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How to Restore a Vintage Handbag in 5 Steps

How to Restore a Vintage Handbag in 5 Steps

If you've found a lost treasure in a consignment store, or even in your own closet, here's how to bring it back beautifully.

Considering that, on average, a woman owns around 15 handbags, you probably have a small pile of handbags stashed away in your closet. Maybe a large pile. At least half of those bags probably qualify for a new lease on life. Your vintage handbag probably only needs a little bit of retouching to make it look like new again. Peek inside your closet, retrieve a bag or two (or three), and let's see what we can do.

1. Removing Stains and Dirt

Use a damp white cloth to wipe down the whole body of the bag. If stains or dirty spots remain, you can remove them with the help of a mild leather cleaner or saddle soap. Take a cloth and rub the cleaner onto an inconspicuous area of the bag to test whether it is going to leave a mark. Supposing your bag passes the test, apply the cleaning agent in a circular motion directly on the stain. Afterward, “rinse” the cleanser off of your bag by blotting and wiping the spot with a damp cloth. Be careful to rinse it off completely, otherwise, the soap will leave a greasy residue. (Note: do not use hand soap, dish soap, or laundry detergent on a leather handbag. Like, ever.)

2. Getting Rid of Scratches

Old leather handbags tend to have noticeable scratch marks on their surfaces. You may eliminate some of those marks by simply rubbing them out with your fingertips. (The fingertips release natural oils which then blend into the leather, causing scratches to disappear). For major marks that won't come off, consult an expert on restoring vintage handbags.

3. What About those Worn Edges?

The most obvious sign your bag needs fixing is worn edges. Bags usually wear most at bindings—the places where two pieces of leather are sewn together. They frequently have a noticably lighter shade than the bag itself, thus they need a touch up with leather dye. You just have to find an identical color of dye. Shoe stores or bridal salons often stock many colors and tints.

4. Maintaining the Shape of the Bag

If your bag has been under a pile of other things for a considerable amount of time, it may have lost its original shape. You can restore its form by gently heating it up: using a hairdryer or clothing steamer on the lowest setting and then stuffing it with a crumpled tissue paper or balled-up socks as the bag cools and the leather resets. This kind of process may take quite some time for the bag to remold, but it will be worth it.

5. Condition, Condition, Condition

The last and the most important step in restoring your vintage handbag is conditioning. The leather is skin, and it needs moisturizing. You may need to apply the conditioner a few times before it brings back the glory your bag once had.

Putting It all Together

You may have noticed that a lot of these techniques deal with damage resulting from poor storage conditions. It's definitely worthwhile to learn the proper way to protect and store a handbag. Refurbishing and refreshing an older handbag takes a little time, but it's faster (and cheaper) than shopping for a new bag. Plus, you'll get reacquainted with an old fashion friend.

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