Handbags represent a $96 billion global industry that's expected to grow. The retail scene in Birmingham reflects that growth with new department stores, designer boutiques, discount stores and a vibrant secondhand market.
Tuesday, FOX6 News began a five-week series taking a closer look at handbags, why women love them, what they're buying and how to know you are making a good investment when spending your money.
There are endless shapes, sizes, colors and styles. Handbags range from practical totes to luxurious objects of desire that sell for thousands of dollars. FOX6 News hit several of Birmingham's hottest shopping districts and found many ladies in the Magic City are not afraid to show them off.
We quizzed a random sample of female shoppers at the Summit and Colonial Brookwood Village and were surprised at the number of women who admit to having over 10 handbags in their personal collection.
Brandi Russell is a 23-year-old law student at Samford who says she has well over 30 handbags. How long did it take her to collect that many? She says she started in high school.
"That's when I really got into, I needed a handbag every couple of months," says Russell.
She admits her parents have bought them for her and she can't afford to buy them herself while she's in school. Once she's working, she says she'd spend up to $2,000 on one bag.
Lisa and Mike Watkins of Gardendale have been married 32 years. We ran into them at the Summit where she showed us her monogrammed Louis Vutton tote. It's one of an estimated 20 bags she has in her collection. Her most expensive is also a Louis Vutton and costs $3,500.
We asked why she would spend that much money on one handbag.
"It's never going to go out of style," says Watkins. "Actually this particular one is a limited edition and I'll carry it forever."
If you thought diamonds were forever, turns out some handbags have that same timeless appeal.
Birmingham women love high end labels on their handbags like Louis Vutton, says Megan LaRussa, a style consultant based in Birmingham.
She thinks every woman could use four handbags: one for fall/winter, one for spring/summer, a clutch for evenings and a cross body bag for weekends.
She also says you don't have to spend a fortune, but advises her clients to invest in a quality product that will last.
LaRussa says look for great deals at discount stores like TJ Maxx and Nordstrom Rack for quality bags made by designers like Kate Spade, Michael Kors and Marc Jacobs.
We asked shoppers at the Summit and Colonial Brookwood Village about their favorite handbag brands.
Coach, Michael Kors, Kate Spade, Dooney & Bourke and Louis Vutton were all popular choices. A few shoppers mentioned lesser known labels like Tory Burch, Longchamp, Juicy Couture and Brighton.
LaRussa advises her clients to not worry about label as much as their own budget and personal style.
She says a better investment is to choose a classic handbag style that you can use for years.
Classic shapes include square and rectangular, classic colors include neutrals like black, brown and grey, according to LaRussa.
She also says try the purse on in the store to make sure it feels comfortable on your arm.
"Put your stuff in the purse," LaRussa explains. "Don't walk out of the store, but walk around the store if you need to and make sure it fits all of your belongings."
With all the excitement we found surrounding handbags, at least one woman we spoke with didn't seem to care.
Melissa Mayfield is a young mother who was carrying a small child piggyback when we spoke to her at the Summit.
"You know we're in a diaper bag stage of life, so I have a book bag and that's great for right now," she laughed.
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