I met with a potential client this morning who had some vintage items to sell. We looked stuff over, I passed on some, made an offer on others and wound up buying a few things from her. All in all, it was a lovely way to spend a few minutes of my morning and we were able to do a little business together. But it got me thinking about this process of buying and selling vintage goods because its so very different than the standard way most retail stores get their inventory. We generally don't buy from trade shows or a wholesale catalog, we buy from YOU. So let's talk about selling vintage clothing. In particular, selling vintage clothing etc.. that you have to a shop or dealer. Many of us have those wonderful old pieces either from a themed event we went to, or that our Granny left us that we know are too amazing to just give to Goodwill, but we aren't sure what to do with them. We've been hanging on to them but we know we won't wear them. We'd love to find some source or outlet for finding them new homes where they will be appreciated for what they are and not turned into some zombie costume at Halloween, which would maybe be their fate should they wind up at a thrift store.
You could try Ebay or Etsy or any other number of online venues, and if you have the time and knowledge you could make some good money on them this way. Most of us don't want to go to that trouble however, we want a quick fix. Selling these goods to a store like mine that specializes in vintage clothing is a wonderful idea in this case. But it can be a somewhat mystical experience selling to a vintage store so here are a few things to keep in mind when you do.
Most vintage stores will buy outright instead of consigning. We also have our own processes we go through to get a garment ready for the floor. So don't bother drycleaning etc.. If its in awful condition we wont buy it anyway, and if its in repairable or cleanable condition it wont matter to us if its clean or has loose seams or a missing button ( usually). So save yourself a few dollars and bring it as is. I mean, we appreciate it when its clean and in perfect repair, because it makes our job easier, so thanks so much to all those who do that, but don't think that it's going to increase what we will pay for it. It generally wont.
Remember, it doesn't matter what you paid for it. That's not going to determine what we will pay for it. What determines what we will offer you is current market value IN OUR AREA. So if my customers in my location will give me $40 for something I have to pay about 25% or possibly 30% of that or less to make any money. Even if you paid $100 for it two towns over five years ago. Here's an example from my own personal life. I had a diamond watch that was bought for me in the 1990s for $25,000. That's not a typo.. Just a few years ago, I was able to get a max price, after shopping it to a wide variety of jewelry dealers, of $3100. That's about 15% of its original retail value. That's all. Keep your expectations realistic and don't be surprised if an offer is way less than you expected.
Many more modern decades stole fashion trends from earlier decades. The 80's, for example, was notorious for stealing from the 1920s and 1940s. Vintage dealers are generally pretty expert at decoding the various decades and where your item belongs. Please don't argue with us if we tell you that your grandmothers beloved beaded dress is not, in fact, 1920s, but it is actually 1980s. "But I saw her wear it!" I hear you saying. Sure, but she had to wear something in the 80s too and most people didn't stop buying clothes just because they grew old. Plastic zippers ( though these can be changed of course), care instructions in labels, and made in China tags are all pretty good clues its not an older piece.
All of the above is geared towards an honest vintage Dealer. There are of course bad Vintage dealers out there too who will try their very best to rip you off. One thing to watch for is any dealer who gets angry with you if you say you'd like to shop around to see if you can get a better price somewhere else. A good hearted dealer wants everyone to make as much money as possible and knows that there is always more stuff out there. We may express some disappointment, especially if we really liked something, but we know what our budget is and what we can offer and we should be open to maybe someone else with a different clientele being able to give you more. They should give you what their best price is and wish you well in finding something better, with an open invitation to come back if you decide to go ahead and sell your stuff to them. Anyone who badgers you is a clear sign of, at the very least, bad manners.
Another sign to look for is a vintage dealer who is not willing to admit when they just have no clue. We may be experts but we are not perfect, and some items can and do stump us. A dealer who is willing to ask questions and discuss what you now about an items history is usually a good sign.
And my personal pet peeve sign to look for in a dealer is the care they take of your things. Your items are your items and part of either your own or your family's history. They should be treated with respect.. A dealer who just tosses your stuff around or crumples it up like its a used paper towel is not a dealer who will treat you with any respect either. I see that constantly at Estate Sales and it drives me batty. I want to grab them and exclaim, "These items represent someone's life, people, be respectful." You should expect no less when you go to a shop to sell your things.
Selling your old things should be a pleasant thing, if maybe melancholy if they have family sentiment attached to them. A good Vintage dealer will provide that and make you feel like some of your happy memories will live on in a new home. But remember we need to pay our overhead as well, and there are a lot of expenses you haven't thought about to running a vintage business, or any business actually. If we all treat each other with respect and understanding, it can be a wonderful experience for everyone.
One thing I hear so much of is "vintage clothing won't fit me." Let's talk about this. It's a mistaken impression that all vintage is tiny. There's actually a lot of it that's perfect for more full figures. The 50s were very into voluptuous women, but they did like smaller waists so sometimes that can be tricky. Also a lot of 60s stuff is great on bigger sizes and they weren't as into the tiny waists by then. And even in the waifier decades, like the 20s and 30s there WERE plus size women and they didn't walk around naked. It's easier to find the smaller sizes because as a species we have in fact gotten bigger but also remember that a lot of the fit was due to restrictive undergarments, like girdles, and corsets if you go further back. But as a larger woman myself I'm always hunting for the bigger sizes in vintage, my eye is just naturally drawn to it. So don't hesitate to ask about what I may have in your size and don't let your build determine whether you can or cannot wear vintage. Even in smaller girls, finding vintage that fits correctly is daunting. It's always a matter of trying it out and seeing if it suits your particular body type. And there's always more vintage than just dresses. Vintage cashmere sweaters for instance, or bags, or coats.
Another thing to bear in mind is to always check the measurements in online listings. Do not take it for granted that what you see in a photo is the size of the garment. Most vintage sellers, myself included don't have a dozen or more dressforms to fit every size dress. We therefore pin larger garments onto our existing dress forms to make them fit and show them to their best. So if it looks like a size 6 it may in fact be a size 10, but pinned.
Let me correct a very common misconception. I always hear how Marilyn Monroe was a size 12, 14, 16. She may have been but it was a 1950s size 12, 14, 16. By modern standards that's about a size FOUR or SIX people. She had curves for sure but she was not a large woman. I see people boasting about this all the time without understanding the reality.
Also, and more importantly, I can't wait to get to the day when we as humans stop feeling the need to justify our size no matter what number it is, the tiny girls as well as the big, as well as the medium sized ones. We're all perfect.
Let's talk about the word "need" for a minute. The definition of need has been altered in our culture. We "need" a new cell phone. ..When the one we have actually does everything a new one would do its just not the latest model. Or how about something completely non status oriented--bath towels. We "need" new towels but the ones we have still do their job perfectly well. They just maybe aren't quite as bright white as they used to be.
What we really mean is that we "want".
Several years ago I stopped using the word need in place of want. The benefits I've seen are amazing. I've saved a boatload of money, I've reduced my waste production, and I've learned how to repair things that are still totally serviceable but just require small repairs or some paint.
My store is based in large part on the idea of want vs need. I rescue unwanted or homeless treasures, fix them up if needed, and find new homes for them. I've dumpster dived to rescue bags of discarded clothing and jewelry, I've pulled stuff off the curb, friends bring me bags of old stuff they don't want anymore and I sift through to find what's still useable for my shop. What's left goes to a charity. Some of my favorite items have come to me in one of these ways. In fact almost my entire wardrobe including all the fancy designer stuff I wear come from thrift stores. And my home is filled with stuff I've rescued, painted, rewired, sewn up etc...
We live in a disposable culture but I'm doing my best to help change that. And I'm pleased to say that my customers are too.
Want vs need, how can you apply it to your own life?
So the number one question I get is where do I find all my vintage stuff. I'll tell you my secret. Everywhere.
I am constantly on the lookout. I go to estate sales, thrift stores, flea markets (though flea market prices here in Southern California can be the same as retail so I only go to very specific vendors), I do house calls for people who call me with their grannie's attic they need to clear out, I'm known to cause severe honking and swearing as I swerve across traffic at the sight of a yard sale sign. I've been caught dumpster diving. I even scour eBay if I'm hunting for something very specific and I don't think I can find it locally. I'm never not on duty when it comes to finding vintage.
It's the best part of my job actually, and the hardest.