From Dafna Steinberg. Follow her @AlizaySteinberg. Email her at dafna[AT]borderstan.com.
As many of you may (or may not) know, I buy and sell vintage clothes. After selling in markets and online, I finally found a permanent home at Blue’s Hard Goods on 14th Street. In addition to BHG, there are a number of other great stores. In fact, we have a Vintage District!
However, it’s becoming apparent that, as the neighborhood changes, people don’t really seem to understand how vintage stores work. They come into the shops and ask questions that I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t ask in any new clothing store. And it’s starting to become a little insulting.
Here is a list of questions that I have been asked and an explanation as to why one shouldn’t ask these questions when shopping at a vintage store.
“Do you have this in my size?” Unlike at a new clothing store, each item of clothing is one of a kind. Everything, more or less, comes in one size. So if you see a piece of clothing on display, trust that it is the only one in stock. Also, the thing to remember with vintage is that the sizes are much smaller than contemporary sizes. So don’t assume that just because you’re a size 8 or a size Medium that you will fit into those sizes in vintage.
For example, a size 8 from the 50’s or 60’s is probably closer to a size 2 or 4. Guys, check the sleeves on shirts. You may have to roll them up or wear them as ¾ sleeves, as they are all pretty short. Don’t get insulted…just think of it as a form of human evolution.
“Why is this so expensive?” A vintage store is just like any other boutique except the clothes are older and predominantly second hand. However, unlike a regular boutiques where the clothes are ordered directly from the company that makes them, vintage clothes are handpicked, most times by the shop owners themselves.
It takes time, effort and gas money to find all the clothes, not too mention rent, possible commission and whatever other overheads you have to pay. In my case, I have even traveled nationally and overseas to find things. While we may be paying less than the amount you see on the price tag, you should know this: You are paying for the luxury of not having to find this item yourself. Don’t come in and try to bargain either.
This isn’t a flea market. You wouldn’t walk into Macy’s, pick an item off a rack and say to the cashier “$55? How about I just give you $35?” would you? If your response to that is “Well, I could go find those things myself…”, then by all means GO! Use your own time and money to drive out to various locations, pick through racks upon racks of clothes and do load after load of laundry. Therefore, you at least will still pay the lowest price possible for one, maybe two items (not including gas money, water bills and just plain personal energy).
For those of you who don’t want to go through all that, consider vintage stores a well-curated gallery of good quality, one of a kind picked items where all you have to do is try something on. Buy something special that will last you a long time. It’s already lasted this long. Trust me… it’ll be worth the price you pay for it.
“Where do you get all your stuff?” I cannot even begin to tell you how many people ask me this. If you are a random customer, you’re gonna get the answer I give everyone: “Oh… all over.” Why? Because that would be like McDonalds revealing what actually is in the special sauce…trade secrets are trade secrets.
“I have a huge bag of old clothes in my car. Will you buy them from me?” Okay, just because vintage stores sell second hand clothes, that does not mean we will take your old GAP t-shirts. We are not (I repeat NOT) a thrift store (or Buffalo Exchange). Nor are we a consignment store. And while there are some vintage places that do sell on consignment, most need you to make an appointment first. So don’t just come in with a bag of clothes and expect the people working to drop everything and look through them.
Call first, or come in beforehand and ask if the shop takes consignments or buy clothes directly. I can promise you most won’t, but it can’t hurt to politely ask first. If you have a big vintage collection, talk to shop owners and see if you can schedule an appointment for them to come to you. That way there is no pressure on them to take things they don’t want because you don’t want to take things home with you.
When shopping in a vintage store, it is totally ok to ask questions about the clothes and the shops. For many shop owners, it is a passion for history and love for story telling that keeps them going, so they love answering questions related to each item in stock.
But when you talk to them, keep in mind that this (like many other retail stores) is how they make a living. Don’t be entitled or rude. Most sellers and shop owners work hard to bring in the best and they do it so you don’t have to!