This post was written by Lindy Shopper.
I have received a request from Laurel Carpenter to write about evaluating vintage clothing prices, based on the tendency of some vintage retailers and eBay sellers to overprice their vintage pieces. What is worth it? What should you leave on the rack or the proverbial auction block?
I have found that this becomes a very personal decision, based on your income, the priority of incorporating vintage clothing into your wardrobe, the availability of vintage clothing in your geographic area, how well the garment fits, how much you like the garment, the condition of the garment, the similarity to other vintage items in your wardrobe, the cost of any potential alterations, and occasions to wear a particular garment, among other factors. When I go shopping for vintage clothing I sort of run through a series of questions based on these factors.
When it comes to the price of vintage clothing I look at things on a sliding scale – the garment is more valuable to me if it fits like a dream, it is unique and flattering, and in great condition. And if it’s green, I’ll be willing to pay even more. 🙂 However, just because it is old doesn’t mean that it is worth hundreds of dollars and just because it is vintage doesn’t mean that I’ll open my wallet any wider than I would if I shopped at the mall.
I’ll speak generally about prices, focusing on swing era garments, which are a rarity in your average local vintage store and more plentiful on eBay. Some sellers just want more money for their stuff – they either live in an area where people pay these prices or they think they’ve hit the jackpot at an estate sale and have dollar signs in their eyes. With the advent of eBay, these rarities have become more available to the masses and I have noticed the prices of vintage in my area either going down or staying the same as when I started shopping for vintage clothing, around 1999. It’s become more competitive, which is good for you as the consumer, to have a wider selection at competitive prices.
1920’s clothing, due to its age and fragile nature, tends to cost more because most of the materials in clothing from this era have deteriorated – to find something in excellent condition from the 1920’s is rare. To translate that into cost you have to consider how good the condition is and how fabulous the item – do you pay $1,000 for the beaded 1920’s dress/gown? No, no, don’t do that – would you spend that much on an evening gown? Maybe your wedding dress, but consider how old this garment is, the likelihood that the fine mesh will deteriorate, and what happens if it gets a tear or the beads start coming off? Devastating. Do you pay $200 for it? Maybe. If it fits you like a glove, you can Charleston in it without shedding beads, and you have the perfect occasion to wear it, then consider it a viable option. In a similar fashion, what if you find a 1920’s cotton day dress? How ornate is it? If it’s got wonderful embroidery or tailoring details, you might want to spend that much on a day dress that you could wear more often. Fabulous-ness and wear-ability equate value.
That said, you don’t have to spend $200 on a 1920’s dress. I have found wonderful 1920’s dresses for $80 (at Sweet Lorain in Cleveland, slate gray and cream day dress with about 50 tiny covered buttons up the front, perfect fit), for $40 (eBay, pink day dress with hand embroidered roses, my tailor had to enlarge the arm holes), and for $30 (1920’s maid uniform, black with white lace collar and cuffs, mint condition, possibly never worn).
$200 is my benchmark, I won’t pay more than that for anything vintage and I try to implement that policy here when I write about clothing on Lindy Shopper. It has to be the most fabulous thing I’ve ever seen to get me up to that number and it has to be close to the most fabulous thing I’ve ever seen to get me over $100, or I have to really, really need it for an occasion. Beyond that, it becomes unaffordable and I’ll file it with the Miu Miu and Prada dresses I want, but will never own.
The more you shop for vintage, the more you are aware of what is rare from each era and what constitutes a reasonable price. I have been sorely spoiled here in Durham with Dolly’s Vintage, which hasn’t priced anything I’ve picked up in the store over $35, but then Dolly’s doesn’t have a lot of swing era items. You may pay anywhere from $30 to $80 for a vintage 1940’s or 1950’s day dress – would you pay that much for a dress at, say…Banana Republic? Probably, maybe even more. And if it fits you better than a BR dress and it’s one of a kind, it would be worth it, right?
eBay can be tricky, since you are bidding against other people. I find that placing my maximum bid and just walking away until the auction is over is the best policy for me, which is how I acquired those two 1920’s dresses at such a low price. I can’t rely on eBay to absolutely get me what I want unless I’m willing to wage a bidding war, but you really have to choose your battles on eBay and only wage war for those items that you absolutely must have. You’ll feel it in your gut when that item shows up. There are no guarantees you will win and losing something you’d like to own can hurt, but the odds of getting something amazing are much greater overall because there is a larger selection of items.
There are also those eBay sellers who have severely overpriced their items (Buy it Now $198.00 for a cotton 1930’s day dress that is fairly unremarkable) and they keep showing up in my searches week after week after week (*cough* VioletvilleVintage *cough*), but there’s a reason the items continue to be re-listed – no one is willing to pay that much for that particular item. If no one is willing to pay that much, then why don’t they lower the price so they can sell it? I have no idea. I’ve been tempted to write to these sellers and let them know what price I would be willing to pay for their wares, but it’s not worth my time because there are so many other dresses out there.
I’d love to hear your experiences with prices, both eBay and retail, and I’d be happy to take any follow-up questions you may have. It was hard to organize my thoughts on this topic because there are so many factors that go into my decision to purchase a particular item of vintage clothing, but price is definitely a big factor.