Vintage Shopping: Customer Service & Etiquette

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pretty woman snooty shop clerk

If you want the real deal on a shop, you have to read New York Times writer Cintra Wilson’s column Critical Shopper. She pulls no punches. But there’s no Perez-Hilton-esque snark. She just tells it like it is in a hysterically educated way. So when I read Cintra’s review of infamous Lily et Cie in Beverly Hills, CA, it made me think about what kind of customer service is expected in vintage shops, real or virtual.

Lily et Cie got a well deserved lashing for their shitty attitude. But I do understand owner and curator’s Rita Watnick protection of delicate, and often valuable, treasures.

When shopping for vintage there are a few guidelines you should keep in mind.

1. Know your size

Seriously I cannot stress this enough. If you know your measurements, you’ll know you can’t fit into a smaller size. Forgo the humilation and anger of ripping a vintage garment. Go up one size. Never risk it.

2. Handle the garment by the hanger

Vintage silks and rayon are fragile and so are their seams. Handling by the hanger, rahter than the sleeve or skirt will protect the garment from tearing or shredding.

3. Put it back where you found it or give it to the clerk

This is especially true in an antque mall. Don’t assume that things can just be left laying around. If you forgot where it goes, simply give it back to the clerk.

Now I know this is coming off all preachy and elitist, but shopping for vintage is not like shopping at your local mall. Some care is needed with older garments.

But there is no way I would encourage you to shop with someone who does not value you as a customer. Stay away from virtual and brick and mortar stores with these red flags:

  • Attitude – seriously there is no excuse!
  • Unhelpful – if the seller can’t give you insight about the garment (history, style advice, etc.), then they are just selling “stuff” not vintage. Vintage is an experience.
  • Lack of response – online sellers should respond to you in 1 business day unless otherwise stated.
  • Doesn’t go the extra mile – Are clothes cleaned and in good condition? Do they offer care instructions? Do they call or email when they are having sales or found something perfect for you? These are all small things that show what an important client you are.

In today’s economy, apparel companies that incorporate these four details are faring well. Nordstrom and are two companies I will always shop with because they have earned my customer loyalty through customer care.

What about you? Which vintage shops have earned your loyalty? What will make you shop elsewhere?

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1 Jennifer { 01.14.10 at 10:39 am }

I read that NYT article as well and thought it was very interesting but sad that they feel they have to treat people that way in order to create some exclusive air about their store. I’d really be interested to know how the owner of Lily et Cie feels about the write up!

2 Catwalk Creative Vintage { 01.14.10 at 10:47 am }

Thank you for bringing this to the fore. The points you raise are spot on. People need to be aware that vintage clothing should be handled with the utmost care.
I shop online a lot and for me, it really irks me when I receive no confirmation of order email, no thank you, no dispatch notice – basically the poor communication of some online sellers really bothers me and I just won’t go back and shop there again.
It doesn’t cost anything to be nice and polite – and professional at all times. I’m looking for my online seller to go that extra mile. That’s the company I’ll remember and tell all my friends about. :)

3 Sandra { 01.14.10 at 11:44 am }

I agree. No one has so much business that they can’t be courteous. These small details are what makes the store memorable for the right reasons. People have taken customers for granted, and who can do that in this economy? On the flip side, customers need to understand that the rarity of real and valuable vintage should also take a certain amount of consideration.

4 Sandra { 01.14.10 at 11:46 am }

It is very sad Jennifer. I wonder if it will even matter to Lily et Cie – maybe it would if it were Vogue who did the write up!?

5 elena daciuk { 01.14.10 at 12:08 pm }

great post…i read the original article yesterday…and was amazed that a store owner would be like that…
you asked for our favorites…mine is cherie @ – you can feel the care she puts into each piece…and they come to you so beautifully wrapped…and she answers every question that you could possibly have…
i am glad you posted “rules” for handling vintage…these are older pieces…and yes…fragile…finding vintage is like finding a treasure…and should be treated as such…

6 Sandra { 01.14.10 at 12:19 pm }

Yes, Cherie is definitely a pro. good suggestion!

7 K_Chanel { 01.15.10 at 6:27 am }

This is a great article. Vintage shops should be a pleasant experience!! Also it’s good points about how to treat the clothing, I hate when people just throw clothes around – esp. vintage?!
PS – thanks for the tip on my blog, I picked up a black/white and a navy/white top :o)

8 Sandra { 01.15.10 at 6:53 am }

Seriously. People have lost all sense of etiquette! You are very welcome – did you got to H&M? I love their tops. Cheap, cute, well made.

9 Eyeliah { 01.18.10 at 7:58 pm }

Bad service will always turn me away, also too much service when they hang on you the whole time, that’s happened to me a couple times in vintage shops!

10 SeriousVintage { 01.22.10 at 6:49 pm }

My kids call me the consumer from Hell-but I work hard for my cash-and if shops are not “nice” I just do not do business there. I love shopping the shows-if there are lots of dealers-its not like I schlepped across town to scope out a new (to me) Vintage Shop and did not the service or quality. My favorite show is Manhattan Vintage Clothing Show at the Metropolitan Pavilion in NYC. About 80 or 90 dealers-so many choices. I get my vintage fix there 3 times a year. I will be one of the first in the door in a couple of weeks-Feb 5-6. I get their couplon from the website and shop my self silly for 2 days on one ticket! I want to pick up some vintage hats-my latest vintage fetish!

11 alli { 01.26.10 at 8:14 pm }

Thank you so much for posting this. It may sound silly but I love and care very much about clothes and always feel like the wicked stepmother if I’m shopping with a friend and have to “remind” them to be gentle with the clothes. Your notes to shopkeepers are also on the mark – I love shopping online but get so irked by people who try to cash in on the current “vintage reinvention” by selling dirty, old clothes. I buy vintage because I love having clothes that tell a story – if a seller can’t tell me at least part of that story or give me some insight on how to preserve and care for it, I’m not interested in their wares.

12 Sandra { 01.26.10 at 8:59 pm }

I’m so glad you liked it! I feel like we are getting further away from basic etiquette and civilized behavior. It’s such a cultural downward spiral.

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