The True Cost of Vintage Clothing
I love you. Truly I do. I love what I do and providing a service for you. Without you, my business could not survive. But every once and a while, a potential customer asks for significant discounts on a vintage item. And this piece is written for you. I truly want you to understand the economics of what vintage dealers do so you can understand why vintage is priced as it is.
Many of us, especially us smaller dealers, are one person operations or very small teams. We run all aspects of our businesses, from sourcing, to cleaning, to marketing, customer service, and shipping. Conglomerates and chain store have hundreds of people to serve in these roles. Us small guys do it all ourselves. I want to break this down for you.
Sourcing: Many dealers source from estate sales, which entails extremely early morning, long waits in lines in often not-optimal weather, competition from other dealers, and sourcing in dusty, dirty, or even downright trashy conditions. We also buy from the public, which means lots of house calls, travel, and in person appointments of things that may not necessarily be vintage or fashionable.
Processing: Once we acquire inventory, the process of cleaning and mending takes place. Cleaning vintage clothing isn’t as easy as throwing into the washer and dryer as you would with your fast fashion. A lot of vintage clothing was made before washing machines were the norm, and hand washing or dry cleaning is often the best way to preserve the clothing. Now, it’s not as easy as just dropping clothing off at the dry cleaner, as any embellishments must be removed before dry cleaning or else they will most likely be destroyed. All buttons with rhinestones, extra decorations, belts, etc. must be carefully removed (and reattached after cleaning). And a professional dry cleaning doesn’t entail that the garments will survive intact. We have to sign off liability on all vintage garments, so every once and a while, one is damaged by a cleaner and we are out that cost. This one of the costs of dealing with vintage. But isn’t it nice to know that we take that hit, verses you purchasing a dirty item only to find out it is damaged by the cleaners and you are out even more money? Don’t forget the time associated with the return trip to the cleaners and reattaching the embellishments.
Handwashing items may take several soaks before they come clean. For me, this often means giving up my bathtub for several hours and moving bins of water and soap about several times. Then they must be carefully hung to dry. Items then need to be steamed or ironed before they are wearable. This is the part of my job that I dislike, hours of ironing are never fun for me. Oh did I mention, many items need to have zippers replaced, hems mended, buttons replaced, etc. So add in a few hours for mending. This isn’t a difficult process if you know how to sew, but it is time consuming. And beyond basics, I am not a seamstress, so there may be an added expense of outsourcing mending.
Now that garments are clean and ready to wear, its time to prep them for sale. For us, we take an extra step and record all bust, waist, and hip measurements on each clothing tag to make it easier for you as a consumer to shop. Each of these tags is an additional expense in terms of time and money. This is the point where garments are ready to try on in the shop. But y’all aren’t coming into the shop on a daily basis, so we go on to the next step to make sure you can see the new arrivals in the comfort of your home. We spend hours a day photographing and styling clothes to showcase to you on social media. We are working hard to list more items online so you can purchase without coming to Austin. The listing process alone is approximately 20 minutes after we photograph the item.
Great, now there is clean, wearable, awesome vintage available for you to shop. But wait, just because it is listed, doesn’t mean that you can find it with all the volumes of information online. Now we need to market the shop – which includes listing each item on several different social media sites and running ads online, which also costs money. Furthermore, we have to stay on top of best SEO practices, social media policies, and marketing strategies, which are always changing. This includes time to educate ourselves, watch tutorials, read blogs, and experiment.
Included in all of the steps are our expertise and education. Not everyone knows exactly what they are looking at when they find it. We have spent years learning about fashion history, how garments were constructed, determining era, etc. Through practice and many failures, we can determine what stains can be removed, which garments will continue to stand the test of time, and which garments will look amazing on different body types so that we can stock the shop with nothing but the best for you. You won’t find moth eaten, dirty, double knit polyester inside Bloomers and Frocks. And you won’t have to dig through heaps of bad styles to find something amazing for you. And this is due to careful attention to detail, education, and experience. All of which comes with practice, and we are always learning. Additionally, we spend time training all of our employees so that they also have this knowledge to share with you!
Still with me? Now I get to the point where the economics comes into play. There are hard costs for items and costs associated with time. I want to break this down so that you can understand why vintage is valued at what it is.
Inventory: While people may think that good vintage can be found for pennies while thrifting, this is often not the case. Wholesale prices are dependent on the age of the garment, it rarity, its quality, desirability, and label. Designer goods obviously cost much more. Not to mention thrift stores (at least in Austin) are almost always picked over and filled with slightly damaged fast fashion from chain stores, you often have to dig for hours before finding a rare gem.
Travel Costs: There are hard costs associated with travel, whether it is across town or traveling to another state. Gas, plane tickets, wear and tear on a vehicle, etc. These all add up.
Professional cleaning: Dry cleaning costs money. And a good dry cleaner with experience with vintage goods often costs more than your average guy. Every item that is hand washed also costs for soaps, specialized cleaning materials, and time for cleaning.
Equipment: Basics include a computer and a camera. Studio lights, camera accessories, software, etc. are not cheap. Plus there is a cost in maintaining hardware.
Rent: Every hanger in the shop costs us $2 a month in rent! You do the math. This is why we are constantly turning inventory. If something sits for a year, we have paid an additional $24 on that item, in addition to the original purchase price, time prepping it, and marketing.
Taxes: Did you know as a property renter in Texas, we are often in triple net leases? This means we pay property taxes. We also collect and pay state and local sales tax, and county inventory taxes.
Labor: I couldn’t run the shop alone, though I tried for my first year. People get sick, want vacation, or just need a break. We currently have a small staff of four people, and there is always something to get done. Staffing is money. And there are payroll taxes on top of the actual labor cost. And fees for payroll processing. It all adds up.
Marketing: Advertising costs money. A lot of us rely on our followers and fans to help spread the word to their other vintage friends, and we rely on low-cost marketing tactics such as social media. But it takes money to make money, eh?
Shipping: This cost generally is paid by the customer, but there are often times when shipping is miscalculated, prices are raised by shipping providers, etc. The conglomerates such as Amazon have taught consumers that shipping should be free and so it is expected from everyone. Shipping a dress stateside usually runs around $8-15. Shipping the same dress internationally often runs between $25-40. No one wants to pay that much for shipping, but that is the true cost. If we all paid market rate for shipping, we would be shopping much more in our local economies. This is part of the convenience of shopping online. As a small business, I often have to consume part of the shipping charge in order to remain competitive in the marketplace.
Time: All of the experiences above cost time. When I break down my labor, I average about $10 an hour. Now that might seem like a steady part time income, but remember, we are running our own businesses, so this is pre-tax money. As an business owner or independent contractor, we also pay higher taxes, and can assume that after expenses and deductions, we estimate between 25-30% of our income goes to Uncle Sam.
I love what I do and I am not complaining in the slightest. I love being able to preserve a part of history, keep items out of landfills, and spread the love of vintage over fast fashion. I truly believe it is more economical and environmentally responsible to deal in antiques and vintage. But I am also slightly offended when I hear comments such as “this is used, gross,” “I can get this at a local thrift shop for just $1,” or “sell me this at 75% off plus free shipping.” I dedicate myself to bringing you the best shopping experience possible, amazing customer service, and the best inventory that I can find, all at reasonable prices. You are not only paying for the cost of the garment, you are paying for the time you save by being able to shop with a professional. And time is money. So next time you think about how easy it is to find and wear vintage, think of all the costs associated with that piece and wear it with pride. Someone cared enough about it to make it easy and fun for you.
Thank you for reading this. I really hope to educate people that what vintage dealers do is hard work. And most of us do it for the sheer joy of spreading vintage love. And thank you so much for shopping with Bloomers and Frocks. I hope to be able to continue serving you for many years.
Chief Clothing Curator, Bloomers and Frocks