When deciding how to price vintage clothing, sellers should consider multiple factors before placing resale value on a particular garment.
Just because you love a particular piece of clothing doesn’t mean it will sell at a value equivalent to your appreciation of it. Take my obsession of sequins for example: I may be comfortable spending more money on sequins because that’s my favorite vintage style, but that doesn’t mean I should assume everyone else will invest their dollar similarly.
Rather than subjectively price your vintage merchandise based on what you like alone, I believe that determining the most accurate price guide for selling vintage clothing depends on objective evaluation of 7 key variables involving the garment’s era, purchase cost, trend, quality, availability, designer and season of sale.
Keep reading after the jump for my 7 secrets to pricing vintage clothing, including advice on how to gauge the resale value of a vintage garment based on the piece’s era, trend, quality, availability and designer along with how much you paid for it and the season you plan to sell it.
My experiences selling vintage clothing stem from the online world to most recently, as the manager of a brick & mortar NYC vintage boutique.
While my resume lists years of experience working careers involving vintage clothing, it’s important I state that this article on pricing vintage is a reflection of my opinions and should not be used as cold-hard facts.
I hope this article inspires vintage sellers to thoughtfully price their vintage goods so that both buyer and seller positively benefit from the transaction. Creating a symbiotic relationship of trust between seller and customer is what spreading vintage love is all about!
Feel free to scroll through the post to learn more about how to price vintage based on 7 variables, or click any of the links below to be taken immediately to the text within the article!
DRESSES FEATURED: 1930s dress by Simplicity is Bliss, 1940s dress by Rococo Vintage, 1950s dress by Rococo Vintage, 1960s dress by The Paraders, 1970s dress by The Paraders Vintage, 1980s dress by Archive Fever Vintage.
CONVENTIONAL WISDOM: The older the garment, the more expensive it should be.
THE BUYING TRUTH: The average customer doesn’t realize how vintage inventory circa the ’60s and earlier is becoming harder and harder to come by.
What they do understand are these questions: Is this piece modern enough to wear today? What’s it made out of? Can I get the same style somewhere else for less? Did someone important I recognize design it?
It all depends on how much the customer is going to want the piece for themselves. Keeping the perspective of the customer in mind, a dress from the ’40s — while more rare in quantity — may hold a “buying” value less than a different style from the ’70s.
THE SELLING SECRET: Just because I say that an older garment doesn’t always cost more than a younger one doesn’t mean “age” ain’t nothing but a number. It definitely is a variable to consider when pricing vintage, but the trick is not to have an automatic uptick of price just because the piece is triple your age.
When you should price vintage based on age appropriately is when you’ve acquired a collector’s vintage piece, which are those garments from the 1920s or earlier.
Whether it’s for their personal collections or that of an exhibit, vintage collectors are the type of customer who have an understanding of a vintage piece’s worth from these time periods. Because they’re educated on their rarity and uniqueness, they are comfortable paying a higher price point than a customer who just wants a pretty piece of vintage to wear.
CONCLUSION: Rather than mark a piece of clothing at a higher piece point based on era alone, evaluate its age next to whether it fits with modern trends, the piece’s materials, market availability, designer panache and whether its in season for sale immediately.
If the piece of vintage is pre-’30s, my personal advice is to do your research to learn what the asking price should be for a customer base of collectors, not the general public.
VINTAGE ERA EDUCATION: The Vintage Fashion Guild has a great Fashion Timeline that you can refer to for help dating trends of a particular era so that you’re accurately dating a piece.
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Credit: Ben_onthemove on Flickr Commons
CONVENTIONAL WISDOM: Whatever price you pay for a piece, you should mark it up two to three times to make a profit.
THE BUYING TRUTH: Not buying vintage at low-enough prices to then mark up and then sell to your customer at a profit is business suicide. You are investing in goods that are overpriced investments and will harm your long term financial success.
The more money you invest that isn’t received back into your bank account with a profit on top, the less money you have to operate a healthy, flourishing business model. A few misspent investments here or there will add up to an overall net loss that may be difficult to recover from without investing your personal cash back into the business.
THE SELLING SECRET: Strive to purchase your vintage goods at the least expensive wholesale prices as possible. This gives you more room to mark up a garment to its appropriate value that will also make you a profit.
Goods at wholesale prices (approximately a few dollars each) can be purchased via wholesale dealers like Raghouse, or by shopping thrift stores, flea markets or if priced reasonably, antique store booths.
CONCLUSION: The objective is always buy to resell for a profit. So for the most financial gain, your cost-of-goods should be as low as possible. Even if the piece is a true stunner, if you’re not paying wholesale prices for it you should not buy it with the intention to profit whilst reselling it.
How much is your wholesale “comfort point” price for smart investment to resell and make money from? That’s up for you to decide with trial and experimentation by using the rest of this list’s suggestions on pricing vintage clothing to help determine how much you can resell a particular piece for.
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Credit: Noemi Manalang on Flickr Commons
CONVENTIONAL WISDOM: A piece is more valuable because it resembles something as worn on Mad Men, Downton Abbey, Boardwalk Empire and is therefore extremely desirable by the majority of your customer base.
THE BUYING TRUTH: It’s not to your or the customer’s benefit to hike up the price of a piece just because it’s a “January Jones lookalike” or “Babe from Boardwalk Empire” piece.
True, that ’50s dress you’re listing may resemble Christian Dior’s New Look and therefore have potentially found it’s way onto the set of Mad Men, but not every girl is looking to wear a fitted circle dress that needs sphanx or even better yet, a corset/girdle to wear and look attractive in.
You still have to consider the important question of “how wearable is this piece” and based on the answer to that question, you’ll better understand its true demand and how that factor influences its true price.
Sometimes a trend’s resurgence can be attributed to influences in entertainment, such as the recent Great Gatsby-inspired drop waist dress trend for spring 2012.
Take note of what trend forecasters predict are the next season’s big clothing hits as the runway shows happen, taking note of styles, colors, fabrics and silhouettes. Then when shopping vintage, you can invest in pieces you know will be trendy next season.
CONCLUSION: When pricing a piece based on trend, avoid marking up pieces that resemble “period pieces” from mainstream entertainment shows, films and the like.
Instead, price a piece based on that #1 rule of thumb again as it relates to the current trends as seen on the runways and in the stores: How much is the demand for this style, and how readily available is its vintage supply?
If the demand is high and the supply is low, you’ve got the value of a pretty penny on your vintage lovin’ hands!
TREND EDUCATION: Top trend forecasting sites in the industry are WGSN, Trendstop and Trendzine. You can register and pay for full trend reports as they are released, or sign up to receive free truncated versions for insights on what’s hot and not to buy in vintage with the re-purpose of reselling.
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CONVENTIONAL WISDOM: A vintage garment’s material doesn’t matter so long as it’s a cute, trendy piece.
THE BUYING TRUTH: When pricing a vintage piece, a smart seller should perform research on just what kind of material the piece is.
Vintage clothing is special because oftentimes you’re selling pieces made with the finest quality materials and handcrafted with unique detail not found on today’s assembly line of mass produced goods. Understanding how certain textiles look and feel helps when evaluating the appropriate selling price of a piece.
THE SELLING SECRET: Evaluate first whether the fabric is natural or synthetic. Beginning in 1972, the Federal Trade Commission introduced the “Care Labeling Rule” which required brands to list the piece’s materials and care instructions on attached tags.
Natural textiles are found in nature either via plant or animal fibers and as a result are considered more valuable because they are typically longer lasting and more luxurious feeling. Examples of commonly used natural plant textiles include silks, cotton, flax, jute and hemp; natural animal textiles are wool, cashmere, mohair, angora, silk and of course leathers.
The most popular synthetic fibers are polyester, acrylic, nylon and spandex. All of these synthetics were invented in the ’50s or later, so you can understand why most vintage pieces pre-1940s were made from natural fibers and can be considered of higher quality than a younger vintage garment.
CONCLUSION: Natural fibers are more luxurious, longer-lasting and harder to come by, and therefore should be valued at a higher price point than their synthetic, mass-produced counterparts.
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Credit: Lara605 on Flickr Commons
THE CONVENTIONAL WISDOM: Since the vintage garment is such a wearable, functional piece for every woman, it should cost accordingly — like a convenience charge.
THE BUYING TRUTH: Just because the piece is cool and chic and convenient to wear by today’s fashion standards doesn’t mean that you can automatically flip it for a steep profit.
The reality is that vintage shopping and thrift store shopping is becoming more and more popular in the mainstream. The skills that a vintage seller has are being absorbed by the general consumer herself, oftentimes inspiring that “vintage shopper” to become a “vintage seller” as her thrift store shopping addiction grows.
THE SELLING SECRET: Decide if your customer could easily purchase the vintage piece somewhere else for less. If you can answer “yes” to this question, price the piece with a smaller mark-up than a piece that’s harder to come by in the secondhand shopping world.
Now, a 1960s tent dress with a mad-for-mod print? A ’70s maxi dress with flutter sleeves and prairie style details like a corset chest tie and ruffled skirt? These are pieces with original designs that aren’t just thrifted everyday and can be priced at a higher value than more prolific pieces from the ’80s and the ’90s.
CONCLUSION: The greater the demand and less of the supply, the more expensive that item should be. But the greater the demand and the more of the supply? Not necessarily a higher price point.
The less of the demand and the greater of the supply? Then you simply shouldn’t be selling that piece to begin with.
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Credit: Fontourist on Flickr Commons
CONVENTIONAL WISDOM: An ultra swanky tag and designer name will be respected by the customer, and they’ll pay extra for this label lust in their closet.
THE BUYING TRUTH: Pricing a garment higher just because you know the history of its designer isn’t fair to the customer, who isn’t as familiar with the history of fashion as you.
The average customer isn’t going to know anything about labels or designers beyond what’s most familiar to them today. Think high-end designers with true name panache (YSL, Dior, Chanel).
THE SELLING SECRET: True and recognizable designer labels should be priced accordingly. Examples include vintage pieces by runway designers that were part of a season’s runway or buying collection. Runway collections from top designers are the most coveted and valuable pieces because of their limited availability.
To fully know whether a piece was presented on the runway, you will need to do your research to verify your hunch that a finely tailored, top quality stylish designer piece wasn’t just sold from a vintage ready-to-wear collection in department stores.
Have an amazing piece from ’60s British brand Biba or ’50s iconic designer Anne Fogarty? These are the names that collector’s recognize — but not necessarily your customer.
Address the label’s uniqueness in the description of the piece when selling online and price the piece as a collector’s item much like you would garments from the 1920s or earlier.
That way you are managing your customer’s understanding and expectations so that they don’t mistakenly think you are “ripping them off” with this one piece they can’t understand why is so much more expensive than everything else in your shop.
CONCLUSION: Not every designer vintage piece is created equal and therefore should not be priced similarly.
When pricing a recognizable designer, true authentication should first be confirmed by the design house. If you have the contacts it’s strongly encouraged to request more information from the manufacturers of the original garment.
When pricing a recognizable brand by vintage clothing collector’s, be sure to address the uniqueness of the label and its history in the description of your piece so your customer base understands why its valued more than the rest of your shop.
DESIGNER EDUCATION: Researching an online Fashion Encyclopedia will aid in your general know-how of the period styles and silhouettes definitive of specific designers across the eras.
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CONVENTIONAL WISDOM: The most amazing hot-weather dress can sell in October for the same price it would in June.
But in December, even if they absolutely love it they’ll be less inclined to buy knowing they’ll have to wait a few months to wear it.
THE SELLING SECRET: Carrying a smaller inventory of spring/summer pieces during the fall/winter seasons and vice versa is always a good idea because when selling online, you should have a percentage of international clientele who experience seasons opposite of yours.
For example, when it’s winter in the United States, vintage lovers in Australia are experiencing summer lovin’. Aussies love their vintage, but due to less availability and higher price points of vintage in their brick & mortar stores, they go online and buy from International sellers for stylish steals.
It’s important to see yourself as a global brand when selling vintage online. Plus, that seasonal shifts influences when a customer is most inclined to purchase particular styles.
CONCLUSION: Price your off-season pieces less than your in-season to encourage cross season sales.
If that sexy summer maxi dress doesn’t sell at a discounted price in the cold weather months, mark it up to an appropriate seasonal selling price when the sun starts shining in your corner of the globe again.
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MORE VINTAGE SELLING TIPS
SELLING: 5 Tips for Selling Vintage Fashion
MERCHANDISING: 5 Smart Tweaks for Successful Vintage Sales
MONEY: 10 Careers Involving Vintage Clothing
PART I: How to Tell It’s Vintage by Labels and Tags
PART I: The Secrets to Identifying the Era of Designer Vintage Tags
EDUCATION: 14 Books for Learning about Vintage Fashion