Vintage candles (not the greatest score but fun)
I have posted before about gratitude. And I've documented my good luck in the past. This time of year it seems important especially to count blessings and be grateful. I feel a little silly sharing this story of material serendipity when so many are in need. During the holiday season it seems appropriate instead to focus on giving back. But my blog began as a way to archive consumerism and catalog deals. For that reason, it is only fitting that I share one of my more epic and atypical scores.
When I returned from my conference trip to New Orleans (which I will post about when things are less busy to share professorial conference fashions), I headed to my parents' house to spend time with them during Thanksgiving week. I was eager to catch up with my siblings and help my mom with preparations for the holiday season.
One afternoon while I was out running errands, I stopped into my favorite hometown antique store. Monongahela and New Eagle have many of them along Main Street. And they are treasure troves of old furniture, books, costume jewelry, and vintage glassware.* This time of year I like to peruse the holiday decor to find small gifts and seasonal trinkets.
This particular shop (called Big Harry's) is run by my now-retired third grade schoolteacher. It is located in a converted house near the river with a detached shed and porches stuffed to the gills with wares. Once you get inside you have to be careful because of all the fragile goods. Room by room, there are interesting things to be found in every corner, from the floor to the ceiling and tucked into drawers and cabinets. I browse this store methodically, trying to take it all in as best I can.
On this trip I was hoping mostly to find small, thoughtful extras to put in stockings or with requested gifts. There were many other browsers so I found myself feeling a little claustrophobic. I took sanctuary upstairs. I found a room decorated with antique hand mirrors and silver plated vanity trays, full of women's clothing, linens, and accessories. In the corner I spotted a stack of handbags on a table. As I got closer I noticed that they seemed to be of nicer quality leather. And a few were recognizable brands. Being a purse nerd, I could discern that many of them looked authentic. And buried among the fray I spotted a shiny gold chain strap attached to a lambskin leather bag, quilted with such precision and care that my heart began to quicken. I turned it over to see the iconic interlocking of Cs that could only mean one thing: Chanel.
Chanel or perhaps one of its many impersonators. Surely something so fancy couldn't be real for its tagged price (the cost of Chinese take out for two).
The mining town where I grew up is beautiful in its own humble, "SWPA rust belt," post-industrial sort of way. It is only an hour from where I live now. And I love going there to watch the leaves turn color during the fall. I'd stack the fiery orange summer sunsets up against those found in the most glamorous, expensive, and exotic locales worldwide.** I'd defend it fiercely to critics and outsiders because my sense of place when I am "home" looms large. When we learn the depth (and even irrationality) of Leslie Knope's love for Pawnee on Parks and Recreation, my throat chokes up because I relate. Still, one thing the Mon Valley is not is fancy. Sure there are some nicer houses and beautiful scenery. It has a great deal of history and hefty helpings of small town pride. Like most places, there are people who live more comfortably than others, for whom the exodus of stable, blue collar, union jobs didn't hark forward the difficulty that many Mon Valley residents now face. But the majority of people in my home town would balk at the thought of spending more than the cost of a nice, sit-down, paper napkin dinner on something as silly as a handbag. And with good reason. As much as I might personally adore and collect handbags, even I recognize that there is something frivolous innately about spending a lot of money on an object that... holds your money.
So the possibilities of: (1) a New Eagle/Mon City resident owning Chanel but (2) caring so little about the funds invested to procure such a bag that they'd (3) give it to their local resale shop with no strings attached was a bit far-fetched. And my inner pragmatist took hold. After handling the bag, observing aspects of its hardware and closures, taking mental notes but no photographs, I left the store, leaving it behind.
As I headed home I had a nagging sale goggles-induced feeling of "what if?" The interior stamp had worn and my knowledge of authentication was lacking for this brand. But the leather and hardware seemed really nice for a fake. As a person who will never have the budget for Chanel (with its perpetual price increases and my not playing the lottery) I decided it might be worth doing a bit of research.
What I could remember about the bag checked out: flat head screws, the right C going over the left on top and under on bottom, another pair of C's stitched onto the inside flap, vintage maroon interior leather, etc. Still some details worried me and others I plum forgot. The flap had a pointy button snap closure, rather than twist lock. The quilting, though centered and aligned, was only on the front and back of the bag. It didn't extend around the bottom and up the sides. It was a single, not double flap with no exterior back pocket. The chain looped through an interior leather strip rather than via grommets. And the hologram, the authenticity card with serial number, and the "made in france/italy" stamps were no where to be found.
That nagging feeling persisted. So I went back to the store with little to lose. I spoke a bit with my former teacher who assured me it was real. She said the woman who brought it in "only buys the best." I wondered about who that woman might be. What did she do? Where did she live? Did I know her? Why did she get rid of Chanel without recouping funds on the resale market? There were so many questions but I wished to preserve my reputation as 'Jessica, the thoughtful former third-grader, daughter-of-another-schoolteacher from New Eagle.' It kept me from prying. Though I believed that she believed it was real, I was still skeptical. I bought the bag anyway. I figured that the worst case scenario (in which I bought a fake bag) had me still supporting her charming store.
When I got to my parents' house I set it aside, still wrapped in the plastic "thank you" tote with its hand written resale shop receipt. I didn't look at it again until after Thanksgiving. I had fun eating and laughing with family. And I tried to suppress my obsessive tendencies when it comes to these sorts of situations. It was worth the price of a fake bag to know that it would be there for me to pour over once I had the free time.
On Thanksgiving night, after three dinners with three families, I unpacked my belongings and changed into comfy clothes. And finally, with skepticism I looked at the bag. I used a flashlight to really examine the interior. The lining seemed sticky especially within the interior zip pocket. Parts of the pocket wouldn't even open because of the stickiness. When I was researching one of the vintage bags I saw was pictured with a card smothered by deteriorated leather lining. Without one of the major methods of authenticating (card, Chanel stamp, "made in ___," or hologram) it was as good as fake. The wise women of The Purse Forum wouldn't be able to ease my uncertainty without more clues. So I dug around forcefully. I hoped to find the residue of a hologram or something that gave me peace. Eventually I felt a raised rectangle shape embossed onto the inside zip pocket. I ran my fingernail around the edge and it came loose. Upon further inspection it wasn't attached or embossed at all. I was able to unearth something the size of a credit card but covered in black tar. I scraped it a bit ruining my nails in the process but after a little elbow grease, I saw this:
By now it was the wee small hours of Black Friday and I wanted to start squealing. I don't even know why because I am not a Chanel person. I guess the thrill of realizing that my instincts were correct and the rarity of scoring something so costly for so little were enough to provoke material enthusiasm. The next day I photographed the relevant details to make a post in the Authenticate This Chanel thread on TPF. Sure enough, it was deemed real. And similar bags were selling on ebay for more than $1k. So. Ridiculous.
I know nobody likes a braggart but this was a Fashion Hunters caliber find and now my dilemma becomes what to do with it. Part of me wants to keep it because even if it isn't my style it is classic. I will never be able to throw the money at (even vintage) Chanel. And I enjoy deal mythos enough that the bag feels like my personal trophy. But really, who couldn't use the potential ebay flip profits on something more practical? And my flip could support more than just support a local shopkeeper. I could make a donation to the Washington Mission AND buy something pretty/fun. My inner pragmatist is nagging but my inner materialist wants to keep it!
Anyway, if you read all of this you deserve a medal for your attention span! I mostly wanted to catalog it for my own consumerism archives. But I also want to remind you that if you are feeling lucky there is still time to enter my Shabby Apple Dress Giveaway! Entering is easy. And you can do so multiple times!
*Seriously, if you are in the Pittsburgh area, do not underestimate the secondhand offerings of Washington County.
** As an adult, I learned that it is the residue of mill and mining pollution that produces the unique orange hue cast upon the puffy summer clouds. Makes me worried about what the Shale drilling will do to the ecosystem, long-term.