the 1st and 15th I had people pay from their change in amounts up to $28. "It all spends". Perhaps you could step it up and use a small pretty cosmetics bag to throw all your change into. I use a mint tin sometimes, something in my elvish nature loves the things. They are shiny and make a slightly obnoxious sound.
    But good for you for contacting Coach. This time you can shop with all your valid criteria and not for the old reason.

  2. I may be a total oddball, but I think Coach purses are just ugly. LOL! Sorry to all that love them. I can afford one, but just don't like them. I'll just use that money on other stuff I do like.

  3. Good for you Frances! That's how we talk with our dollars, and really I have prioritize with mine, and it's just not something I could put up there... Now, a new fancy sewing machine for a couple of hundred would be swell.

  4. My question for you is...what are you going to do with your $367-and-change credit?

    I bought my first Coach in the '70s (Mom almost killed me). While my bag is still in superb shape after all these years, the quality of the brand has not held up over the years, nor has the design (just my opinion, you understand. I enjoy a nice handbag as much as the next gal).

  5. Hi Crunchycon, Antoinette, and Frances,

    I haven't had a chance to go on their site, but will have to see what they have. Not a bad thing to have to do;-).

    And Crunchycon - your experience mirrors the books story as the author was saying it was late 80's early 90's that quality in most of those companies really went down. Yours probably was really high quality - and in that case great not only on your pocketbook - you've had it 30 years or so! But awesome for the environment. Makes me want to do an ebay search for 1970's coach products....;-). Goodnight. Eileen