So you’ve decided to treat yourself with your first luxury handbag. We know it’s a big purchase—high-end bags start around $2,000—but you deserve it. If you’re unsure of exactly what you want, you can easily opt for one of the name brand bags that top most “Best Of” lists, such as Louis Vuitton’s Speedy, the Chanel 2.55, the Hermes Kelly or Birkin, or Christian Dior’s Lady Dior Bag. But you can also find plenty of less expected options. We chatted with Cathy Covell, co-founder of Denver’s 40-year-old specialty boutique Lawrence Covell, about how to buy the perfect-for-you luxury bag.

5280: Oftentimes people are familiar with the major brands and their most famous styles, but nothing beyond that. Does the label matter?

Cathy Covell: This would be my advice to anyone: Maybe there’s more longevity in not having a label or this year’s “It” bag. The client has to figure out—especially if she is spending that much money for the first time—if she wants to have the big label or does she want to reject all of that and not be part of it. If it’s the latter, that person wants something quieter, but still quality. [At Lawrence Covell], we appreciate the things that are a little more discrete.

How do you know if a bag is high-quality if you aren’t familiar with the brand?

Well, I hate to use this as a cop out, but the price is some indicator. It’s not a luxury bag if it’s $500. Other hallmarks include real leather or suede lining; “feet” [metal studs that protect the bottom of a bag], although they’re more often on structured, box-type bags; high-quality hardware that has much more weight to it; and tight, perfect stitches, or twice-stitched seams.

Are there certain questions customers should ask, such as, “Where was this bag made?” or “How was it made?”

I think those are both good questions. If they’re walking into an Hermès or Neiman Marcus or Lawrence Covell and they’re looking at a $2,000 or $3,000 handbag, there should be no question that it is a luxury, quality handbag.

So sometimes it’s really about where they’re shopping and how much that store is trusted?

Yes. If it’s out of the back of somebody’s car and it’s a $2,000 bag, then I would question that very much. Know who you’re buying from.

Some people may be too intimidated to walk into certain stores and would instead consider buying a handbag online. Is that a smart idea for a first-time buyer?

I think buying a handbag online is tough. You have to touch it, open it up, and try it on. I think buying online comes into play more when the bag that you want can’t be found at a local retailer. But really exploring online—I don’t see how that works.

The Row’s Sidekick shoulder bag

Let’s help our readers narrow down their options. Thoughts on color?

My advice would be to buy a dark color. I don’t think your first luxury handbag should be pink or white. It should be black (like the Row’s Sidekick shoulder bag, $3,550, pictured above) or dark brown. It should be a bag that you can have 10 years from now. And if you think about it in those terms, it’s not quite so horrifying to spend $3,000—it’s $300 a year, right?

So if you were going to recommend a specific bag, what would it be?

Generally speaking, we really love the Row. There’s only a very quiet “R” on their bags, and that’s the point. It’s very discrete. Remember: Quality trumps everything. Make a careful, considered purchase because you’re not going to buy this kind of bag every two weeks. But when you find the right bag, you’ll feel like it elevates the rest of your look. So pick something you love and use it forever.

Pro Tip: Before you buy, find out if your handbag brand or the store offers a refurbishing service (cleaning and/or repair), which will extend the bag’s longevity. Not all brands offer this service and those that do sometimes charge, so it’s best to know the cost and options up front in case your big purchase needs of a little TLC.

Lawrence Covell, 225 Steele St., 303-320-1023,

Follow fashion editor Georgia Benjou on Twitter at @gabenjou, Pinterest at /gabenjou, and Instagram at /gabenjou.