I recently thrifted a Coach cross-body bag for $8 and bragged blogged about it, which prompted the question from a friend: how do you tell if a designer bag is real? I’m going to walk you through what I do when I’m thrifting and share some links that you can use to help determine if your thrift score is the real deal!

Thrifting in Baton Rouge
This is the first time I’ve thrifted Coach, not because I haven’t found it before – I’ve seen plenty in fact – but because it’s usually over-priced, in poor condition, or flat-out fake.

Can you find a designer bag at the thrift shop?

I see designer bags all the time at all kinds of thrift shops from the biggest chain to the smallest little thrift store . Anywhere that accepts donations has the potential to stock designer bags. You are more likely to find designer bags at the thrift shop if they are plentiful in the local regular retail  market. That means that I see Coach all the time in the thrift stores because there is a Coach outlet nearby; I see Michael Kors and Fossil regularly and plenty of nicer mall-brands too.

How to Tell if a Designer Bag is Real by The Spirited Thrifter
This soft-as-butter Cole Haan bag was the first designer bag I thrifted! I found it hanging unassumingly in with the other bags, unrecognized as designer, priced at $8! THRIFT SCORE!

Some thrift stores put their designer bags behind the counter or in a locked cabinet which I understand but also find annoying. I like to discover the treasures for myself! However, just because there is a locked or boutique bag section does not mean you won’t find designer bags in the regular racks, nor does it mean that every bag in that section is truly a high-end brand. The bottom line: you have a very good chance of finding a designer bag at the thrift shop.

How to Tell if A Designer Bag Is Real by The Spirited Thrifter
Fossil is not a high end designer but one I am very happy to find at the thrift store! I scored this GORGEOUS dark green beauty for $4.50! It doesn’t have the signature key but it is authentic.
How to Tell if A Designer Bag Is Real by The Spirited Thrifter
Found this Fossil bag for $2 from the Family Thrift Center outlets – proof that even outlets have treasures (that would typically be marked up every where else).

I found a second hand designer bag… now what?

So you’ve found a bag and checked the label and SCORE! It’s a designer bag! Congratulations! First things first, ask yourself if the bag seems authentic. Most designer bags are leather – does the leather feel like leather or does it feel like vinyl? Is the stitching intact? Are the handles in good shape? Is the branding on the hardware? If the quality seems amiss, chances are you’re dealing with a fake. Even a well-loved designer bag should show its quality.

Now let’s say you’ve done your initial once-over and it seems legit. Next step: google the brand with a brief description to see if you can find the specific bag online. I usually search the images since it is easier to scan. If you find your exact bag, you’re golden! If not, move onto stage 3.

Type “how to tell if a _____ (insert brand name) bag is authentic” and then choose one or two links to read and do a more thorough inspection of the bag – BEFORE buying. Had I done this, I would never have bought the fake Longchamp bag that betrayed me.

How to Tell if a Designer Bag is Real by The Spirited Thrifter
Alas, I actually use this *fake* Longchamp bag whenever I go the beach or water park because I like the style and don’t care if it gets wet or wrecked. That’s how I punish it for being fake and tricking me.

Hopefully those links will give you enough information to decide whether to go ahead and buy the bag, providing you like it in the first place. Don’t make the rookie thrifter mistake and buy it just because it’s designer. There will be plenty more in your future so there’s no need to compromise on personal style just to have a designer bag. Resellers are the exception to this – they make their purchasing decisions based on their own business practices and profit margin estimations.

Links for Authenticating Designer Bags

If I learned anything from reading Crazy Rich Asians, it’s that I am poor there are some “fakes” that are worth way more than any “real” bag I would ever buy, which means that there is a chance that you could stumble upon a pretty convincing fake at the thrift store. If you do and it’s a reasonable price, you can always buy it then send it away for authentication to a service such as Authenticate First.  Poshmark also offers an authentication service for sellers called Posh Authenticate for luxury items priced at $500 or over, and they will accept returns if you purchase something that turns out to be a fake. EBay offers a similar service called eBay Authenticate. So, if you are buying from a reputable online thrift shop, you can be fairly confident that the item is authentic.

How to Tell if A Designer Bag Is Real by The Spirited Thrifter
After discovering my other Longchamp bag was a fake, I was intent on buying an authentic one second hand, and found one, new-with-tags in the colour I *really* wanted (Peacock) on Poshmark. Because it was new with tags and authenticated, I paid close to the retail amount which was totally worth it since this colour is no longer available in store. AND I have already carried it enough that the cost per wear is under a dollar. #WINNING

It’s a different story in the thrift store trenches! There are tons of designer bags out there and since I can’t list links to authenticate all of them, let me share a few that I have used in the past:

For Coach: an article, a video, and another article.

For Longchamp: an article, a video, and another article by The Bag Investigator.

For Michael Kors: an article, a video, and another article by eBay.

For Fossil: an article

For Cole Haan: an article

For Louis Vuitton: an article, a video, and another article

For Dolce & Gabana: an article and a video

For Marc Jacobs: a video and an article

Each brand has its own characteristics so it’s best to look up that specific brand and then compare your find to the details listed. With a little luck, you should be able to tell within minutes whether or not it’s a fake which leads to the next discussion…

Is is illegal to buy or sell fake designer bags?

As I discovered when researching Longchamp bags, the sale of counterfeits and unauthorized replicas of branded products is illegal. I have no idea how this plays out in the thrift store environment but generally, with designer bags and life in general, buy authentic and be authentic. If I discovered a thrift score designer bag was a fake, I would leave it behind UNLESS I really really loved the style. But even then, it would probably be a no. I don’t like how our culture perpetuates the idea that your possessions define you; on the contrary, you are worthy just because you are uniquely you, regardless of the bag you carry (whether you thrift it or buy new), what you wear, the car you drive, your size, your looks, your education, your job, your anything. Ok, rant over.

IF it does turn out to be a real designer bag AND you like the style, AND the price works for your budget, buy that baby and take it to its new home! Tell every person you meet that you thrifted it for a steal, encourage them to buy second hand by your boasting! That’s called inspiration and it’s our duty as thrifters!

What is the BEST authentic designer bag you have ever found in a second hand store? Have you ever been fooled by a fake?! Share in the comments and also let me know if there are other brands I should add to my list so that you can just bookmark and return to this post when you are thrifting!

xoxo Nicole

Don't forget to pin this post by The Spirited Thrifter!

PIN this post to your CLOTHING or BAGS board and remember to

follow THE SPIRITED THRIFTER on Pinterest!

How to Tell if a Designer Bag is Real by The Spirited Thrifter


  1. Excellent article!
    I have noticed that one of the websites you are reffering to has not only excellent information about DOLCE & GABBANA, but also GUCCI, CELINE and FENDI. You could add links to those brands, it might be helpful for other readers like me 😉

    • Nova1169

      That Coach crossbody looks very fake to me. Judging for the one pic only. It is illegal to sell or resell counterfeit item. Thrift stores must also abide by this law as well, or risk their store being shut down

  2. Nova1169

    That Coach crossbody looks very fake, in my opinion. Judging for the one pic only. It is illegal to sell or resell counterfeit item. Thrift stores must also abide by this law as well, or risk their store being shut down

    • nicole

      It’s not fake. I think most secondhand shops do their best to determine if an item is authentic, and they are hardly the problem when it comes to selling counterfeits.

  3. I have a thriftstore near me that when the doors open at 9 a. M. Theres already a huge line outside. The parking lot and store stay full all day too. And its because it has designer bags and clothing up the “A” that sells for the dirt. I personally am not interested in carrying a designer bag however after puchasing a well made, practical, black leather handbag the compliments started pooring and turns out its coach. After that a friend of mine started going and seeling online all the bags and shoes he got.

    • nicole

      Finding luxury items for a fraction of the cost while thrifting is part of the fun! But I agree, buying or wearing something just for the sake of the brand has nothing to do with personal style or happiness. Thank you for your comment!