How to Buy and Care for a Classic Coach Purse

I haven't written about anything non-acne related in well over 6 months. So today, I'm digging into one of my favorites – classic "vintage" Coach purses:  How to buy a genuine bag, and how to clean and care for 'em.

Coach was known for decades for their super soft, buttery leather bags in classic shapes, simple colors, and trademark brass turn-key hardware. The problem is, about 20 years ago, the Signature "C" and other trendy styles came into vogue, slowly pushing a lot of the original styles out of production.

So where do you get these sweet classic Coach bags if they aren't making the style anymore? Ebay! (for a fraction of what you'd pay for a new Coach!) I wrote about my experience purchasing my first Ebay Coach purse a few years ago, and I like to think I've matured in the time it took me to buy my second Ebay coach purse. This time, I opted for a dowel bag – the Willis:

Black Willis Coach Purse | How to Buy & Care for a Classic Coach Purse
1997 Made in Italy Black Coach Willis

Let me tell you, it was such a fun experience this time around because some people are dirty filthy liars and will definitely lie to you repeatedly over the Internet if it means getting your sweet classic Coach purse money.

Yes, I got burned. I found a very nice looking Willis on eBay, but it didn't have a picture of the "Coach creed" which is important because the creed helps you verify authenticity. So I contacted the seller (this exchange may contain hyperbole):

Me:  Hey can you send me a picture of the Coach creed on this purse?  

Seller:  Of course my dear sweet eBay buyer. You are such a doll for asking. My daughter will be here in a few days to take a photo, because I cannot figure out how to use a camera. I'm all thumbs! I'm still somehow able to use eBay to communicate with you, post, and sell things. Technology is crazy. I really love you for asking this question.

I got a photo a few days later, checked to make sure it was a legit, and bought the Willis. A little over a week later, I received a Willis with a stretched-out shoulder strap and missing stitches, plus there were bits black stuff on some of the purse brass. I figured the strap was so obviously different that it must have been a mistake.

Me:  Hey the purse is great, and I left you a nice review, but the strap you sent doesn't match the images in the listing. Perhaps it got mixed up with another one. Can you send me the strap shown in the listing? I'm happy to send this one back. 

Seller:  Well no I can't do that. The the photo of your purse had an even worse strap on it, so I sent you a different one. Just request a refund. 

Me:  Huh, that's odd. I don't remember the strap looking bad in the photos. The one I received has sloppy, not original stitching and is so stretched out that it looks like it's going to snap. 

Seller:  Well that's not a weight bearing stitch and stretching is normal, so don't worry about this purse that I roped you into buying with my false advertising. Just request a refund.

Me:  I analyzed the other Coach listings in your shop and I actually found the strap I received on a different purse. Here's the link. It's a really messed up strap.

Seller:  I would never send a strap that I thought was flawed. How dare you question my honor.

Me:  But it's not the strap you put in the listing. 

Seller:  Listen Missy. I have like a million straps, like I have straps coming out of my wherever, but I'm not send you any of them. Just request the damned refund you're driving me nuts, you shrieking harpy.

So I got the refund and went back into the wilds of eBay to find a different Willis, which I still have today. And then, staying true to my nature, I decided it would be a wise use of more of my time to continue researching the first purse I bought. It was only then when I started to realize that maybe the whole purse, and not just the strap, was different from the photos in the listing.

I went on Purse Forum and searched the eBay seller's handle and discovered they were indeed a very naughty eBay seller. This particular person (persons??) is known for using the same pictures over and over to sell different bags, selling counterfeits, being rude to buyers, and for "rehabing" purses by covering them in black shoe polish. Shoe polish. Shoe polish definitely does not belong on Coach leather. (I'll get to this in a moment.)

So there is a point to this story, I promise. Namely, I want to teach ya'll how to properly clean and care for a classic Coach purse. Purse Forum is such a valuable resource, and I fully credit them for this info:

How to Care for a Classic Coach Purse

How to Buy Clean & Care for a Classic Coach Purse or Bag

1.  Gather your materials.

You'll need a washcloth, some white vinegar, a good leather conditioner, and some brass polish if you're feeling crazy. I went with Apple leather care (a lighter conditioner) and Blackrock (a heavier one). Brasso or Flitz is supposed to be great for the brass.

Blackrock, Apple Conditioner, Fray Check | How to Care for a Classic Coach Purse
Blackrock, Apple Leather Conditioner, and Fray Check (I'll get to this in a minute.)

2.  Dust it off.

Before you do anything else, clean the inside of purse. Use a dry washcloth to "brush" out the inside. If there are a lot of crumby bits in there, vacuum it. If there are any stains or gunk in there, you can kinda dab it out with a wet washcloth and maybe some dish soap.

Sidenote:  Older Coaches are generally unlined. The inside is like a rough suede, so you can use an old toothbrush or a nubuck brush if a washcloth ain't cuttin' it.

3.  Put your headlamp on. It's about to get frustrating.

If your bag has any loose or missing stitches, get yourself some nice sturdy thread (quilting thread is great), a beading needle (it needs to be super thin), and some Fray Check (thread glue aka "godsend for anxious sewers"). Your home-stitching isn't going to look perfect up close, but it will prevent your purse from falling apart.

Willis Loose Top Handle | How to Care for a Classic Coach Purse

Mine had some loose stitching on the handle.

Basically, you guide the sewing needle through the stitch holes in the leather that are already there. It takes some patience as the holes are very small, aren't always aligned, and beading needles are very easily bent. I found a binder clip helpful for aligning the holes. The Fray Check will help keep your stitches in place once you're done stitching.

Sewing Leather w/ a Beading Needle | How to Care for a Classic Coach Purse  Fray Check for Purse Repair | How to Care for a Classic Coach Purse

Now clamp it if it's a part that's receptive to clamping and let it dry for about 24hrs.

Coach Purse Repair | How to Care for a Classic Coach Purse

Coach Willis Top Handle | How to Buy & Care for a Classic Coach Purse
This is how it looks now.

4. Clean the leather.

Clean off the outside parts of the leather (ie the smooth part) with a damp washcloth and some white vinegar. Q-tips are useful for getting in the cracks. You can "rinse" it by wiping it with plain water, if you like.

Cleaning a Classic Coach | How to Care for a Classic Coach Purse

5. Clean the brass.

Clean your brass if you're feeling ambitious. If you're using a brass polish, you will need to be careful not to get it on the leather. Because my brass was already pretty clean, I opted for white vinegar on a slightly abrasive cotton pad.

Cleaning Coach Brass Hardware Before & After | How to Care for a Classic Coach Purse
Left: Before cleaning the brass; Right: after cleaning the brass (with vinegar).

I then used a jewelry polishing cloth to get it nice and shiny.

Jewelry Polishing Cloth on Brass | How to Care for a Classic Coach Purse

6. Conditioner: Round 1

At this point, you can apply a light leather conditioner like Apple. It kind of functions as a cleanser as well if you apply it with a washcloth.

Apple Leather Care/Conditioner | How to Care for a Classic Coach Purse

Rub it in with the washcloth and let it dry for about 1 day.

7. Conditioner: Round 2

You can then apply a second heavier leather conditioner or leather protector to seal everything in. I opted for this step because people on Purse Forum said this particular product (Blackrock) gives a nice "glow" to the leather. You're damn right I want my leather to glow.

Blackrock Leather 'n Rich | How to Care for a Classic Coach Purse  Blackrock Leather 'n Rich | How to Care for a Classic Coach Purse

I applied the Blackrock to both my Penny Pocket Purse and my Willis. Both had a bit of the dye come off on the paper towels I used (this is totally normal).

Let this dry for at least a few hours, and you're ready to go!

Here are some before/afters:

Penny Pocket Purse Before & After | How to Care for a Classic Coach Purse

Willis Before & After | How to Care for a Classic Coach Purse

    Black Willis Before & After | How to Care for a Classic Coach Purse

    • TIPS

      • Be sure to dab the Fray Check on the actual thread (a needle can help you precision-drop it on there). If you get it on the leather, wipe it off with a damp qtip, otherwise you'll get crusties.
      • If you have something that needs mending, but it's not stitchable, you can also use a heavy-duty craft adhesive like E6000 or a leather cement like Fiebings.
      • Apple can be applied to damp leather, and is great when applied immediately after cleaning. If we're making analogies to hair care, Apple would be like a regular conditioner, while Blackrock is like a deep conditioning mask. 
      • Purse Forum says Coach brand conditioners are no good and not recommended for the Classic bags. You can get better products on Amazon (Leather CPR, Obenauf's, Leather Therapy... the forum has a lot of other recs too).
      • If you are looking for specific advice, you can always post your questions on the "rehab" forum. There are a million ways to fix up an old Coach, so don't assume your bag is beyond help!
      • Generally, you shouldn't have to use any kind of dye on classic coach leather. A quality conditioner will make the color of your bag much richer, to the point where you wouldn't need to dye it anyway. 
      • You can do multiple coats of your leather conditioner, as needed. If you're using Apple & Blackrock, do multiple coats of Apple, then do Blackrock as the final coat.
      • If you have a particularly messed up classic leather Coach, you can try a full rehab of the purse, which involves soaking the purse in soapy water, rinsing it, stuffing it with tissue, and layering it with a ton of leather conditioner as it dries. I haven't tried it myself, but this thread makes me believe I will someday discover a flattened, unloved Coach at the bottom of a pile of sticky Precious Moments figurines, then restore it to it's former glory.
      • If you have a super dry, cracked, i-can-file-my-nails-on-this Coach, you probably aren't going to be able to breath life back into it. Once leather gets to the point that it's lost all it's natural oils, it won't be able to suck any more back up.

    And finally, I have some advice for those that want to avoid getting burned on eBay:

    How to Buy a Classic Coach Purse (and not get ripped off)

    1. Browse eBay for a Coach of your liking. Terms like "vintage" or "Bonnie Cashin" aren't necessary for your query, as sellers don't always get this right anyway. Here are some styles to start with: Court, Legacy, Stewardess, Basic Bag, City Bag, and of course the Willis and the Penny Pocket Purse. (more here)
    2. The serial number (ie "Coach Creed") is vital for authenticating Coaches. There are guides online that can help you determine if your find is a counterfeit or not. (Here's one. Here's another. Here's another.)
    3. If your listing does not have a photo of the "Coach Creed," and you have to ask for it, proceed with caution. That seller might be trying to dupe you into either buying a counterfeit, or into buying something that is different from what is in the picture.
    4. Ebay only shows the last 6 months of reviews, so don't rely solely on seller ratings to decide if they are reputable.
    5. Post your find in the authentication forum before purchasing, if you can. (follow the authentication directions and be a good citizen lovies!)
    6. Also, do a search in the forum for the seller's name. The people doing the authentications know their stuff, but they don't always catch everything.
    7. I'm not going to share the name of the lying eBay seller, so don't ask! They processed the return without issue, and I got all of my money back, so I wasn't out anything. 
    8. Don't look at me like that. If you did a search for their name, you'd find it easily in the forum. I don't need to post it here. 
    9. Plus, I am reasonably concerned that the seller is not a nice older lady like I imagined her to be, and is actually a vengeful neckbeard who will destroy me, one internet profile at a time.

    PS:  I bought my Willis and took all the pictures for this post about a year ago (I know I know), and am due for another round of conditioning. This is what the purses look like now:

    Penny Pocket Purse + Willis | How to Buy & Care for a Classic Coach Purse

    Not bad though, right?

    PPS:  Last year, Coach actually brought back some classics along with some vintage-inspired "glove-tanned leather" bags in celebration of their 75th anniversary. I got one (50% off sale woo woo!) because sometimes you gotta treat yo-self yo:

    Coach Ace Satchel (Navy) | How to Buy & Care for a Classic Coach Purse
    This is the fanciest thing I've ever bought. I kept the cardboard shipping box for months.

    Coach Box | How to Buy & Care for a Classic Coach Purse
    Guys, I just couldn't throw the whole thing out. 

    How to Buy & Care for a Classic Coach Purse :: Crappy Candle
    How to Buy & Care for a Classic Coach Purse


    1. Your bag is soooo pretty.
      Vintage good quality leather is the only type of bags I like.
      But I can't take care of it like this, I barely manage to do skincare :p

      1. Oh man, I feel you on this. I wish I could apply skincare products once a year like I do with these bag.


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