Nourish it, store it and don’t carry your whole life: how to care for your handbag

Having a big bag doesn’t mean you should carry everything. Treat your handbags right and they’ll last much longer

The late writer Nora Ephron (whom I have quoted in this series before and will quote again) famously declared, “I hate my purse” in an essay of the same title. She described being bad at purses, how hers would accumulate loose Tic-Tacs, lipsticks without tops and Kleenex that either had or had not been used. She said, for a period, she gave up on purses and wore an overcoat with large pockets to avoid having to carry one and went out at night with only a lipstick, a $20 bill and a credit card tucked into her bra.

This week, we compiled some expert advice on how to take care of your handbag so you can avoid ending up with one as chaotic as Ephron’s.

Protect and nourish the leather

According to Jenny Velakoulis, the owner of Evans Leather Repair in Melbourne’s Royal Arcade, the first thing you have to do is protect your bag by spraying it with a waterproofing spray, the inside and outside. Then after waiting for 24 hours, condition the leather with a nourishing cream like this mink oil.

The creative director of Oroton, Sophie Holt, is also a “big believer in spraying your handbag with a protectant, to give the leather or canvas a protective layer against the elements”. She says a protectant “will also help prevent stains or scratches”.

Make sure bottles are firmly closed

Velakoulis says she often sees bags that have been water damaged because “people put a water bottle back in their bag without sealing it properly and the water has leaked through the bag, leaving marks and changing the character of the leather”.

She says it can be even more of a disaster if perfume, oil or something with alcohol in it (like hand sanitiser) leaks. These substances can discolour the leather so it’s important to act quickly and clean your bag thoroughly. If the spill was extensive, she suggests taking your bag to a professional straight away.

If you feel confident you can handle the spill yourself, Holt recommends using a quality leather conditioner to clean the bag. She suggests doing this on a regular basis anyhow “to give your handbag a protective layer, remove stains, nourish the leather and add gloss”.

Storage helps your bag live longer

Another thing that will increase the longevity of your handbag is proper storage. Holt says: “Store your bag in a dust bag … somewhere away from direct sunlight and humidity to prevent any discolouration.”

Proper storage will help your bag keep its structure. “They usually give you tissue paper that’s stuffed inside when you buy it,” Velakoulis says. “Put this back in when you store it, it will help the bag to keep its shape.” She says it’s also important the bags have enough space and aren’t squashed up against other things.

Look for quality and structure

When you’re shopping for a bag there are a few things to look out for. Holt says: “I look for bags made from gorgeous soft buttery leathers that are designed with care and consideration … I always make sure the bag sits comfortably on my shoulder without sliding off or crossbody without feeling too bulky or heavy.”

For Velakoulis, a bag with good structure and lots of compartments is a sign of a bag that will last a long time. “Look out for something that’s structured and can take that weight,” she says. “The use is really important. Make sure the bag has compartments to separate your things.”

If you’re looking at vintage bags, she advises paying attention to how much the leather has dried with age. If dry leather gets caught in the rain, it will crack and deteriorate, so it’s even more important to nourish vintage bags.

Don’tcarry your whole life

Although it’s often tempting to load up your bag with everything you might need for the day, Velakoulis warns to be careful because doing so “causes stresses on handles, and when the leather starts stretching, pretty soon it will break”.

She says to be particularly aware of this happening with larger bags. “The bigger the bag, the worse it is, because we think this is a great bag for work, I can put whatever I want in it, like my computer.” Your bag will appreciate it if you are selective with what you carry.

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