8 vintage designer handbags that are still iconic today


My grandmother likes to collect objects: porcelain turtles, The family circus comics, maps of her 12 grandchildren, glass horses, gilded statues of naked women and Chiclets (the gum), to name a few. But my favorite and perhaps the most treasured pieces of all of my grandmother’s collections are her vintage designer handbags.

Grandmother Jenny was born in Egypt in the 1930s, where her mother was an assistant buyer for an exclusive women’s boutique in Cairo. Here my grandmother’s love for fashion began. In 1955, my grandmother came to Boston, wanting to pursue her dreams as a fashion designer, and she ended up becoming a fashion collector. During her travels from Paris to New York via Milan, she began to collect designer handbags.

From Chanel card holders to the brand’s iconic quilted bags, from Gucci bucket bags to Fendi floral baguettes, from Louis Vuitton monogrammed handbags to Bottega Veneta clutch bags, my grandmother’s collection has grown. “My bags are for certain outfits, not just to have. You buy a bag and you know what to wear it with,” she tells me as we read the newspaper in her Palm Beach apartment. “You will also have a collection someday. You build it throughout your life.”

Of course, my collection isn’t as impressive as my grandmother’s, but it’s not meant to be. There is no rush because building a timeless collection, well, takes time. My grandmother expanded her collection over the course of her life, but individual handbags remain in fashion regardless of the era. And it is her particularly precise and fashionable curation that led her to accumulate the collection that she owns today.

We are now in 2021 and many bags are scattered, adorning the arms and closets of his descendants. In Chicago, my mom wears a 1950s wine-colored quilted Chanel bag on a date with my dad. In Florida, my aunt wears a gold alligator Judith Leiber pouch as she goes out to dinner with her children and grandchildren. In New York, my whitish-blue monogrammed Louis Vuitton hangs from my wrist as I go to a business event.

My grandmother might not have intended it, but her bags mean something to our family. No matter where we are, these are the bags that are pieces of her collection, and these are the bags that allow us to have a piece of my grandma wherever we go.

Keep scrolling to see photos of some of my favorite vintage bags and similar styles available today.


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