From the Prada Cleo to the Balenciaga Hourglass, trendy bags come and go—but there’s really only a handful of silhouettes that are truly timeless. Many agree that the Hermès Birkin is a step above the rest, and not just because of the bag’s often-outrageous price point. These meticulously-crafted handbags can last you a lifetime; however, that’s how long you may spend trying to get one.
When debating how to get a Birkin bag, it’s not as easy as waltzing into an Hermès store in your best street style attire and asking for an Epsom leather Birkin 30 in Rose Tyrien. Birkins are not available to be purchased by just anyone. Instead, sales associates choose whether or not to offer clients quota bags (either Birkins or Kellys, the latter of which are arguably just as popular and elusive) based on a myriad of factors, some known and some unknown. Many will say the only way to be offered a bag is to spend a certain amount—to “hit a quota,” hence the slang “quota bags”—whereas others have been offered bags seemingly at random with zero spending history, and a few unfortunate folks spend regularly without ever being offered a bag.
When a quota bag is offered, a client is taken back into a special room and presented with the handbag, then given the option to purchase. Essentially, Hermès invites its top customers to spend thousands on a bag they’ve deemed the client worthy to carry. Clients can make wishlists to give their sales associates an idea of the bags, colors, leathers, and sizes they have their eyes on, but ultimately, the associate decides what bag will be offered, if any.
How to Get a Birkin Through a Boutique
Luxury fashion content creator Charles Gross vividly remembers the experience of being offered his first handbag at an Hermès boutique. “The wait was about two months, and then the offer came,” he shares. “They really know how to make you feel special when they offer a bag, and it sits in front of you, perfectly resting in its crisp orange box. It’s like a proposal scene in a movie. I laugh [saying] that, but it is truly that built up.”
Despite his elation, Gross is quick to point out how restrictive this offering process really is. “I love Hermès the company, the atelier, the stunning creations, and the amazing people, but their current sales architecture can unfortunately be very prohibitive and intimidating for consumers,” he says. “For something to be chic and exclusive, it does not have to be exclusionary.”
While some criticize Hermès for their approach to offering quota bags, the exclusivity was alluring to Alex Pardoe, a hair extension artist in Beverly Hills with a notable Hermès collection. “What drew me to Hermès bags in the beginning was how elusive they seemed to be, and they get you with the thrill of the chase!” he shares. “After I got my first vintage piece, I was sucked in by the exceptional craftsmanship, and I’ve been hooked ever since.”
Gross declined to share how many Hermès handbags he has in his collection, but Pardoe’s lineup, collected over the past seven years, makes a strong case for shopping secondhand. “Currently, I have 19 Hermès bags in my collection, and only four of those have been direct from the boutique. I’m a big fan of the resale market,” he says.
How to Get a Birkin Secondhand
Indeed, the resale market is the only way to get a Birkin if you don’t have a relationship with a sales associate who can offer you a bag. Lara Osborn, vice president of procurement and authentication at luxury re-commerce brand Fashionphile, is well aware of how many shoppers come to the site in hopes of securing a quota bag.
“We believe in accessibility for all. This means that we feel anyone who covets a Birkin or Kelly should have the ability to own this special piece of luxury fashion if they choose to,” says Osborn. “That being said, we highly value the craftsmanship and heritage of these designer items and take great care in expertly representing these designs. The diligence we exact when researching these items to prepare them for sale represents how highly we regard Hermès and their products.”
Osborn, of course, is a champion of the resale market, but she also understands customer loyalty to the Hermès boutiques. When asked whether Birkin-buyers at Fashionphile are typically shopping secondhand only or also trying their luck in-store, her answer is mixed. “Our clients who purchase Birkins represent all shopper cohorts, in one way or another. Many of our clients are endeared to the Hermès brand and are often seeking a specific color/size/hardware combination that can be quite challenging to find brand new or directly from the boutique. Very often, they have been patiently waiting to be offered the bag of their dreams by their Hermès sales associate, and are pleasantly surprised to see it available at Fashionphile,” says Osborn.
“On the other hand, many of our clients don’t live within driving distance of an Hermès boutique or don’t have a relationship with an Hermès sales associate, so buying a Birkin is simply not possible unless it’s from the secondary market,” she continues. “Our clients represent both the new Hermès customer who is finally buying their first Birkin, to avid shoppers who are rounding out their collection.”
A quick browse through sites like The Real Real, Rebag, and Fashionphile gives potential shoppers an idea of how expensive a resale Hermès bag might be, but I had to prod Osborn for a few splurgy specifics, namely the least and most expensive Birkins listed on Fashionphile to date.
“Our most expensive Himalaya Birkins fetch well over $200,000,” says Osborn. “Currently, our most affordable Birkin available is a size 35cm in Gris Tourterelle, rated in Good condition and priced at $7,155.” At time of publishing, the aforementioned 35cm has sold, and it appears a 40cm Taurillon Clemence Birkin in Raisin is the most affordable on the site, on sale for $6,635.
There are certainly more readily-available options on the secondhand market, but that doesn’t necessarily mean shoppers prefer it over the waiting game at Hermès boutiques.
“Personally, I don’t have a preference between buying from the secondhand market or directly from the boutique,” shares Pardoe. “I love vintage and rare pieces that would be even more difficult to acquire from the boutique than, let’s say, a Togo Birkin; so resale is a great option for those pieces! And I love working with my sales associate at the boutique. They get me really cool pieces as well. My preference is really however I can get my hands on a specific bag I’m looking for.”
Gross, who works with Fashionphile on sponsored TikTok content in which he educates viewers on a myriad of luxury brands, including Hermès, is unsurprisingly a fan of shopping resale. "I love buying Hermès bags secondhand. The secondhand market is an entirely different 'Hermès World'" he shares.
The Pros and Cons
While some go to resale sites to get a deal on the bag they’re eyeing, Hermès bags in particular can often cost more when purchased secondhand. With the exclusivity and chase removed, the price goes up. “Everything is on the secondary market, and it’s instant. Of course, that speed and selection [sometimes] comes with marked-up prices,” Gross elaborates. “Sometimes two or three times the amount of the bag’s MSRP. How I figure it, the potential time and money spent waiting for your dream bag to come from Hermès directly translates into that markup.”
Pardoe is also transparent about how much more expensive a quota bag can be when purchased secondhand, but he’s quick to relay a list of pros and cons for shopping at the boutiques, too. The pros? Authenticity guaranteed, better pricing, and perfect condition (“Store fresh! There’s nothing like that new Birkin smell.”)
The cons? “It’s so rare that you’ll be offered a bag on the first, second, or even fifth trip to the store, you have to play the waiting game,” says Pardoe. And even then, the handbag you’re offered may not be one you’re dying to buy. “The bag you’re offered might not be the exact color, size, hardware, or leather of your dreams. It absolutely can be, but you might have to wait even longer to get the exact dream combo.”
Over on the secondhand market, Pardoe loves that he can find exactly what he’s looking for. As for cons, he notes authenticity concerns in addition to the aforementioned price surges. “Replicas are getting crazy good,” he warns. “You have to work with a really reputable company to make sure the bag you’re paying this much for is the real deal.”
When it comes to securing your very first bag, Pardoe has a “might as well” approach to attempting an in-store buy first over shopping secondhand. “I’d recommend trying to build a relationship with a sales associate to get your first bag if you’re interested in the brand itself, and not just the bags,” says Pardoe. “Hermès makes a lot of wonderful bespoke items that are so beautiful, but if your only goal is the bag, I’d recommend the secondhand market. Pay the premium to get the bag you want if you’re not interested in anything else Hermès has to offer.”
There are certainly benefits to buying both in-store and via resale, but regardless, one thing is certain: The Birkin is perhaps the only eternal It Bag in fashion. “The Birkin is a status symbol for exclusivity, luxury and refined taste,” says Osborn. “Its simple design and superior craftsmanship, combined with the difficulty with obtaining one directly from the designer, are ingredients in the perfect recipe for a holy grail bag.”