The Differences Between Hermès Birkin and Kelly Bags
The Hermès design house is the home of the two most highly coveted luxury handbags in history — the Birkin and the Kelly bag. These exquisite bags represent the ultimate statements in refinement, style, and class. Each bag is handmade from premium leathers or skins and rendered in striking colors. Each is the magnificent result of unparalleled craftsmanship — it takes an artisan up to 48 hours to make one by hand.
Those new to Hermès often struggle to recognize the difference between Kelly and Birkin bags, while collectors hotly debate the finest points of distinction between the Birkin vs. the Kelly bag. Our goal is to give you a thorough understanding of the differences between the two bags and a detailed anatomy of each. This way, you’ll best be able to make the most important distinction of all between the Kelly vs. Birkin — which is the right luxury handbag for you?
How the Hermès Bags Compare: Birkin Vs. Kelly
At first glance, the Hermès Birkin and the Kelly look a good deal alike. First, let’s compare and contrast the two, Birkin vs. Kelly. Then, we’ll explore in-depth the anatomy of each bag, and finish with a glossary of their components.
Hermès Birkin vs. Kelly: Shape
While both the Birkin and the Kelly bags have a somewhat trapezoidal shape, the Kelly is more distinctly angular. The Kelly bag's iconic shape is a true trapezoid with crisp lines, sloped sides, and a ruler-straight top. The Birkin’s sides are more nearly square to the top and bottom of the bag, while the top edge is gently curved. In terms of dimensions, the Birkin bag is wider than the Kelly, allowing for more storage room.
The Kelly comes in two styles:
Sellier, with exterior-stitched side seams, has sharp, clean edges and is more structured and more angular with rigid construction.
Retourne, a rounder, more relaxed version with interior-stitched side seams, has rounder, softer edges and a slouchier look.
Hermès Birkin vs. Kelly: Size
Both the Birkin and the Kelly are offered in an array of sizes to suit the varying needs of different women. The size for each is expressed in centimeters and refers to the length of the bag’s base. Therefore, the Birkin 25 measures 25 centimeters, or 9.8 inches, across the base.
Limited editions of Birkins have been issued in 15cm and 20cm, as has a limited edition of a 15cm Kelly.
Hermès Birkin vs. Kelly: Handles
The handles are often the primary distinction newcomers to the Hermès brand first recognize when evaluating the Kelly vs. the Birkin. While both have rolled leather handles, the Birkin is a tote with two handles and can be carried open just like a tote. The Kelly has just one handle and should be carried closed, or you could risk losing some belongings. Note that neither bags’ handles are long enough to be worn over the shoulder. Each must be carried by hand or in the crook of the arm. However, the Kelly comes with a matching, detachable strap.
Hermès Birkin vs. Kelly: Front Flap
Both the Kelly and Birkin bags have a prominent top flap with two straps running across the front that is held closed by a turn lock. However, the front flap of the Birkin bag has two finished slits that allow the front handle to come through the flap and stand upright. The Kelly has a straight front flap that perfectly echoes the lines of the bag.
Hermès Birkin vs. Kelly: Price
While the prices of both bags vary by leather, color, year produced, etc., these are the most coveted bags in the world. Generally, Birkin bags tend to be more expensive than Kelly bags when purchased at an Hermès boutique. In the secondary market, however, the price of a Kelly bag can be greater than a Birkin bag of identical size and leather depending on the supply and the demand.
In 2021, the most expensive handbag ever sold by Madison Avenue Couture was the Diamond Himalaya Birkin, which sold for more than half a million dollars! It was a 30cm bag made of exquisite Niloticus crocodile skin hand-dyed in a white and gray ombre. The 18-carat white gold hardware was studded with 205 white diamonds weighing in excess of eight pounds.
Hermès Birkin vs. Kelly: The Story
Both the Birkin and the Kelly have intriguing stories behind them that surely have polished their image in the popular imagination. Each history involves a different beautiful woman who is both a fashion icon and an actress. And each used their bag to solve a problem. To fully appreciate the rich backstories, read the history of the Kelly Bag, and that of the Birkin.
Hermès Birkin vs. Kelly: Popularity
Both the Kelly and the Birkin are wildly popular with celebrities, heads of state, royalty, and fashionable women the world over. Both bags have been dubbed the “Holy Grail” of handbags, as they are so highly desired and difficult to acquire. It’s very difficult to purchase a Birkin or Kelly directly from the Hermès boutique, so established and aspiring collectors of these bags purchase them from trusted independent resellers like Madison Avenue Couture.
The Anatomy of the Birkin Bag
To better appreciate both the similarities and the differences between Birkin and Kelly bags, we have made a diagram of each bag, listing their parts, followed by a glossary of components for each.
The Birkin has a rectangular, tote-like silhouette with a curved top. It has two handles for carrying by hand or in the crook of your arm. Most Birkin wearers tuck the front flap inside the bag, laying it against the interior back wall. When the two handles are carried together, they keep the bag securely closed. Separate the handles, and the bag is open. This design makes for easy opening and closing.
Alternatively, you can casually slide the front flap over the front handles. For greater security, you can fasten the flap with the front straps and toggle closure. Although the bag comes with a padlock which can be opened with the accompanying keys, it is not recommended to be used for more than decorative purposes. In fact, it is recommended that the lock NOT be placed on the toggle, but on the tiret with the clochette. The lock can move back and forth if placed on the toggle potentially creating a “smiley” indentation that will not be removable and reduce the value of the bag.
Here is a diagram of the essential Birkin parts, each labeled in French with the names Hermès gives them. For translation of the French terms, please see the glossary of Hermès parts at the end of this post.
The Anatomy of the Kelly Bag
The Kelly has a more trapezoidal shape than the Birkin and features a single handle. Unlike the Birkin (where the flap can be open or closed), the Kelly, due to its single top handle, always must be carried with the flap securely closed. The sangles can be worn over the flap or under it for a more casual look. Most Kelly lovers prefer to wear them under to make getting into the bag easier.
Unlike the Birkin, the Kelly was initially designed to be carried by hand. However, it now comes with a detachable strap that you can wear over your shoulder or even crossbody for maximum versatility, befitting your mood, style, and functional needs.
Below is a diagram of the essential Kelly parts. Many are quite similar to those of the Birkin. Each part is labeled in French, as Hermès named them. See the glossary below for translations and definitions.
Glossary of Birkin and Kelly Parts
Whether you’re considering a Kelly or a Birkin, you’ll note that most of the parts have French names because, of course, Hermès is a French design house. Below are the English translations as well as descriptions of each component.
Sangles (Straps) – The sangles are common to both the Birkin and the Kelly. They are two slim straps, one on each side, that run from the back to the front of the bag. They keep the bag closed when it is secured on the touret.
Touret (Toggle) – On the Kelly and the Birkin, the center metal stem protruding from a metal backplate on which the sangles fasten. The touret has an eyelet opening through which you can place the lock.
Plaque (Plate) – The hardware that lays over the touret and over each sangle on the Birkin and the Kelly is called the plaque. The plaques are held on each sangle with rivets. The left plaque is engraved ”Hermès-Paris,” indicating that the left sangle should be placed over the right sangle when fastening the bag.
Lock – The padlock for both the Birkin and the Kelly matches all of the bag’s metal hardware and can be placed through the touret. However, it’s typically worn on the tiret along with the clochette and keys.
Tiret – The tiret is a thin strand of leather that attaches to the clochette and loops around a handle on a Birkin or Kelly. For a more minimalist appeal, some women store the tiret and clochette inside the bag or at home.
Clochette (Bell) – The leather cover for the keys to the matching lock; it has a shape resembling a small bell. Both the Birkin and the Kelly come with the clochette.
Pontet (Trigger Guard) – The two front metal hardware brackets that hold the sangles in place. These are on the Birkin only.
D-Ring – The rings, shaped like a “D,” that connect the handle(s) to the bag. On the Birkin, there is one D-ring on each side. The Kelly has two D-rings bound together: one to connect the handle and another to attach the optional shoulder strap.
Clous (Feet) – Both the Birkin and the Kelly feature four studded “feet” on each corner at the bottom of the bag. These feet, or clous, are designed to protect the leather when the bag is placed on various surfaces.
Birkin vs. Kelly – Which Style Is Right for You?
Now that you know the key differences between Kelly and Birkin bags in features and parts, which bag is right for you?
This can be a difficult question to answer as both have their place in our wardrobe. In fact, most collectors do eventually add at least one of each, even if they have a firm preference of Kelly vs. Birkin.
In the past, most people started their collection with the Birkin. It is more recognizable than the Kelly, and has the advantage of ease of access and greater space than the Kelly. However, as Hermès’ popularity has increased worldwide and among younger people, the Kelly is more popular than ever. Kelly lovers typically say that the optional shoulder/crossbody strap was a major advantage. Plus, the cute, fashionable Kelly 20cm has elevated the status of the Kelly among younger collectors.
But if you had to choose between the two, with all options in size, leather, color, and price being more or less equal… which one will you pick?
For a chic, everyday handbag whose interior can be accessed with ease, we recommend the classic Birkin. If a shoulder strap is a must, the best everyday Kelly is the relaxed Retourne style.
The Sellier style Kelly is your bag if you prefer a more ladylike, more formal look. It’s perfect for business luncheons, upscale events, and any occasion that calls for a polished image. If the style is appealing, but you prefer a Birkin, then opt for the Sellier Birkin. Introduced only a few years ago, it combines the more formal, structured look of a Sellier Kelly, with the double handle accessibility of a Birkin. Made in the same leathers as the Kelly, it evokes that polished, sophisticated look.
Hopefully in time both Birkins and Kellys find their way into your closet in both Retourne and Sellier styles.
Contact Madison Avenue If we can assist in building your collection. We carry the most popular styles, sizes and colors of Birkin and Kelly bags. If the bag you covet is not in stock, our concierge team can likely source it for you. All our bags are guaranteed to be authentic and all bags on our website can be shipped within one business day of receipt of payment.