Help! I think I bought a fake:

Tips on Buying Authentic Handbags at the Thrift Store

I’d been looking for years and there it was. In a sea of others. Its back to me, facing the wall. I could tell it was special. The textured navy body, the British tan leather piping, the top handle, the contrasting stitching. Could it be? I raced to it, apologized to the small child I had nearly trampled, held my breath, and flipped it over, looking for the tell-tale stamp: the words “Dooney & Bourke All Weather Leather” and the infamous duck logo.

If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck…

It was even prettier than I thought it would be. And in excellent condition. Nary a scuff, scratch, or pen mark. I almost couldn’t bear to look at the price tag. I had come across others in thrift stores before, in worse condition, but the price was always at least $75. Now for the second moment of truth (the first, of course, being the duck-or-no-duck revelation). Could I afford to take this baby home with me?  Tell me your damage, Dooney!

$14.99. Yes, yes I could afford to take it home.

Next to vintage Coach bags, I would say Dooney & Bourke purses rank second for most sought-after vintage bag on etsy (based on absolutely no real evidence so do with that what you will), and to find one so cheap had made me gleeful. So gleeful that I did absolutely nothing to check the authenticity of the bag. I tossed it in my red, plastic basket-cart-thing (dear Value Village, what is this thing and why do none of the wheels work and how come I keep banging myself in the shins with it?) and strutted my stuff to the check-out line, where I enthusiastically put chip-card to card reader faster than you can say, “Check for a serial number first.”

And then I got home.

Did some internet research herehere, and here.

And discovered it’s a fake.

But look how cute it looks with this vintage plaid cape:

If we ever get a real fall in Alberta, I totally plan to wear this.

Here are some telltale signs of a fake handbag and things you can be on the lookout for when you’re standing under the florescent thrift store lights, trying to make a decision about whether that too-good-to-be-true designer bag is actually too-good-too-be-true:

  • Check the logo.
    Make sure the lettering on the label is in the right font. I was duped by the duck, but once I got home, I really examined the font of the writing surrounding the duck and compared it to the authentic labels I found online. On an authentic Dooney & Bourke label, the lettering is in a serif font; on mine the lettering is sans-serif.
    Shopping tip: pull up the logo on your phone, enlarge it, and compare it to the logo on the bag. Look for the slightest discrepancies or irregularities. Word to the wise: companies don’t just up and choose Comic Sans for no good reason.

    My fake label.

    Authentic label via Vintage Dooney.
  • Check the stitching.
    The stitching should be straight and evenly spaced. Crooked or unevenly spaced stitches (or loose stitches) are signs of an imposter. The stitching on my bag compared to the authentic looks a bit amateurish and the stitches don’t form the most perfect circle.
    Shopping tip: check for stitches gone awry.
  • Look for labels.
    A lot of designer bags (especially if they’re vintage) will be made in the USA and will have a label saying so. They likely will also have serial numbers. This might seem like a no-brainer, but I actually forgot to check (I blame the euphoria that comes along with the hunt!) until I got home.
    Mine doesn’t have a label anywhere inside the bag (and it doesn’t appear that one has been cut out in any way), and according to my research, authentic Dooney & Bourke bags will have a white label with blue lettering, the words “Dooney & Bourke Inc. Made in USA” in a red box, and a serial number on the reverse of the tag.
    Vintage Coach bags, on the other hand, will have an interior leather label with a registration number, country of origin, and the Coach creed.
    Shopping tip: don’t forget to look inside the bag; use your phone to google what the interior label is supposed to look like and make sure your thrift-store find has one too.
  • Feel it.
    My authentic vintage Coach bags are made of the softest leather: they actually feel expensive to the touch. This fake D & B bag is stiff and hard; I really doubt it’s leather at all. The shoulder strap feels very thin and plastic-y; in comparison, the shoulder strap of my vintage Coach is about double the thickness and feels like butter.
    Another thing to look for is peeling: real don’t peel.
    Shopping tip: Make sure the bag feels soft and pliable. Does it feel like it’s from Nordstrom or Target? Your fingers can tell.

    Do what I didn’t do in the store and notice the peeling on the right side of the bag.
  • Examine the details.
    Expensive, designer bags will use expensive hardware. Check the clasps and buckles. On Coach and Dooney & Bourke bags, these are made of solid brass so they shouldn’t have any silver showing (otherwise they might be nickel), and they should feel weighty, not light (otherwise, they might be painted plastic). According to my research, on a D & B bag, the brass rings should actually say “solid brass” on them. Mine, sadly, have nothing to say for themselves. Check the zippers as well. Coach uses ykk zippers; D & B uses zippers that actually say Dooney & Bourke on them. My zippers: also silent.
    Shopping tip: it don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that bling.
At least I have you guys!

There you have it. Some simple things you can do in right there in the thrift store so you don’t end up broken-hearted later.


Autumn Reading List


  1. Vintage Trailer Style– Lisa Mora
    I do not have a vintage trailer to style but I’ve always had a vivid imagination. A reviewer says, “I wouldn’t even call it a good coffee table book, unless you’re into pink flamingo’s and such.” Since I am very much into pink flamingos and also correctly using apostrophes, this might be the book for me.
  2. The Typewriter– Janine Vangool
    I’ve been meaning to buy and read this book for years. The author is the editor of one of my very favourite magazines, Uppercase, and she’s a Calgarian. I haven’t even mentioned yet that this book is a history of typewriters. Do you want to see a picture of Janine surrounded by typewriters? Of course you do. 
  3. Style Me Vintage: Clothes– Naomi Thompson
    A guide to sourcing and creating vintage looks. It promises “tips on how to find unique, one-off items that fit any budget,” which is good because my budget is shoestring at best and velcro at worst.
  4. Dressing the Decades: Twentieth-Century Vintage Style– Emmanuelle Dirix
    I feel I can trust a woman with a name like “Emmanuelle Dirix” to tell me about old clothes. She sounds like the type of person who just drank a bottle of wine under the Eiffel Tower on her lunch break. One reviewer calls it “lovely and scholarly” and another calls it “not markedly scholastic.” The plot thickens.
  5. Buying and Selling: One man’s journal of a year buying and selling vintage for fun & profit– John Silke
    This book might be self-published: I can’t seem to find a publisher name, there are no reviews, it seems to be only sold in Kindle format, and there’s a typo in the blurb. But as they say in the world of vintage buying and selling, one man’s trash is another (wo)man’s treasure!
  6. The Vintage Fashion Bible– Wayne Hemingway
    Normally, I run far away from any books with the word “Bible” on the front, but according to amazon, “it is the only complete chronological look at 20th century fashion for men and women, as well as a practical guide to buying, styling and restoring vintage clothing.” Was it also written by a descendant of Ernest Hemingway? Let’s pretend that’s true. Old Man and The Seafoam Green Pencil Skirt. A Farewell to Army Print. For Whom The Belt Holds. The Silk Also Wrinkles. Okay, I’m done now.

Tips for Collecting, Volume 1: Typewriters

A treasury of typewriters made by moi.

I love typewriters. Why? I’m not really sure, but I love everything about them (except actually using them–using a typewriter is the absolute worst–more on this later).

I suppose I love all things typewriter because I’d like to fancy myself a writer and because I’m excessively nostalgic. How I’d love to write: a bottle of whiskey for sipping, a pack of cigarettes for chain-smoking, a typewriter for typing. Maybe I’d live in an atelier in Paris. Maybe I’d actually know what the word “atelier” means (is it the same as an attic? a studio? I haven’t a clue, but it sounds classy as hell). How I actually write: facebook open for checking, a glass of water for forgetting about, a bag of potato chips for maintaining my excellent diet, a Macbook Pro to make greasy with my potato chip fingers.

Also, look at the colours!

I own three typewriters: an Underwood no 3 from the early 1900s, an Underwood 378 from the 1970s, and a Brother Webster XL-727 also from the 70s. They make excellent decorations. Do I use them? I do not. Have you ever tried typing on a typewriter? It’s a special kind of hell. Also, I can’t type a sentence without a typo. Before I edited the last sentence, this is what it looked like: Alos, I cant’ typo a senksjNGBIUofkbg kb. (I’m really bad).

Here they are all snuggly in their home (aka: my home).

I also used to own a 40s-era Royal typewriter, but it was sadly too heavy to make the move from Ontario to Alberta with me six years ago.

In total, my typewriter collection cost me $45 (even including the Royal).

The Underwood No. 3 I found in a junk store in Calgary for $25. It was covered in sawdust. Apparently someone had been keeping it in a barn and not even the owner of the junk store had wanted to clean it. A quick check on ebay tells me that an Underwood No. 3 is selling for anywhere from $227 to $1292.50. Some warm water and paper towel later, and that’s a (some high percentage–I don’t math) profit. Thank you very much, Junk Store That I Forget the Name of That Doesn’t Exist Anymore Probably Because They Sold Antique Typewriters For Only $25.

The Brother Webster Typewriter I found in a junk store in Windsor, Ontario for $20 (this junk store to be exact–if you ever find yourself in Windsor, go here; it’s the best). It’s light so packing it in my suitcase wasn’t a problem.

The 70s-era Underwood was my grandmother’s, which she gave to me a few years ago in perfect condition because she’s the best and keeps everything she’s ever purchased and everything she owns still looks like it was just taken out of the box yesterday. I’ve asked her to teach me her ways, but when she found out I don’t like dusting, she gave up on me.

My dream typewriter collection:

  1. A super old Underwood (check!)

  2. A midcentury Royal, preferably bubblegum pink

  3. An Olivetti, teal would be nice



  4. A Portable Remington (Purple? Sure why not?)

  5. A Smith-Corona (let’s go with turquoise)

  6. And a German Olympia (Pink again? Okay!)il_570xN.693176955_20xl.jpg


If I had an unlimited budget, I could purchase these right now from ebay and/or etsy. But I don’t. (Just imagine the shipping price for a typewriter that weighs more than a toddler). So I have to be patient and scour garage sales, kijiji (or Craigslist for my American friends), and junk/thrift/vintage stores.

On numerous occasions I’ve been asked by friends for help in the typewriter purchasing department. So I’m here to present to you some tips for acquiring that perfect typewriter.

  1. Don’t buy online. Sure, ebay and etsy have the typewriters of your dreams for sale and you can buy them with one click while wearing your pyjamas. DON’T. I mean, unless you’re prepared to pay $50-$100 in shipping. On top of an already steep purchase price. Instead buy in person. Put the typewriter in the trunk of your car/ make your significant other carry it all the way to your apartment.
  2. Thrift/junk/salvage stores are going to be cheaper than antique/vintage stores. This is true for all vintage things. Stores that specialize in selling antiques know their product, know the market value, and know they have a steady stream of consumers looking to purchase that product. Stores like Value Village, The Salvation Army, Good Will, or your other neighbourhood thrift store are generally not in the market of hawking antique typewriters. If you can find a typewriter here, it likely won’t be more than $50.
  3. Try kijiji or Craigslist. Sometimes people find typewriters in their basements that they didn’t even know they had and they don’t want them and want to get rid of them fast. Example: there is a beautiful, teal Smith-Corona typewriter on the Calgary kjiji site right now for $75 or best offer. Which means the best offer might be $50. Also, a lovely white Olivetti for $40 or best offer. (So basically $30, who are we kidding?)
  4. Have patience and check often. Most of the time–sadly–thrift stores don’t have typewriters for sale. Garage sales are usually typewriter-free. Kijiji might not have any cheap ones on a given day. Wait. Check next week. Check again the week after that. And the next. If Value Village does get in a super rad typewriter you better bet it will be gone within hours (because I go there often and I will buy it).
  5. Decide what you’re looking for. Will any typewriter do? Do you want one that works? Do you want manual or electric? Old or new? Black and antique or colourful and modern? Desktop (heavy) or portable (less heavy)? Do you have a brand in mind? Do some research, see what you like. For me, I don’t care about working condition. My grandmother’s hand-me-down works perfectly (because, as I said, she is a sorceress who can keep things from aging). This makes the process simpler and buying cheaper. Obviously, the older the typewriter, the more expensive. Older typewriters with the glass keys are worth much more than the newer ones with the plastic keys, for instance. And the better condition, the more expensive again. But a lot of sellers won’t actually know if it works or not, because they don’t have a ribbon and don’t want to buy one, so if you don’t actually care about working condition, you can get these on the cheap. And if you do care, make sure to ask whether it works. (Rarely can you get a working typewriter for under $100). Buying a new ribbon is no problem, but finding someone who can do repairs is another story.
  6. You can paint a typewriter. If you find a great one for a great price, but it’s a horrid colour, you can paint it the pastel shade it was meant to be. Here’s a tutorial.