How to Decorate Vintage Suitcases

Updated February 21, 2017

So you've found a great piece of vintage luggage, but it needs a little work. Great news--it's not hard to turn it into a unique piece that you won't have trouble finding on the airport baggage carousel.

Figure out what you have. Is the piece leather, plastic, or canvas? This might make a difference when gathering the decorative materials.

Clean the piece outside and inside. Use a vacuum to get into the cracks of the piece where dirt and dust may have been sitting for a long time. Use colour-safe bleach or another disinfecting product to wipe down the surfaces. If the bag is leather, use a leather polish instead of wiping it with the bleach and water.

Determine what you want to do with the piece. Does it need to be a different colour, or just need some bling? Consider paint, added fabric, stencils, or glued-on flowers or mirrors.

If you're going to change the colour, you can use spray paint, or, if the bag is leather, you can use a leather rub or stain.

A simple stencilled bird or flower in the middle of the largest portion of the bag, with a row of sequins or ribbons around the edges of the bag can make a big statement. Also, painting a suitcase a wild new colour can give new life to a bag.

Also, consider whether the inside of the bag needs to be revamped, or can stand as-is. If it's not in good shape, you'll need to plan to decorate that too.

Buy supplies. If you've decided to add fake flowers or other items to the outside, be sure to get a glue gun. Buy the right glue for the surface you will be working on. Spray paint works well for some surfaces, and goes on evenly, though a leather rub or stain can give a leather bag a more natural look. If you are painting the piece, get painter's tape too, to cover up the handles and edging.

Don't forget about the inside of the bag. Buy enough fabric to cover what you are replacing. Take the fabric out of the inside and take it to the fabric store with you, to be sure you have the right amount.

Decorate the outside. If you are painting the entire outside, cover the handle and edging with painter's tape. Give it ample time to dry before adding other decorations to the outside, like sequins or ribbon. Remember that anything you glue on should be given plenty of time to set before you move the piece around.

Refurbish the inside. If you've done any painting or gluing of the outside, there may be bits that got into the cracks, and into the piece. That's why refurbishing the inside of the bag last is a good idea. A glue gun will come in handy for gluing new fabric to the inside. Be sure to measure the proper amounts by placing the fabric inside the chosen area and marking it.

Use a strand of new piping or other trim on the corners and edges, to give the fabric a finished look.


If your new vintage masterpiece has a lot of glued parts, be sure to check them before and after you use the bag. Things that were solid before a lot of shuffling around can often need a little extra help after the shuffling. Carry a bottle of superglue in the bag for emergency repairs.

Things You'll Need

  • Vintage luggage piece
  • Vacuum
  • Cleaning solution
  • Glue Gun
  • Paint or stain
  • Decorative Items; trim, tassels, sequins, mirrors, etc.
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About the Author

Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.