While many designers have returned this season to producing elegant, understated bags, it's not necessary to pay designer prices to get a well-made, stylish bag that should last for several seasons. Once you've found a few brands and styles you like, keep an eye out for sales or for retailer discounts for even better deals.
One of my favorite brands for leather bags is Cole Haan. While not cheap per se, they deliver good value for the money. In most cases, I've found the leather and workmanship to be very high quality, and the styling is often understated and classic.
Of this season's bags, the Heritage Jade bag is my favorite so far. The woven leather, the classic shape, interior/exterior pockets and detachable cross-body strap all add up to an extremely attractive and
functional bag. I particularly like this Loden color, but it's also available in black, light brown, and aubergine. $398 from Cole Haan.
This Talbots leather satchel at $179 has the look of a much more expensive bag. The leather has a nice even finish, and it seems to be sturdy and well made. This bag could easily handle work-to-evening wear. (Une femme loves bags that do double-duty!)
And finally, the bag that took Paris by storm a few years back, and is still one of my favorites, the "24 Heures" bag by Gerard Darel. I have two of these that I've used regularly for several seasons, and they still look great and are holding up brilliantly.
When shopping for leather bags at a lower price point, some things to consider:
Leather should be of even texture and thickness. Leather on less structured bags should be soft and pliable. Leather that is stiff or feels papery or dry will probably not wear well.
Croc or ostrich embossed leathers on bags at lower price points often look cheap. Same with snakeskin prints. YMMV.
Hardware should be solid. Clips and O-rings should close completely. Shiny coated hardware can chip or tarnish with wear; solid nickel or brass hardware in a brushed finish is often a better bet.
Check stitching. Loose stiches or ends are an indication that the bag may not hold up to serious wear.
Put what you normally carry in the bag and see how it fits and feels. Is the bag easy to get in and out of? Does it feel comfortable on the arm or shoulder?
Do you have any favorite sources for inexpensive leather bags? Do wear your bags for multiple seasons, or do you replace more often?