Bags with piping wear faster along the corners, but piping is fairly easy to repair or replace.
White topstitching on a bag soils quickly, making the bag look older than it is. But the stitching can be cleaned or replaced by a professional.
Stay away from bags with handles that are not stitched along the edges of the straps. Handles that are only glued will eventually separate. "Nothing is stronger than stitching," says Tony Pecorella, owner of Modern Leather Goods, in New York City.
"The fewer moving parts, the better," says Christopher Moore, owner of Artbag, a handbag repair shop in New York City. Fewer pieces means less possibility of breakage.
Pebbled leather will wear better over time. It shows fewer scratches and rain spots. Smooth leather, like calfskin, can be sensitive to scratches but is easily restored by a handbag specialist.
Caring for Your Bag
About once or twice a year, treat your leather bag with a neutral (colorless) shoe polish (such as Meltonian; $2.50) to keep it conditioned.
For repairs and stains, avoid the dry cleaner and shoe repair shop (there's too high a risk of damage from the wrong machines or tools). Instead, take it to a handbag professional, like Artbag, in New York City. People send bags to Artbag from around the country.
Never store a leather handbag in plastic, which can dry the bag out or stick to the leather. Stuff the bag with tissue paper or an old T-shirt to maintain its shape. Place the handbag in the felt bag it came in or a pillowcase and store upright.
With canvas totes, you can remove light dirt stains at home by rubbing the soiled area with a dry gum eraser. But don't spot-clean; it will leave a water ring. Heavier stains on fabric bags require professional hand cleaning by a handbag expert (as opposed to a dry cleaner, whose machinery can cause more harm than good). A handbag cleaner can remove some marks, including oil and lipstick, but ink is almost impossible to get out, says Chris Moore, owner of New York City's Artbag, which specializes in repairs and cleaning.
With vinyl bags, washing with soap and water should do the trick.