How to buy vintage Chanel on a budget

Jill Asemota wearing a Chanel black and white bag
Armstrong: 'Chanel is one of the few names that appeals to everyone' - Getty

The opening of a new blockbuster V&A exhibition, and the airing of an absorbing new BBC2 documentary mean Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel is back in the news.

What this all means, among other things, is that anything carrying a Chanel label – from perfume bottles to haute couture – will now be exchanging hands for a premium. Then again, when hasn’t it?

Prices of new Chanel were hiked more than 30 per cent during the three years since the pandemic hit. Official reasons included the rising cost of raw materials. But most experts agree that Chanel’s bean (make that pearl) counters, increased the digits simply because they could.

Margot Robbie carrying a Chanel heart-shaped handbag at a Barbie news conference in July
Margot Robbie carrying a Chanel heart-shaped handbag at a Barbie news conference in July - AP Photo/Lee Jin-man

Like Hermès, Chanel is one of the few names that appeals to everyone from scattergun labelholics to the truly discerning. From heart-shaped handbags (like the one Margot Robbie, a Chanel ambassador, clutches in the Barbie movie) to exquisite tweed jackets, made to last more than one lifetime, there is something for everyone.

But where to get your hands on a bargain?

At auction

A Bond Street auction house doesn’t sound like the obvious place to find a trinket with that all-important double-C imprint for a low price. But there’s a pair of drop-gold daisy earrings in the The Art of Luxury: Chanel sale at Bonhams, currently with an estimate of £100-200. Or how about a pair of velvet blow clips, estimate £80?

Not that estimates are necessarily a reliable guide as to the final price. But the fact is the Bonhams sale, which is online only and until September 21, has new products coming on every day, and it’s extensive. With 350 lots in total, it’s definitely worth a click, including everything from haute-couture tweed suits, barely worn, to ivory felt camelia brooches. Note: couture pieces have a different label from the ready-to-wear, but all the jackets here come with those gorgeous silk linings and the internal gilt chains sewn into the hem to ensure they don’t flop around. One evening jacket has a label with charmingly precise dry-cleaning instructions: “Take to Guillon.”

Daisy earrings, Silk shawl,Two-tone pumps
Daisy earrings, Silk shawl,Two-tone pumps

 Two-tone pumps, estimate £100-200, at;  Silk shawl, estimate £150-200, at; Daisy earrings, estimate £100-200, at

Online vintage specialists

Pre-loved fashion authorities Hardly Ever Worn It, The RealReal and Vestiaire Collective all have a reasonably large selection of Chanel clothes and accessories available to peruse. If you want to try before you buy, Archlabel in Lincolnshire and Sign of the Times in London typically carry some of their Chanel stock in their stores (you can also look online at and

For bags particularly, Sellier Knightsbridge has a strong offering, with more than 240 styles currently available to buy. For those, you’ll need to be quick off the mark and have deep pockets.

Prices everywhere vary wildly, depending on condition, exclusivity and style. Frumpy is frumpy – even with a Chanel tag – and tends to fetch less. But the joy is that while prices are set, they are not solid. You can often do deals.

Tweed dress, Calfskin flap bag, Sunglasses
Tweed dress, Calfskin flap bag, Sunglasses

Tweed dress, £1,806, at Hardly Ever Worn It; Sunglasses, £56.95, at Vestiaire Collective; Calfskin flap bag, £2,450, at Sellier Knightsbridge

Costume jewellery traders

Most of the Chanel jewellery that comes onto the second-hand market is costume. That means the components themselves – the gilt, the pressed glass, and latterly, the plastic – is worth very little. It’s those initials that make it madly desirable – but if your buy then turns out to be a fake, you really are left with not much.

Ideally then, for jewellery, you need to shop somewhere reputable, with full authentication. You might start at Susan Caplan (, the vintage-jewellery specialist, who has a plethora of costume Chanel pieces. There’s no bidding or bartering to be done here, although there is 10 per cent off your first purchase. If you like monograms, this is your place: from double C quilted earrings at £875 to an 1980s Chanel 31 necklace at £2,875. Vintage Chanel is always popular, but Caplan says that sales are up thanks to the current fascination with the brand.

“Eighties earrings are very popular at this time,” Caplan says. “Our consumers seem to be influenced by the era, as we have seen an increase in sales – a 30 per cent increase in Chanel specifically.”

Bow brooch, Logo clip earrings
Bow brooch, Logo clip earrings

Bow brooch, £575, at Susan Caplan; Logo clip earrings, £875, at Susan Caplan 


If you just want the logo, there’s a teeny bottle of Chanel No.5 on eBay currently for £4.99, plus a 99p postage charge. It was probably a free sample. Or how about some £20 Chanel sunglasses? Or a £441 red leather Chanel flap bag? Don’t knock eBay – there are masses of Chanel items on there and this is where some serious collectors who know what they’re doing often browse. But sorry, I have serious questions about the provenance of those sunglasses and that bag. If they were genuine Chanel, the prices would be at least six times as much. In other words: caveat emptor. Always.

Top tips for successful shopping

Ask yourself, is it actually nice?

Whatever level you’re going in, only buy what you like, even if you consider this to be an investment that you hope to flip for more than you paid for it. Second-guessing what will and won’t hold its value is notoriously tricky and research is required. Who, for instance, would have thought those heart-shaped bags would increase so much in value – unless they knew that their supply is more limited than the far more discreet and versatile classic Chanel Mademoiselle Flap bag.

Scarcity adds value

Rarity will always contribute to the value of your purchase. At Bonhams there’s a 1967 cream silk jacket with metallic embroidery that was worked on by Coco Chanel herself. The estimate is a modest £800 – but it would be surprising if it doesn’t go for far more.

“Ten years ago, second-hand was still a hard sell,“ says Meg Randall, Bonhams’ head of Europe for designer handbags and fashion. “But now we never come across any resistance, even among the wealthiest. People are searching for specific items often – they know the exact collection they want to buy from. Right now the 1993 “Barbie” Collection with Claudia Schiffer is popular. We’re not at the stage where the clothes sell for more than they would in the boutique however, so there are plenty of good buys. And remember, Chanel sizes come up a little smaller than many other brands.”

Top Models Claudia Schiffer and Cindy Crawford at the Chanel Ready to Wear Spring/Summer 1996 show
Top Models Claudia Schiffer and Cindy Crawford at the Chanel Ready to Wear Spring/Summer 1996 show - Getty

Given that a new Chanel jacket in store starts at about £8,000, the price for an “original” Coco could go sky high. Right now, a jacket touched by Chanel is a bit like a painting doodled on by Michelangelo.

Be prepared to negotiate

Bear in mind that most resale sites are market places and that you will likely have to communicate with a third party. Sometimes they can be, as one vintage site founder told me, “flaky”. They don’t always reply, or they might take ages to answer queries.

Study the pictures

Note to would-be sellers: provide as much pertinent information upfront as you can with as many honest photographs and ideally a picture of yourself in it. You don’t necessarily have to show your face if you’re camera-shy, but seeing something on a body is enormously helpful to would-be purchasers. Buying something? Cross-examine the pictures with the description and raise any questions accordingly.

Double-check the authenticity

The advantage of buying from a reputable auction house or vintage dealer is knowing that you should have the real thing. These days, most decent resale dealers can offer authentication guarantees, sometimes for an additional £15 fee.