Dafna’s Fashion Friday: It’s a Vintage Store, Not A Thrift Shop

by Borderstan.com June 7, 2013 at 11:30 am 10 Comments


Vintage Stores are not Thrift Shops. (Dafna Steinberg)

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!

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  • Lisa

    Your umbrage is hilarious. Insulting customers is great customer service!

    • Hi Lisa,

      You clearly don’t read my column that often.

      Thanks for commenting!

      • Lisa

        “It’s spoken out of frustration after dealing with these questions multiple times.” Gold, Dafna, Gold! And love the typo “uniformed customers”.

        • I’m glad I can provide you with some entertainment. That’s, after all, why I write this column.

  • Don

    Man I hope your attitude doesn’t come across in person the way it does here. Because where you’re not wrong you just come across as condescending.

    As far as the “would you take” bargaining question, you’re kidding yourself if you think it’s not common regardless of new or used. People might not ask it in the Gap but every retailer who isn’t a chain – and many who are – have gotten that question. I’m sure plenty of other shops along 14th hear it from folks. I know I do when we sell at art shows.

    Sometimes the offers themselves are insulting but the asking in and of itself? Lot of people like to dicker and on both sides of the counter. People ask because it works and not everyone takes it as some sort of cutting insult to their craft. If you want to be the Gap where it doesn’t get asked then by all mean, go work there. The rest of us just politely say “we don’t negotiate on price” and they either pay ask or they leave. The result’s the same but I still have all my stomach lining and haven’t alienated potential customers.

    “Where do you get all this” and “why is this so expensive” are opportunities to connect with a customer. People ask questions because they’re interested. Why are you blowing them off? Your attitude about these things being big trade secrets doesn’t really jibe with the “then go do it” attitude you express elsewhere. When you act like it’s some closely guarded thing that you can’t reveal you reinforce the belief that you’re not adding any value other than luck.

    The art show version of this is “how do you make it?” I know some other artists get their knickers in a twist about this question but I think that’s equally dopey. If you want to spend a decade learning what I know about woodworking, devote your garage to shop space, periodically spend thousands on tools and supplies, etc etc – great, go do that. Or spend a fraction and get this piece here already made, if it’s what you want. I love making these things and talking about it is fun. I’m not going to give someone an extended lesson but talking about the craft is fun.

    As far as the bag of things in their car… why is their wanting to do something now when it’s convenient to them somehow so much crappier than your wanting to do it by prior arrangement when it’s convenient to you? How the heck does anyone else know how you run your business? Is answering “we might, depending on what it is, but we only do that by appointment so I can devote the time to you” really such an imposition?

    Maybe you keep it light and happy in person, but if this is what’s going on in your head when you encounter a naive customer I’d suggest you question whether it’s coming across in your attitude. Or that they might have read this.

    I’d rather talk about my passions and convert some portion of the uninformed customers to buyers. If you think you can do that with this sort of screed I think you’re fooling yourself.

    • So maybe I should clarify that this post is something I have been dwelling on for a while. And this didn’t just come out of the blue. It’s spoken out of frustration after dealing with these questions multiple times. I’m not speaking for everyone in the vintage field (or the retail field for that matter).

      When it comes to business, I can promise my customer service skills are not condescending. My writing style for this column may come across that way, but in person, I do answer questions politely. Even if they aren’t asked in a polite way. And for the most part, I do connect with customers. A lot. The amount of repeat customers I have outweighs the amount that are not. And I do convert uniformed customers to buyers.

      Come stop by the shop and we can discuss this more.

  • Mike

    Wow, she really needs a reality check. I would NEVER shop there after reading that article. Its used clothing, face it.

    • Would you have shopped there before reading this article? Your statement “It’s used clothing, face it” makes me wonder if you even like buying vintage…

      • Mike

        Don’t go there. This woman shouldnt be in retail. I shop on U st and 14th all the time. I buy things from Dr K at least once month.


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