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 that I know of will buy outright instead of consigning. We also have our own processes we go through to get a garment ready for the floor. So no need for 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 do it thinking that it's going to increase what we will pay for it. It generally wont.
Remember, what you paid for it is 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. 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 know 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.