What Sells: Vintage Clothing

The exact definition of “vintage” varies, but online it means clothing from the 1980s and earlier. Vintage clothing attracts a broad range of fans, from college students and artists to wealthy celebrities. Some buy it to wear, others to collect and preserve. While buyers of modern clothing are usually looking for specific brands, vintage buyers may not care as much about the label. Some collect a certain designer, but others are looking for specific styles or types of fabric. Also, many beautiful handmade pieces that have no labels do well online.

Popular styles include:
  • Antique dresses, suits and accessories from the 1920s and earlier; these often sell in spite of poor condition simply because they’re rare
  • Glamorous evening gowns from the 1930s-1970s (the fancier the better)
  • Full-skirted dresses and curve-hugging “wiggle dresses” from the 1950s and 1960s
  • Rayon bowling shirts and uniforms
  • Hawaiian shirts, sarongs and halter dresses
  • Lingerie and swimsuits from the 1950s and earlier
  • Fancy hats, crocheted gloves and other ladylike accessories from the 1960s and earlier
  • Platform, peep-toe shoes from the 1940s

Some fashions from the 1970s and 1980s are popular with younger buyers, including t-shirts from rock concerts, tiered prairie skirts and peasant blouses, leg warmers, and taffeta prom gowns. Generally the more colorful and outrageous, the better these items will sell.

Research Resources

The Vintage Fashion Guild has members around the world. Their website offers very detailed information, including a clothing history timeline, pictures of vintage labels, and excellent tips for identifying and dating vintage clothing. Visit the website at http://www.vintagefashionguild.org/.

The Online Guide to Vintage Clothing provides detailed information and photos of vintage items that are trendy in Japan, including Nike Air Jordans, Levi’s jeans, Hawaiian and bowling shirts, and more. Visit the website at http://www.farley.com/school/.

Inspect vintage clothing carefully for these signs of wear and tear:
  • Stains and spots
  • Rips and tears
  • Dirty or torn hems on long pants, skirts and gowns
  • Snags in delicate fabrics
  • Moth holes in wool
  • Brittle or disintegrating fabric
  • Weak seams, loose threads
  • Missing buttons
  • Stuck or broken zippers
  • Rust on metal zippers and hook-and-eye closures
  • Odors from mothballs (or musty smells from storage)
  • Mildew and mold
  • Alterations
  • Torn, faded or missing labels

Buyers are sometimes more forgiving of condition in very old clothing, so don’t automatically reject a 1920s flapper gown just because the fringe is torn or some beads are missing.

Key Details

Include these details in your listing:
  • Brand (if known)
  • Type of garment(s)
  • Material (if known)
  • Size and measurements (see below)
  • Predominant color(s)
  • Age (if known; OK to approximate as 1950s)
  • Other adjectives to help describe the style ( “Slinky disco diva dress,” “1950s rockabilly swing skirt,” “80s New Wave hot pink spandex jeans,” etc.)
Vintage Sizes

Vintage clothing is usually much smaller than modern garments; as a result, larger pieces in wearable condition are highly sought after. Note also that the sizes themselves have changed over the years; a vintage 18 in women’s clothing is more like a modern 10 or 12. When listing vintage clothing, always include accurate measurements in your listing.

Storage and Shipping

Keep clothing in a well-ventilated room, away from children, pets, moisture, smoke and cooking odors. Never place clothing in direct sunlight or next to heating vents or air conditioners, since temperature/humidity changes can cause damage. Items should be left on hangers prior to shipment.

Wrap each item in white tissue paper (do not use colored paper as it can bleed onto the item) and place it in a plastic bag to protect it from damage from moisture encountered during shipment. Place the bag in either a bubble wrap envelope or a sturdy box, depending upon the number of clothing items being shipped to the buyer. Advise the buyer to remove item(s) from the plastic bag immediately upon receipt.

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