The editor’s guide to buying, selling and swapping vintage clothing
Like most of you, I’ve been enthused about shopping since as far back as I can remember. Whether it was Claire’s Accessories back in the early days or pre-spandex vintage bathers in my Little Edie phase, the thrill of find has been all consuming. Recently, I’ve added selling to the list of in-store (and online) sales interactions I love. Why? Because what better way to feel like I’m putting a cap on spending than to send my buys back into the universe?
I like to think I’ve become somewhat of an expert at buying and selling, which is why I’m sharing my tips with you here. It’s also #NationalThriftShopDay, so follow along for my tips to buying, selling and swapping.
We’re spoiled for options in Toronto, which in my experience is the world’s sweet spot for vintage—items are rarely overpriced and rarely run-of-the-mill.
For a cheap thrill
If you’re new to thrifting, get your feet wet somewhere like Value Village, where items are priced as low as $1. In my experience, the locations further out of super urbanized areas are the best (there’s less of a chance of them being pillaged by trendy gals like yourself) and they are best visited a few times a season—you really never know what you’re going to get.
Since the racks are heavily stocked, the best way to avoid buying something you’ll never wear is to employ the same strategies that you usually do. Ask yourself: “When will I wear this?” and “What will I wear this with?” If you can answer ‘em both, grab it! Another great thing about a place like Value Village is that it isn’t brand focused, which means you may just find the perfect Ralph Lauren riding jacket, like I did, for $9.99.
For a ‘90s hit
As with most trends, vintage is the easiest way to replicate a specific look on a dime. In Toronto, my favourite stores for this are Chosen Vintage, Penny Arcade and 69 Vintage. Right now, that hybrid ‘70s meets ’90s look is coming back strong, which you can easily make happen with the many mock-collar striped shifts stocked in-store.
For a special occasion
The most common vintage items in circulation right now are from the ‘80s, ‘90s and ‘00s, so finding anything pre-1970 is essentially a diamond-in-the-rough situation. Since these items are rarer, they’re priced as such. And while the price of a good quality garment depends on construction, material, condition and era, a general word of advice is to do your research. According to Gadabout owner Victoria Dinnick, a cotton dress from the 1950s can run between $85-$200, whereas something from the 1920s would rarely be found for less than $150. “The older it is, the more expensive it is,” she says (Gadabout carries items from as far back as the 1880s).
To get the biggest bang for your buck, divide your discards into different piles: high value, high profile, “someone might like this” and “I never want to see you again.”
Designer clothes and accessories you really love, but no longer wear, should go somewhere you trust. For me, that’s VSP Consignment, run by the super stylin’ Britt Rawlinson. The cool girl-skewed assortment features everything from rare Chanel and Tom Ford to vintage Gap. While the biggest portion of the assortment is designer, it’s less about logos and more about good style. Rawlinson is discerning in what she’ll take off your hands—if it won’t sell, she won’t bother, which is why I’m confident I’ll make bank. “It’s about being able to visualize someone wearing that piece, whether it be a friend, family member or customer,” says Rawlinson. “We look for items that have a classic, timeless appeal.”
Once an item is submitted, the VSP team does some research as to its original price, and then automatically reduces it (most items start at least 50% off the original). You get half of what it sells for. I’ve made $600 this year so far off things I haven’t even thought about since dropping off.
This is where you’d slot stuff like Michael Kors or Coach—brands that are coveted by a big audience. You have plenty of options here, which range from eBay and Craigslist to consignment. As mentioned above, most consignment stores will split the item’s profit with you 50%. This is awesome if you don’t want to deal with the actual selling yourself.
However, if you’re looking to take home all of the profit, eBay or Craigstlist are great options. With eBay, your listing costs are minimal (approximately 10% of the selling price) and with Craigslist, there aren’t any. Since Craigslist requires a face-to-face meeting, make sure to meet the buyer in a very public place and accept cash only (more safety tips here).
“I never want to see you again”
My mom used to make me fill a garbage bag of old clothes every few months, which was good training. These days, I try to do it at least twice a year, which is usually enough to clear some space. You can straight donate these to Salvation Army or the charity bin of your choice but you can also try somewhere like Toronto’s Kind Exchange, which will pay you for items they resell in-store. It’s not a large take-home (I recently made $12 for a full garbage bag), but hey, it’s better than the $0 it was making in your closet.
This is a sweet spot for items you don’t wear, but aren’t completely mortified by (The “someone might like this” category). I’ve been doing an annual swap with a small group of fashion-minded friends for a few years now and aside from having a really great time, it’s a great way to offload items you still think are awesome (i.e. want to go to someone who’ll really appreciate). As with my Value Village advice, employ the same “Will I actually wear this?” real talk before taking anything home. Otherwise, you run the risk of refilling the space you just cleared out.
In Toronto, a wildly successful Facebook group, Bunz Trading Zone, has become another favourite go-to. There are no monetary transactions—just snap a picture of your unwanted item (Anything goes here. I’ve seen half-used peanut butter jars get snapped up!), post and await the response. It’s commonplace to post an “ISO” (in search of) alongside your items, which can be anything from TTC tokens to makeup products. I’ve taken to only accepting practical items like groceries and wine. You’ll need an invitation to get access to the group, so wrangle your nearest and dearest Bunzer for a +1.