I’ve been wanting a tan leather cross-body bag for the summer. I could have picked up a faux leather bag in stores for under $50 OR I could pay a little more and buy/restore a Vintage Coach bag. I’ve become a fan of vintage bags since acquiring my Chanel flap bag – they often feature better workmanship and higher quality materials, plus they have a slightly distressed, lived-in look that I love! I chose the Coach Willis bag – Style #9927 in British Tan because I knew I could use it for many years – and not have to worry about threads coming loose etc. from a “fast fashion” bag.
If you’ve picked up a vintage Coach bag at an Antique Market, or tracked down a classic style on eBay, you might feel like cleaning it before using it. Here’s a quick step-by-step guide on how to restore a vintage coach bag.
1) Before picture – The bag arrived in good condition, and I could probably have used it as is. But I wanted to make it completely fresh and “like-new”. There are some dry patches on the front, as well as a small mark on the bottom of the bag.
2) WASH – I filled a tub with lukewarm water and 1 teaspoon Classic Dawn dishsoap. I completely submerged the bag, opened all the zippers and soaked every single part. I let it sit for 20 minutes, then turned it around and soaked it on the other side for another 20 minutes. By now, my tan bag turned dark brown, and the water turned brownish yellow from the dye. (I had read that some dye would come out, but not to worry about it.)
3) RINSE – I put the bag in the kitchen sink and rinsed out the soap. I used an old toothbrush to scrub the insides of the bag – especially the base. After washing out the soap, I filled my tub with clean water and submerged the bag for another 10 minutes. This was to ensure that all soapy residue was removed. (The white marks in the picture are from reflections on the water.)
4) DRY – I took an old, clean towel and used it to dry off the bag, trying to absorb as much water as I could. I positioned the bag to minimize creasing, and stuffed it with paper towel at the base (to help keep its shape).
5) ADJUST – I let it dry over 2-3 days, checking on it 2x a day. I would carefully move it around to make sure it was drying evenly and that there was no creasing. This picture was taken after 24 hours – although the bag turned completely dark brown after the wash, it slowly turned back to tan as it dried.
5) CONDITION – This is the most significant step in restoring a vintage bag – bringing the leather back to life with some moisturizing conditioner. Apparently Apple Leather Conditioner is the best choice – so that’s what I went with. I used my hands to slowly massage the conditioner on every leather surface, paying special attention to the handles and trim. The conditioned leather immediately became pliable and smooth- check out the difference between treated and untreated leather in the picture below! As I applied the conditioner, some patches turned darker than others, but it all faded evenly as it dried. You can apply conditioner 1-3 times on your bag, waiting half a day in between treatments. My bag only needed 2 applications.
6) FINISHING TOUCHES – I trimmed any loose threads and added in a Coach hangtag. The original leather hangtag was missing, but if you call Coach head office (1-888-262-6224) with your bag’s style number, they’ll send you a replacement tag for free! I guess there weren’t any British Tan hangtags in stock – so they sent me this pretty gold one to match my hardware. With regards to hardware, apparently you can polish it with some Brasso on a q-tip (keeping it away from the leather) or you could use a jewelry cloth. I just left mine as is.
How do you think it turned out? The leather feels much creamier and softer – I love it! Here’s a peek inside my bag – it fits so much.
Since restoring it – I’ve been using it every day. Because it has a thicker shoulder strap, it’s very easy to carry around – unlike some of the newer bags with thin straps that dig into my shoulder.
Disclaimer: This is how I cleaned my vintage Coach bag – every bag is different and I can’t guarantee that yours will turn out the same, so please proceed at your own risk. Also – these instructions are for the older, unlined leather bags, and NOT for the newer Coach leather bags with cloth lining. If in doubt, you could always bring your bag to a leather repair shop and ask them to restore it for you! Alternatively, you could purchase a new bag from their recently released “Coach 1941 line” celebrating their 75th Anniversary (option 1, option 2)
- An overview of Vintage Coach Styles by Extra Petite
- Image Gallery on How to Style Coach Willis Bags on Pinterest
- Coach Rehab by momtok on The Purse Forum
- Decoding Coach Serial Numbers by Hyacinth on The Purse Forum
- Coach FAQs on The Purse Forum
Do you own any Vintage bags?