Want the latest handbag? Don't buy it, rent it.
These days, a handbag's shelf-life is rarely longer than a season. That Louis Vuitton Takashi Murakami decorated with cherries, so popular in summer, has, by fall, morphed into a screaming marker of "last season."
For those who can't bear the thought of anything less than the latest style slung over their shoulder, or the more prudent shopper who wants to sample before shelling out hundreds of dollars, these websites will loan you a bag.
Bag Borrow or Steal (bagborroworsteal.com), is the more established of the two. For $19.95 a month, customers can rifle through the Trendsetter "closet," stocked with less expensive brands like JLo and Liz Claiborne. Access to the mid-level Princess closet costs $49.95 a month. And for $99.95, the Diva membership offers the latest in Marc Jacobs, Emilio Pucci, and Louis Vuitton - bags that can retail for up to $1,000.
For the monthly fee plus $9.95 round-trip shipping, customers can borrow one bag at a time for as long as they like. (A deluxe version allows for two at once.) At any point, bags may be purchased at a discounted price, depending on their condition. Bag Borrow or Steal requires a three-month minimum subscription, but does offer a two-week free trial - though I had some trouble canceling mine.
Prices at From Bags to Riches (frombagstoriches. com) range from $19.95 to $89.95 per month. High-end inventory includes Balenciaga, Dolce & Gabanna, and Fendi.
Of the two sites, Bag Borrow or Steal is the clearest and easiest to navigate - with a pull-down menu by designer, which, after all, is the whole point of the service. It also offers a wider selection. Both sites swear by the authenticity of their merchandise.
From Bag Borrow or Steal, I opted for a small mint-green Marc Jacobs (similar bags retail around $700).To my admittedly untrained eye, it looked like the real thing. The silver hardware was substantial, the leather gently worn and buttery - presumably from previous borrowers.
The Dooney & Bourke I chose from From Bags to Riches looked to be grass green in the photo (approximately $250 retail). But the bag that landed on my doorstep was much darker. It resembled and vaguely smelled like something my grandmother might carry, and appeared unlined - unlike most of handbags in the Dooney & Bourke line. According to the website, I could have exchanged it for something I liked better, or been reimbursed.
Perhaps because it's a smaller operation, customer service at From Bags to Riches was more responsive. In fact, many of my questions were answered by the company's founder herself, Kara Richter, self-proclaimed "bag lady."