Krystal Schlegel comes from a family of Hermes fans. Her mom owns a 30-inch orange ostrich-leather Birkin, and her sister received a white one for Christmas during college. So the high school senior felt graduation would be the perfect time to get her own.
"It never goes out of style," the Dallas 18-year-old said. She's been begging since January, dropping hints whenever she and her mom sees a person carrying one: "Hey Mom, look at that Birkin!"
A leather briefcase used to be the norm for a new graduate, fresh from a backyard party with bills slipped inside congratulation cards. But educational milestones have now occasions for children to ask for an extra luxurious gift that they won't be able to afford on their own — and the humble briefcase will no longer do.
"Many women dream of a handbag collection to pass down to their daughters or granddaughters one day, and giving them one at graduation is a wonderful way to help them start their own collection," said Tina Craig, 38, who runs the purse connoisseur Web site BagSnob.com.
Schlegel said her friends are also specifying designer bags to their parents for gifts.
"They want something nice to go to college, and the sororities will look at (the handbags) too," said Schlegel, who is headed this fall to Southern Methodist University. She said her friends were looking into handbags by the French design houses Chloe and Chanel.
The Birkin _ which would start at $6,300 and is still hard to find in stores — may seem a bit much for a teenager during a recession. But a bag at any price can make a perfect graduation gift for a high school graduate headed for college, or a college grad turned loose in the work force.
For luxury on a budget, consignment stores carry used bags from high-end designers. Vintage designer purses, which can cost half the price of a new version, are an affordable option.
Craig, who received a new Chanel purse and a vintage Gucci bag for high school graduation, said passing on a favorite designer bag already in a parent's collection would make the occasion even more personal. Buying an older, used handbag is also fine. "Make sure it is something she can actually use, and that it is still stylish today," she cautioned.
Bags with multiple uses, such as ones that are travel-sized or can be carried in different styles, are also good buys, especially as gifts for male graduates. Craig said that briefcases, messengers, or a hybrid of the two styles are the way to go.
"They'll be able to use it more," she said. "They can use it when they go on a job interview."
Lindsi Lane, a personal shopper at Barneys New York, has sold Tumi luggage and Tod's messenger bags to male graduates who want something suitable for careers after school. For a 21-year-old going into sports journalism, Lane suggested a Tod's messenger bag because it had an option to be carried as a briefcase.
"He felt as though he got a two-for-one deal with the purchase of this great bag," she said.
Girls who want to combine designer appeal with practicality may want a large leather bag, like the Balenciaga weekender bag, said Lane. She sold one to a 17-year-old high schooler who would be attending college out-of-state. Besides being large enough for books, the bag "will be beyond practical for her when traveling back and forth from home to school," she said.
Even on a budget, Craig advises spending a little extra for leather, which at a brand like Coach may cost only a $100 more than a cloth counterpart. "Graduation gifts are gifts you want to last for a long time. Leather will wear better than nylon or fabric," she said.
Along with the white leather Birkin for which she'll need to be placed on a waiting list, Schlegel is also asking for black Van Cleef and Arpels earrings — "the classic ones" — she explained, that cost $2,000.
She considered asking for a getaway but decided the Birkin couldn't wait until college graduation, but the trip could: "I would appreciate it more when I'm older."