“Vintage is the new black” is no longer a relevant term. Vintage became the new black 10 years ago when “hipsters” used to be called “Scenesters” and the 80s had made a comeback on the fashion scene and the first sartorialist to capture the nation’s youth street culture and display it for all to see was born in the form of a CobraSnake. We didn’t have instant social media or smart phones, we only had Myspace but even still, for the first time, we were able to see what street fashion was really like coast to coast, what people were REALLY wearing and how they were all uniquely wearing it…and it was vintage.
No one wants to pay retail prices for it. Why? Because those that want to jump on the fashion bandwagon and dress in 90s-grunge plaid Pendleton, 60s boho-chic or even head to toe black velour and Doc Martins this year, are aware it’s just a fad. Most want to pay thrift store prices for disposable fashion; “Why should I pay $XX.00 here when I can get something three times cheaper over there?”
Let me explain…
There are different tiers of vintage stores, depending on your tastes and budget, some house a well-curated collection of designer and hard to find relics while others are more like giant thrift stores. There is however, a somewhat curated collection in that they cater to the current street trends and typically have a lower price-point for a quick “flip” or “turn-over” because they know soon enough people are going to quit buying crop tops and moon boots and then it’s onto the next trend.
These “affordable” vintage stores buy wholesale, by the pound, they hire “sorters” to sit and sift through dirty piles and piles of used clothes, picking out the current trends (ie. Gunne Sax dresses, concert tees, high-waisted 90s jeans). Most of these stores do not take the time to merchandise the product either for, that would cost money and time put into the store and is not economically conducive to owners selling clothes on the cheap. Also, these stores do not launder the clothes before they hit the sales floor, if they did that, they would have to raise their prices significantly. Generally, these shops cater to teenagers, early 20-somethings and people looking for themed-party costumes.
So what about the vintage shops that have higher price points?
In my travels and interviews, I have recognized that the purveyors of these boutiques care about vintage and their customers. These shops tend to be smaller, well-merchandised, and stocked with quality pieces without stains or imperfections, usually have a well-designed website with a mailing list and blog posts. They dress stylishly, take pride in their “second home” and are usually present at the shop. They host holiday parties with promotional sales and serve refreshments. These shop-keepers know vintage, they research it and go out on foot just to find a few special pieces at a time. Like a courtship, they know that it might be awhile before the right customer enters the shop and falls in love with a piece and takes it home. Customers of these shops tend to have a more sophisticated taste, range from mid 20s to early 40s, are into current trends and seek statement pieces that will be stylish for years.
And the stores that most of us only dream of buying more than one piece at in our lifetime?
These stores are more like museums with artifacts carefully curated and usually require appointments or assistance to enter such departments of the shop. What customers don’t realize is that these pieces are almost 100% flawless in their vintage state. The effort and money that a store owner can go through to stock full inventory of these gems is constant dedication. These proprietors seek out the best of the best, they go to estate sales and compete with other potential buyers, get into bidding wars at auctions and travel the globe looking through personal closets of socialites or some leads they may get by phone. It’s a true scavenger hunt and again, the pieces must be immaculate, otherwise they have any worthy garment repaired and cleaned; this does not come without cost. Customers here are usually stylists, celebrities and collectors who have a true appreciation for vintage design.
One of the unfortunate occurrences in vintage-retail that the consumers underestimate, is the quality and the craftsmanship of a garment. These vintage pieces are made to last. Do you think your Nasty Gal dress is going to last for 50 years? I doubt it. American Apparel? You know how many crotchless leggings I have from there?! It’s amazing that people will not bat an eyelash extension and click, click away to that shopping cart button to purchase a ZARA dress or two but, when they come into a vintage store or market, they scoff at the $75 price tag, even ask, “Will you take $50?” Even if you must have the item altered, you will be the only one wearing it! Do you think that Madewell dress you just bought won’t be on about oh, 300 other girls? Plus it was probably “made well” in China.
Look, I like new swag as much as the next person but, before you start leaving our hardworking vintage shop owners 3 stars on Yelp instead of 5 “because of pricing”, please think about the history behind the product, the hunt to find it and the love that was put into its cleaning/repairs so you could find it, buy it and be one of a kind.
Well said!! I couldn’t agree more! I walked around The Grove (a mall here in L.A.) the other day and was amazed at the throngs of shoppers in Zara and H & M buying straight-up knockoffs of vintage items. It’s pure junk, made in China, and probably won’t make it through 3 washing machine cycles! I wanted to stand up on a display stand and yell “go buy the real thing, you dummies!”
Thanks for your support of vintage and your input. Although I mentioned some big hitters in contemporary retail, I support and shop with them all. My point I was trying to get across is that consumers have no qualms about spending hundreds of dollars every season on modern brands but, treat vintage as garage-sale articles.
So, I just wanted to make sure that no one thinks I am attacking modern retail, just stating the facts. 🙂
I love this post, I actually shopped at L Train Vintage during my last trip to New York. Here in Minneapolis some vintage stores are definitely more expensive than others, but even the ones that sell unwashed items still hike up their prices. I try and find vintage at Thrift Stores, and I normally have better luck! Our Savers have a vintage section, it’s not big, but affordable!
Thanks again for the post!
Thanks for your feedback, I shop at thrift stores also when I look for vintage, I think it’s a great way to find “more” affordable pieces to sell without having to buy wholesale, if you want to take the time to through the store (and it tends to be pretty dirty so, make sure to wash your hands!)
And I agree, some thrift stores these days are getting pricier because they know the demand is there. I haven’t shopped at a Goodwill in over 7 years because I know my chances of finding good affordable pieces is not likely and a waste of my time.
I think prices still should depend on the shop…for example, I worked at a consignment store that would (attempt) to sell vintage pieces in just awful condition. Like dresses with stains and holes for $60 and not even name brand. Of course, the business didn’t do well….but that’s a different story. Some NYC vintage and consignment shops are junk for the price, taking advantage of the wave of hipsters and yuppies.
On another note, if people like to sew, there are real gems in NYC. I have found some great places in 3 of the 5 boroughs and outside of the city that are dirt cheap. I can then justify buying damaged clothes because I can alter it myself or fix the problems. I think for any real vintage or thrift junkie, the best way to save money is to invest in a decent all-metal sewing machine. They can be found on Craigstlist for $100 or less then just take it somewhere like Gizmo’s (in the village, I think). Mine only does straight, zig zag, and 2 special stitches but it’s perfect for fixing items up.
Great post by the way 🙂
@ Mitzy The article is about prices depending on the shop, yes. I personally am not a sewer but, wish I was cause’ I agree with you, sometimes there’s some great pieces out there that just need a little TLC. 🙂
This is one of the best written and accurate descriptions of my beloved vintage business. I am a small resale and vintage boutique owner who falls in the middle of your list. I appreciate the term ” curated” because that is exactly what I feel like. A curator. Thank you for the post!
Hey Nancie! Thank you so much for taking the time to read my post and for the compliment! I’m glad it resonated with you. It’s unfortunate that for some bizarre reason people do not feel that “vintage” is worth paying retail prices for, so anything I can do to respond instead of react to those who scoff and expect to pay thrift store prices is a class I’m happy to teach. 🙂
Thank you for your input, and I agree! Vintage dealers SHOULD NOT sell vintage at full price that is stained, stretched or poorly altered. But sometimes we DO find great pieces that have problems, create an “as is” section with a significant discount (like you said) for someone who has the resources to renew it! 🙂
I feel your pain as a vintage “parent” but, there are good reasons that places like Zara and H&M are in high demand, it’s because they have modern tailoring, structure and prints. When shopping vintage, it’s very time consuming AND can get expensive trying to build an entire seasonal wardrobe. Shopping vintage never guarantees you will find the right thing in the right color/cut or size on the first shopping trip so, corporate stores offer a quick and painless shopping exeperience for everyone. I would be lying if I said I didn’t have Zara or H&M in my closet. Vintage is a fantastic add-on to your wardrobe as accent pieces or special event shopping because, who wants to go to a party and be wearing the same Zara dress as another person. That is NEVER fun! 😉