Selling Vintage Clothing Online – A Comprehensive Guide
There was a time that Vintage Clothing was a niche market. It would be sought out in specialist shops and flea markets. However, with an ever growing trend for second hand fashion and an expanding eco consciousness rejecting fast fashion, Vintage Clothing is more of a mainstream option and choice than ever.
Online clothing resale, dubbed ‘Recommerce’, has been cited to double in the next five years. With that in mind the popularity of vintage clothing will only ever increase. You may find that your personal passion for vintage clothing has created a bulging wardrobe that you need to declutter, or the thrill of the hunt has whetted your appetite to find vintage pieces to resell as a hobby, some extra income, or as a full time business, but how and where do you start?
What is considered ‘Vintage’?
Technically anything older than twenty years is recognised to be vintage. You will see key and buzz words bandied about such as ‘Y2K’ which in its literal sense is the year 2000 and refers to styles worn in the 2000’s. Although this is not pure vintage it is loosely seen as an exception to the rule created by the millennial generation. Aside from that, anything from the nineties and earlier is considered to be true vintage.
Identifying a garment as vintage comes with experience, you will recognise the style, fabric, stitching, cut etc. The first thing to look for are the labels. There will be a look to the label which is telling of the decade it was produced. Most modern clothing is produced in India, Bangladesh, China or Turkey. If you see ‘Made in England’, ‘Made in the UK’, ‘Made in the USA’ and so forth, the garment will almost certainly be vintage. Although there are some exceptions and deviations to this, so don’t take this as a given. You are likely to feel that the garment is vintage due to it’s feel or look anyway. The label will confirm this.
A useful source for identifying vintage labels is the Vintage Fashion Guild’s Label Resource
Where can you sell Vintage Clothing online?
My go to marketplace is ebay, but I also use etsy, and apps such as Depop. You could of course create your own website, sell to, or via, a consignment site (although you would only get a percentage of the price), create a Shopify shop or use places like Facebook Marketplace, for example.
If you have an idea of branding or a niche era you wish to specialise in, consider which marketplace best suits your stock. You may wish to be a generalist vintage seller, and perhaps ebay or etsy are the markets for you. Depop caters for a younger market seeing specialist areas in the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s or Y2K. Don’t let that put you off using it though, there are also many generalist sellers on Depop too.
A niche will simplify your customer shopping experience and provide consistency to your store. This will be more likely to bring return custom, but don’t feel you need limit yourself in any marketplace simply because you choose to focus on a particular niche and branding.
Expand on your existing knowledge & style
Spend time researching styles, decades, labels, designers and brands using all the resources available to you, such as books, websites, competitors, online marketplaces and stores, because knowledge is key. When researching a garment looking for ideas on how to describe it, date it or price it, my first resource is ebay. I filter my search by ‘items sold’ to give me an idea of how much the customers are happy to pay for an item similar, or the same as mine. I also use google image search to identify styles and fabrics, and to learn more about brands and vintage styles. This is also a useful tool to gauge my competition.
Building your inventory
There are endless sourcing opportunities for vintage stock. I tend to source at Jumble Sales, Car Boot Sales, Garage sales, and in Charity Shops. Other great places to source are Flea Markets, consignment shops, auctions and wholesale. There are often local Vintage Kilo Sales which are worth checking out. On average you will be charged £15 per kilo. It isn’t the cheapest way to source, but you can find some really great items and there is still plenty of profit to be made.
Make sure to keep up with current trends. Your customers will be on the look out for something that still looks great today, something they can style in a modern way so that they don’t feel that they are dressing like their parents and grandparents. Certain looks and particular garments become trendy again, your stock will sell quicker and have more desirability if you source items to reflect that.
Carefully check the condition of the garment, looking for stains or damage. Try all fasteners such as zips and poppers, look for missing buttons. Some stains can easily be removed, however check the labels for washing instructions first. If the item is dry clean only you would need to factor this in to your price and profit margin. Unless you are an expert seamstress it would be preferable to pay for any repairs, this would also need to be factored in to the cost. Unless the garment is particularly special, rare or would fetch a high monetary return, it may not be worth your time. I always gauge the condition of an item by asking myself if I would be happy to buy it.
Steaming a garment is preferable to ironing it as, not only will it reduce or eliminate any wrinkles, it is also a good way to sanitise a garment that wouldn’t otherwise need washing, and removes any odours. I would only launder a garment if it particularly needed it.
Good clear listings
Presentation of the garment is very important. The best way to achieve this is with clear, bright photographs. You don’t need a fancy photography set up or studio. I simply use my iphone camera and natural light. On darker, winter days I use a box light to compensate. White light will give your photos a better white and colour balance, giving a true depiction of the garment. If you are unable to achieve this when first taking the photo there are editing apps you can use. If you are using you camera phone there should be settings built in for editing. It is important to show the garment as accurately as you can.
Modern styling of the vintage garment will give your customer a clear idea of it’s wearability. This can be achieved by wearing the garment yourself or placing it on a mannequin. It isn’t essential, but it will certainly assist a sale by giving your customer an idea of the fit and look.
Take close up photos of labels and any flaws the garment may have. Be sure to describe all flaws and to be as accurate as you can with the condition of the garment.
Include the key measurements of Waist, Hips and Bust/Chest. This is especially important with vintage clothing because vintage clothing sizes are on average two dress sizes smaller in modern terms i.e. A vintage UK Size 12 is likely to be a modern UK Size 8, and a vintage UK size 16 is likely to be a modern UK Size 12. Find yourself a good modern size guide which shows Waist, Hips and Bust/Chest measurements in relation to the modern sizes, and use the measurements from the vintage garment to get an idea of the size in modern terms.
I use ebay, and filter my search by sold listings, as a guide to pricing. It gives me an idea of how much my customers may be willing to pay for a particular garment.
Factor in your expenses such as how much you have paid for the item, and any seller fees you will incur. Are you offering ‘free postage’? If so you will need to include this in your sale price to cover it. How rare is your garment? What is the brand? These are also factors of consideration. If your garment is particularly desirable or unique you can ask a much higher price. As a rule of thumb I will treble the original cost of the garment as my lowest price i.e. I paid £5, I will list for £15, I paid £10, I will list for £30. This way I can ensure a good return for my outlay and time.
Google is also your friend here. You can research similar items that have sold, or are for sale to gauge a competitive price. Don’t sell yourself short.
Using social media as a marketing tool is an effective way to grow your customer base. Instagram leads the way with this. It is a great place to network, collaborate and promote your brand, helping you to build a relationship and trust with your customer base.
If you have a depop shop, promote it using social media.
Other ways to promote are via paid ads and boosting social media posts.
Something important to consider…
If you are selling an item for a profitable return, whether it is a hobby, a side hustle, or you are building a full time business, you must be registered as a Sole Trader with HMRC and declare any earnings in a yearly tax return. If you are selling on ebay you should have a Business Account, not a Personal Account, as you could find yourself coming unstuck if you are not complying with Distance Selling Regulations.
Good luck, and most importantly, have fun with it!