Golden oldies: the vintage clothes business

Posted on May 27, 2015 by Eleanor McKenzie
VIntage clothing at a flea market

Recently, a friend of mine who is the Global Business Manager for a world famous fashion label announced on Facebook that she was going to a vintage clothes fair at Alexandra Palace in London. Although the styles she launches are aimed at the under-30s, she finds vintage fashions a source of inspiration, plus as a true fashionista, she loves going to any event that involves clothing.

I also noticed that a number of her fellow fashion designers have in recent months been sporting vintage pieces by legendary designers in their Facebook photos. Then, a chance remark about the value of a vintage Chanel bag I happen to own, got me thinking about the money that can be made by buying and selling vintage clothes and accessories. It also stopped me just throwing the bag in the back of the wardrobe after I’d investigated prices on eBay. I should have been paying closer attention to the media!

In Summer 2014, C4 broadcast This Old Thing: The Vintage Clothes Show presented by Dawn O’Porter. The series seemed to hit the spot with several female journalists, who swiftly saw the opportunity to entertain readers with stories of their vintage kaftans and offer very useful advice I might add, about how to revive a clothes item that’s a few decades old. Reviving is often called “upcycling” now and refers to altering an old garment to modernise it, or make it more flattering. All this interest in the vintage clothes market is a by-product of the economic crisis, and it’s one that even Vogue has devoted pages to.

Where Vogue goes, other fashion magazines follow and the trend has filtered through to the High Street, where shoppers are looking for individuality as well as great value. Vintage offers both of those. Lynette Peck, owner of Lovely’s Vintage Emporium, which was voted the UK’s best online vintage shop in 2013, says that “globalisation means every high street around the world is looking similar,” and that the stylish solution is to go vintage.

Lynne has created a healthy online business out of vintage, and there’s room in this market for others to join her. Press stories suggest that if you’ve got a good eye for a ‘statement’ garment you can make exceptional profits: how wonderful to be the woman who took an Elsa Schiaparelli jacket to a Christies auction and stands to make a 66,500 per cent when it goes under the hammer. She bought it for £15 on eBay and Christie’s have valued it at a massive £10,000! How did she manage that?

Similar stories that might inspire you are the Chanel dress bought for £150 which sold for £25,000 and the £60 Lanvin dress that went for £7,000. It certainly sounds like vintage has commercial potential!

So here are some tips about ways to approach this from a business perspective. One of the advantages of the vintage clothes business is that you don’t need shop premises; you can sell via eBay, set up your own online store, or even host vintage parties in your home. There are lots of ways you can get creative with selling that doesn’t require you to become a shop owner.

Woman posing in vintage clothing

Vintage Brands

Invest in designer vintage if possible. The big names such as Chanel, St. Laurent and Dior are all highly desirable, but if you want to start with lower outlays, then designers like Pucci, Jean Muir, Biba and Mary Quant are good choices, because they are all iconic 60s designers.

Vintage Man

Yes, men are into vintage as well. Again, look out for 60s suits and shirts, such as velvet suits by Mr Fish. Vintage evening wear is another excellent choice.

Celebrity Clothing

If you know who wore an item and you can prove it, and the celebrity is very popular, then you should probably approach an auction house to sell it.

Shoes and Handbags

If you have any Jimmy Choo or Manolo Blahnik shoes in your possession, then you already have stock to sell. Alexander McQueen shoes are also popular in the vintage market, because sadly he won’t be designing any more. In fact, anything by McQueen is valuable.

But, the biggest buzz is around bags. After all, one size fits all. The bags to look out for are the Fendi ‘Baguette’ and the Hermès ‘Birkin’ or ‘Kelly’ bag, as well as the ever-popular Chanel handbags. But bags from specific periods, rather than designers, are also a hit. The “Mad Men’ television series spawned a 50s fashion revival, so bags from that period are also hot.

Investing in vintage requires plenty of research, but that’s part of the fun. It would be wonderful to discover a treasure in the back of a cupboard, at your local charity shop, or at a jumble sale. What could be more rewarding than turning your ‘shopping’ skills into a profitable activity? You might turn old gold into new!

by Eleanor McKenzie

Eleanor McKenzie is a Northern Irish writer with a passion for art, literature, and red wine. She's worked at advertising agency JWT, edited a journal for a European social policy think tank and tried to teach teenagers the difference between "there" and "their". Being 50+ has not significantly changed Eleanor's life, although she finds it a handy excuse when she wants to avoid anything too energetic.