Jacket - c/o Chicwish, Knit Shorts - c/o Chicwish, Tank Top - Alternative Apparel, Shoes - c/o Lucky Vintage Seattle, Earrings - eBay, Silver Ring - Konstantino, White Ring - c/o Gypsy Warrior
Here is my jacket in action! Also, knit shorts! They are only $25 on Chicwish right now. This outfit might sound ridiculous in theory (um, shorts and a parka?), but it's actually kind of perfect for Los Angeles' December.
Oh, hey, you might also like my shoes, hmm? They were sent over by the Etsy store Lucky Vintage Seattle. Lucky Vintage is probably one of my new favorite Etsy shops; I just bought a vintage Harley Davidson motorcycle tee from their Chictopia Shop "12 Days of Chic" collab (it's the same one in which Tunnel Vision is participating). You know (all together now), support women-owned small businesses. Blah blah blah. Sorry if I sound like a broken record.
For your consideration:
I really wanted you guys to know that this exists in the world, too:
It was just there, parked in my neighborhood. How?! How does this exist, let alone just end up parked in my immediate proximity?! My boyfriend was like, "Take a picture near it!" My response was, "I am not dressed trashy enough to do this thing proper justice." It's for sale, and a small part of me wanted to take down the phone number. How could you not want to buy this thing? It's a total monstrosity. I need twelve of them -- a land armada of raised mini-monster-truck El Caminos with bulldog masts on the front.
Okay, I have decided to post ACTUAL content today, not just pretty pictures. I want to talk about pricing vintage.
WHY IS VINTAGE SO EXPENSIVE?
As you all know, I have a $30 rule. I tend not to purchase things if they are over $30, unless I have considered the purchase for a long while, or if it is a great bargain. As an avid thrift-store shopper, I find that I can get most things I like for around $5 from a local thrift shop. The more familiar one is with the prices of used garments, the more shocked one might be by the prices that vintage stores charge for the same used items. A dress may have cost $5 at a thrift store, but is sold for $80 at an online vintage store. How is this justifiable? I have broken down my explanation for vintage pricing into three categories: sourcing, overhead, and relative value analysis. Keep in mind that this is based on my experience owning a brick-and-mortar plus online vintage shop in San Francisco, as well as opening up Tunnel Vision with Brit, so it is a Madeline-centric business experience.
The first category worth discussing is sourcing. Sourcing is the most important part of selling vintage. It is always a challenge to find the best of the best in actual vintage garments. I am pretty lenient on how I define vintage: my rule is that anything over 10 years old is vintage. Vintage snobs will tell you that is ridiculous and will argue it is more like 30 years, but as the trend cycles shorten, I find that we revert to more recent trends with more frequency, redefining what is vintage or retro.
When you pay $80 for a vintage dress, you are not just paying for that dress itself. You are also paying for the time and energy that went into finding that dress. Vintage sourcers rely on a variety of locations: thrift stores, rag houses, and out-of-town locations.
When shopping local thrift stores, there is relatively no cost, other than to pay for a day's worth of work sorting through thousands of garments. The downside to thrifting is that the bulk of the product in the store is not actually vintage. Most thrift store items are between five to ten years old. In this sense, the customer is paying just as much for the items that WERE NOT purchased as they are for the items that WERE purchased. It takes a trained eye and a lot of patience to sift through every piece on the hunt for something of aesthetic or cultural value. Avid thrifters will know that it is a lot of work to shop thoroughly through an entire store, and one day of hardcore thrift-store sourcing will often encompass deconstructing five stores or more. It is fun, but it is also hard work, and most importantly, it is extremely time-consuming and monotonous and when shopping fo resale purposes, you often do not find more than two or three sellable items per store. Each item sourced from a thrift store is typically around $5 to purchase.
There is only so much that can be found at a thrift store, though, and a vintage reseller can never have enough product from which to choose. Most vintage resellers will also rely heavily on rag houses to source vintage products. Rag houses are big warehouses filled with bales (big rectangles of compressed clothing tied together with plastic) of secondhand clothing, sorted by garment type but not by era. Most rag houses require the sourcer to purchase by the bale, meaning they fork over the cash for hundreds of garments, even though only a handful of items from each bale will be sellable for them. Some rag houses cater towards vintage buyers and will allow them to piece-buy with a relatively large minimum purchase amount. If you go the rag house route, you will end up paying more like $10 per sellable item.
The last option is getting out of town. This is extremely important in order to insure maximum variety in your product. Living in LA, thrift stores are often extremely over-picked. Furthermore, there is a large vintage industry here, and even thrift store staff know designer names and will mark items up accordingly. Traveling to a different city to thrift source (especially a smaller town) means that you are getting a different type of product (for example, sterling silver and leather in the southwest) and more of an opportunity to find special pieces that have been otherwise ignored (I once found a Christian Dior sweater in a Fresno thrift store for 95 cents). If you take into account the cost of travel, each thrift store item found in a different city probably costs around $10-$20 per item.
Once the reseller's vintage stock has been sourced, they have a great deal of overhead to take into account. "Overhead" refers to the expenses that arise when running a business. Typical yet conservative overhead costs for an online vintage retailer include:
1. Storing your vintage stock: between $200-$700/mo (relatively the same price as rent in any city)
2. Packaging materials for shipment: $100/mo
3. Renting a studio for product photography or building and maintaining your own studio, including:
A. Purchasing lights: $500 one-time purchase, $25/mo for maintenance
B. Purchasing seamless backdrops: $50/mo
C. Purchasing a high-quality camera and lens: $1000 one-time purchase
4. Hiring models for your photography: $200/mo
5. Hiring hair and makeup artists for your photography: $200/mo
6. Hiring a photographer, models, hair, and makeup for an editorial shoot: $500/season
7. Graphic design services: $200/mo
8. Web-store maintenance: $100/mo
9. Advertising: $100-$500/mo
10. Paying yourself! This is actually an overhead cost. Your salary as an owner is predetermined. You make a certain amount of money every month, and if you have additional income beyond that (lucky!) it technically belongs to the STORE, not you (if you took it, you would actually be embezzling). The store then uses that money the next month to pay for all of the overhead. If you live in a metropolitan city and have typical rent and bill obligations (telephone, car or other transportation, health insurance, student loan payments, internet bill, etc.), it is very hard to live off of less than $2,000/mo. Even $2,000/mo in Los Angeles is extraordinarily difficult off of which to live, so this is a conservative estimate of start-up income.
In a city like Los Angeles, overhead costs (if you are cutting costs every way possible!) can come in at roughly $3,200. In order to have the stock on-hand to support that type of income (estimating roughly 30% sell-through of your merchandise), you need to be spending around $2,500/month on product (crazy, right?!). This means that if you are a vintage reseller working out of Los Angeles, you need to be selling roughly $5,700 per month just to keep your store operable and keep food on your table without going into debt. This means that a $5 dress will end up costing $5/mo to store, $10/mo to photograph, and $5/mo to list, making its actual cost $25.
Now, with that in mind, we vintage sellers tend to call in a lot of favors from our friends, so we are able to save money on models, hair and makeup artists, photographers, and graphic designers most of the time! If you already lived in a big place, you may even be able to get away with not having to pay extra in rent to store your stock and studio set-up. There is a lot of variation here, but it helps to give you an idea of the expenses associates with used clothing resale.
III. PERCEIVED VALUE
In a perfect world, each piece would be priced based off of its individual overhead costs, including its original purchase price. However, pricing varies from garment to garment based on the purchase location and style type, and nobody likes to see chaotic pricing all over a website -- customers like to know what to expect from each store, so garments need a relative structure for selling price. With that in mind, we do tend to think about how much someone will realistically pay for each item. We try to understand who our customers are and how much value they will place on the item we have found, then make sure that our acquisitions balance each other financially. A pair of shorts that may have cost $25 total to purchase, store, and photograph might sell for only $30; but a dress that cost $25 to purchase, store, and photograph might sell for $80. These items balance each other out.
Furthermore, we as sellers try to make sure that we are only sourcing items that the customer cannot find anywhere else. Vintage is special because it is unique. In order to insure that your customers maintain a strong perceived value for your items, the seller needs to keep their product at a high caliber. Vintage should never be about "how much I can get for it." Every piece should be worth the price tag put on it because it is remarkable, one-of-a-kind, and a little piece of history.
AT THE END OF THE DAY...
Selling vintage is a great way to make a little side money if you are gainfully employed, but in order to make a full living off of it, it is a costly endeavor that needs to be treated like a real business. I hope this helps demonstrate why a $5 dress from a thrift store might be sold for $80 on your favorite vintage store's website. At the end of the day, every piece is only worth as much as someone is willing to pay for it!