Monday, March 21, 2016

How to Restore a Vintage Coach Bag: A Step-by-Step Tutorial

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.

Blogger Outfit Coach Willis bag Style #9927
shirt (similar) / vest (similar) / jeans / shoes (similar)

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 I restored my Vintage Coach bag.

How to Restore a Vintage Coach Bag: A Step-by-Step Tutorial

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.

How to Restore a Vintage Coach Bag: A Step-by-Step Tutorial

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.) 

How to Restore a Vintage Coach Bag: A Step-by-Step Tutorial

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.)

How to Restore a Vintage Coach Bag: A Step-by-Step Tutorial

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).

How to Restore a Vintage Coach Bag: A Step-by-Step Tutorial

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.

How to Restore a Vintage Coach Bag: A Step-by-Step Tutorial


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 above! 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.

Coach Willis Vintage Bag style number 9927 in British Tan

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 to Restore a Vintage Coach Bag: A Step-by-Step Tutorial

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.

What fits inside a Coach Willis Bag style number 9927

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.

Different ways of carrying a Coach Willis bag Style #9927
Carried: Cross-body / Hand-held / Shoulder (sweater / jeans / boots (similar)

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)

Helpful Posts:

Do you own any Vintage bags?

43 comments:

  1. It turned out beautifully! I'm always adding vintage Coach bags to my favourites on etsy even though I have a couple of newer ones, but I wondered if it might be worth it. I might just bite the bullet and get one!

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    1. You should totally get one - the older ones are practically indestructible LOL :-)

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  2. Thanks for sharing this how-to. I have a Roots tote that I love, but needs a refresh. I never thought of trying something like this, but now I will. Roots customer service (a few years ago) was useless when I asked for help/advice about cleaning. I need to buy that Apple conditioner.

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    1. Yes - the Apple conditioner is invaluable! I use it on many of my designer bags as it has such a good reputation. Unfortunately a lot of bag customer service departments are not good at offering tips on how to take care of a bag - I think proper care tips are essential!

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  3. Wow what a great transformation! Sometimes vintage bags are great! A bargain and has a real lived in feel

    katattack2000.wordpress.com

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    1. Thank you! It's nice that you don't have to worry about using/messing up a vintage bag :-)

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  4. Thanks for this wonderful tutorial. Where did you purchase the Apple conditioner from? It says in the link that you provided on Amazon.com that it doesn't ship to Canada. I have not been able to find this in Canada so far...

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    1. I bought mine a couple of years back (it works well on most designer bags so I knew I wanted it!). I think I found it on Amazon or eBay - with a seller who was willing to ship to Canada. Good luck finding it - it lasts forever and you can use it on multiple bags. Oh - mine came in a kit with a cleaner too, but I never use it ;-)

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  5. Great post! I would never think to do this with a bag, but I can see the difference and it's amazing! I love vintage bags too, although I have yet to acquire one. This style is timeless and so is the color. Great choice! Love it :)

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    1. Thanks Noelle - I'm surprised at how much I'm loving vintage bags - they have a lot of personality and are a fun addition to the rest of my collection ;-)

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  6. This was an awesome read! Except now I want your bag!! Ha! And I'm glad you added the disclaimer about the cloth lining. I was wondering how all that would work! It's a gorgeous bag! Awesome before and after photos!
    Carylee | http://morepiecesofme.com

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    1. Thank you! I've been wanting this bag for ages (saving pictures of it etc) - I'm so glad I found one in good condition - it's always feels risky buying a vintage bag without checking it out in person ;-)

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  7. I'd been toying with the idea of buying a vintage Coach bag for ages, and this post inspired me to resume my search! After careful consideration, I chose a black Rambler's Legacy that I found on Etsy, and it's now on its way to me. So, thank you for both the restoration guide AND the reminder!

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  8. Getting a new coach tag by calling that toll free number is NOT TRUE. You'll have to verify the purchase and the purchase had to be directing from coach. So think twice when you assume you could buy a 2nd hand bag and replace a coach tag.

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    1. No. I have received several replacement tags without jumping through ANY of the verifications you mentioned. I simply emailed them all my address info and the number printed inside the bags.

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    2. I restore vintage Coach bags too,and I actually just put my bags in my front loading washer on the gentle cycle. After that i use the same pro essential you do.

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  9. Your bag looks amazing! I just purchased the same one and it does need some TLC. I was wondering if you used the conditioner on the inside, or just the outside?

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    1. Congrats on your bag - I love this bag and think it's a classic! You only need to condition the outside - the inside is a rough unlined material so there's no need to condition it.

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    2. It truly is a timeless beautiful bag. I will be so happy if mine turns out even half as nice as yours. Thank you so much for this post and your reply. I can't wait to get started on it now!

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  10. I am in the process of cleaning and restoring a limited edition Coach Stewardess bag. I did call Coach to ask if I could purchase a replacement hang tag and was told that Coach does not offer a replacement to buy, however, if you provide the serial numbers and they verify that the bag is indeed a Coach bag, they will send a replacement tag free of charge.

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  11. I am in the process of cleaning and restoring my Coach Limited Edition Stewardess bag using the method you described. I contacted Coach to replace a missing hang tag. They were extremely helpful and once my serial number was verified, they said they would send one out free of charge

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  12. It turned out beautifully! I just dragged out 2 of my vintage coach handbags. I have a dark chestnut brown bag just like your bag but in the mini style and I have another larger vintage bag. I'm glad I hung onto my old bags now. I was going to donate them but after seeing how good your bag looks I decided to try and restore mine. They sure don't make the newer bags anywhere near the great quality of the old bags! I ordered conditioner and leather cleaner from coach ad hopefully it will work.

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  13. I have a number of Coach bags that are probably considered vintage. But, I bought them new! Thanks for the idea to help me renew them!

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  14. I found a coach purse a few days ago at a local thrift shop & I absolutely love it. It seems sturdy & well made & I can tell it might've been a favorite of the previous owner. Thanks for the tips on cleaning it,it could use a good bath & look forward to using it as it has become a favorite of mine.

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  15. I am about to restore a 97 and a 94 coach station bag and wonder if the soaking method caused any swelling of the creed? If so, did it dry normally or was it altered? Thanks :)

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  16. I am about to restore a 97 and a 94 Coach Station bag (one is mahogany and one is British tan) and was wondering if the soaking method caused any swelling of the creed? If so, did It dry normally, or was it altered after? Thanks :)

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    1. It didn't for mine - and I haven't read about that happening....but perhaps to be on the safe side, restore your bags one at a time, and don't immerse it for too long?

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  17. I have just followed your Instructions, and it seems to be working. However m question is do I wash the strap?

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    1. Hi! Yes, I did wash the strap using the same method!

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  18. I wanted to restore a Coach bag I have from the 1980's that's been sitting in my closet for too many years. I read that saddle soap might not be the right choice to clean it before I condition it. Many years ago a hi-lighter opened and leaked all over my Coach briefcase, causing a horrible stain. When I called Coach, they told me to use Ivory Dishwashing liquid and while it took some effort, it worked perfectly. The briefcase still looks great today, 30+ years later. Both that briefcase and the bag I want to start wearing again are full grain unlined British tan. Glad I found your blog via Pinterest. I look forward to wearing my bag again this fall. Thanks.

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  19. When you called Coach for a new tag, what "Color Code" did you have to give them for the bag. I called and the rep said just knowing the color wasn't enough. She needed the code. :-(

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    1. If you look for your bag on eBay - they often have the codes listed - and maybe that could help you?

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  20. Hi, thank you so much for sharing this information. I was wondering if this will help the corners of my bag that are scuffed and faded? Or do I need to add dye?

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    1. I think adding the leather conditioner should help make it look its best - but if it still looks faded, dye may be necessary. I personally haven’t tried dye myself though, so am not sure of the technique- perhaps a bag repair shop would be a good option

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  21. I am so glad to know this simple but worthwhile cleaning method. Thank you for posting this info. I hope to use it on s couple of my vintage bags.

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  22. Hello! What is the full tag number? I am looking for the largest 9927 I can find and was wondering what this bag is ...

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  23. You inspired me! Great article and blog. It took me 6 months to find a Willis bag in British tan and in mint condition... for $50. I love it and now you have me hooked on Coach vintage bags. I owned my first Coach saddle bag in 1987. Hard to hear these bags are vintage, but then again, so am I! I also bought a Coach Sheridan Roswell bag for $25, because the person selling it had no idea what it was and neither did the seller of the Willis bag. These kinds of listings get lost on the internet and you find them by accident in searches. I guess when I was young, owning the Coach saddle bag was a big deal for me. It was a gift. I didn't have money to buy Coach bags then. Now I do, but I still prefer the bags from the 80's and 90's. You have great taste and I love reading your blog. I have washed Coach bags in cold water with Ivory soap. The only thing I'd warn folks about is losing the serial number. If it's not well stamped it, it could disappear from the bag swelling in water. However, sometimes you don't have a choice. My original saddle bag lost it's number, because after 30 years and two kids, it needed a bath. Cold water helps the dye not to run and Ivory soap is what Coach suggests. I guess it could be gentler then other dish detergents. Not sure, but keep up your great blog. Always interesting. -Julie

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    1. Sounds like you have some amazing classic bags! Thanks for sharing the tip about using ivory!

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  24. Hello!
    I just recently found and purchased a vintage Coach Willis bag in the color black at Savers for only $1.99. I was so excited when I found it! But it was pretty beat up looking (Scratches scuffs everywhere). I followed your directions exactly, washing the bag with Dawn soap and using the Apple Conditioner, and my bag looks practically brand new! Thank you so much for sharing this! I am so happy with the results :)

    One thing I do have to add as advice to anyone else, the hardware on my Coach bag was REALLY dingy looking, so I purchased some Brasso (metal polish) from Home Depot for around $4 and I polished the brass hardware before I washed my bag and my hardware looks SO much brighter and shiny!

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    1. Wow what a bargain find! And I’m so pleased that you were able to restore your bag. Great tip about applying the brasso before washing - thanks for sharing!

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  25. FYI - it looks like somebody on PoshMark (@gj1990) is using your pic from your 3/21/16 blog to sell a similar coach bag but without the strap.

    Lee

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  26. Hola! Thanks for articule... I have two white hobo mini bags that aren’t white anymore. Leather has stains that make them look dirty, do you have a recomendation to restore white leather? I already clean it! but wasnt enough thanks beauty

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Thanks for commenting! Comments are my favorite part of blogging and I respond to each and every one <3

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