Why That Vintage Dress Is Worth More Than You Are Paying

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It never fails. Vintage dealers and shoppers wondering out loud why one vintage dress is worth over $200 in a boutique when an equally cute one at the flea market costs $40. Dealers wondering why they can only get $80 for a 1950s dress while another dealer gets almost $400 for a similar dress. Shoppers looking for something unique and pretty, grumbling about the $300 price tag.

The truth is, there are a number of factors that play into the value and price of a vintage dress. Vintage clothing really is not for the fan of fast fashion. That mentality goes out the window if you want to wear vintage. Here’s why…

1. Sourcing Vintage Is Time Consuming

The closest the vintage clothing marketplace has to a fashion week or Market, are vintage fairs and vintage expos such as the Santa Monica Vintage Expo and A Current Affair. These vintage marketplaces are highly curated so every piece is highly wearable. Vintage shoppers and dealers alike get to reap the benefits of someone’s hard work and dedication to find these gems. Of course the price tag will be higher – the hard work has been done.

But if you go to a flea market or thrift store, you have to do the grunt work. You have to sift through packed racks of really ugly pieces, damaged items and unwearable vintage do get the bargain basement prices.

Would you rather dig or pay someone a convenience fee for finding fabulous vintage for you?

2. Taste Level – The Eyes Have It

Anyone can source old clothing. The real talent comes when you can trust the dealer has a good eye – the unique ability to find beautiful pieces that are wearable, relevant and unique. This skill cannot be taught. No matter how many fashion books you read or how many episodes of Sex and The City you watch. Being able to pick out good vintage is a gift, like singing or painting. The best dealers have keen sense of design, construction, detail and combining history, fashion and sociology.

3.  Cleaning and Mending

It baffles me how many dealers on Ebay are able to sell “Minty” dresses. Where are these golden pots of vintage dresses? Because most of the dresses I have found need some kind of repair or restoration. A falling hem, an incorrect alteration, a tear or busted zipper. Vintage dealers have a love affair with their pieces. Each one is hard to part with because we know how special and rare they are. We want to bring them back to their glory as much as possible while still keeping a profit margin.

A dealer who is willing to clean their merchandise before selling it really cares about their customers. I wouldn’t want someone to receive a vintage dress that smelled of moth balls or nicotine. There is something to be said about customer service. It’s the equivalent of shopping at a department store that offers impeccable service, even if those jeans or that jersey dress could be purchased for less at a store with no customer service perks.

4. Scarcity

So I’m one of those kooky people that believes in the power of abundance. I firmly believe that I receive from the Universe as much as I give to the Universe. Sometimes that comes in the form of love and kindness, and other times the Universe repays me with pretty 1950s dresses! But as much as I pray that the Universe send me a lifetime couture Chanel piece,  the reality is that good vintage is being picked a feverish pace by everyone. People are going coo-coo for vintage. Great for sales, but finding good vintage is getting harder and harder. Especially for those of us who love mid-century and older vintage. So when a vintage seller can offer an array of beautiful frocks and baubles, you have to realize how difficult it was to find that piece for you.

So the next time you fall in love with a pretty, frilly thing that makes you feel like a movie star from a black and white film, don’t think twice! Grab that dress and run to the cashier before I do.


[image source: Reginas Studio – Etsy]

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1 JIll { 04.16.13 at 4:54 pm }

Hey Sandra….glad I read this….how do you know something is vintage and worth something without the tags….what are some giveaways to vintage…metal zippers eyehooks? I have an old “prom” “party” dress that looks to be vintage but is in almost too good of shape. I do I know without knowing where it came from whether or not is it 50’s or just retro 90’s….I had forgotten about this dress until my mother reminded me of it after I told her how I met you. Thanks

2 Sandra { 04.16.13 at 5:05 pm }

Great question Jill. There are a number of guides out there with helpful hints on figuring out if something is vintage. but now you are giving me an urge to write one for readers here! Yes, metal zippers are a good indicator but those can easily be replaced. Horizontal button holes are another telltale sign. Many vintage pieces will not have labels because they were cut out or the garment was homemade, but you can find Union Made labels of various kinds. A good resource for labels can be found at The Vintage Fashion Guild’s website.

Show me the dress! I want to see!

3 Lindy Shopper { 04.17.13 at 8:41 am }

I love reading about this from the seller’s perspective and I agree with all of your points. I recently had a friend message me for help finding a 1920’s dress for less than $50 – for all of the reasons you listed above, I told her this was an impossibility.

I wrote a buyer’s perspective post on the price of vintage clothing a couple of years ago: http://lindyshopper.com/2011/07/09/the-price-of-vintage-clothing/

4 Virtual Vintage Clothing { 04.17.13 at 8:58 am }

An excellent write up, thank you! More buyers need to take note :)

5 Sandra { 04.17.13 at 10:30 am }

Thanks Virtual! Glad you liked it. Please feel free to share!

6 Sandra { 04.17.13 at 10:31 am }

Glad you liked it Lindy Shopper. I’ll go have to read your blog post as well. I think that dealers also need to take pride in the work they put in and price accordingly.

7 Monika Darby { 04.17.13 at 12:30 pm }

Great article! Sometimes buyers need to hear it from a 3rd party why your prices may be higher than another seller with a similar item in their store. :)

8 Karen { 04.17.13 at 12:35 pm }

That about sums it up!!! Great article and blog.

9 Christine { 04.17.13 at 12:40 pm }

It’s true.. Having an eye for just the right vintage garment is a talent, not everyone possesses that talent .

10 Liza D. { 04.18.13 at 10:24 am }

Amen, sister. Few understand or appreciate the incredible amount of labor and love that goes into finding, preparing, researching, and listing vintage clothing properly.

Like you, I repair and clean everything I sell. Who wants to offer for sale (or hang out with in your shop or workroom) dirty or damaged items? Not me!

Will share your well-written post on my FB page. x

11 Psyche { 04.20.13 at 10:35 am }

Hi, Sandra! I’m glad I stumbled upon your blog and this write-up. You nailed it with No. 3. I sell vintage (although not high-end/couture) and many people ask me why I sell my vintage at a higher price (as compared to prices in thrift stores) when I also get most of my vintage from thrift stores. You answered it for them. It is very difficult and a long process cleaning and mending vintage, and oftentimes, the vintage falls apart in the process.

12 Sandra { 04.20.13 at 10:49 am }

Hi Psyche! I’m so glad you found me too and that you enjoyed the post. Please feel free to share it with your customers. It might be educational for them!

13 Sandra { 04.20.13 at 10:50 am }

Thanks Liza. So glad you found the post useful. I know how hard you work on your vintage business!

14 mysweetiepiepie vintage { 04.20.13 at 12:16 pm }

Very well stated Sandra.

Thanks for posting such a helpful article!

15 Cleaning and Mending | Catwalk Threads Vintage { 04.27.13 at 8:06 am }

[…] I read a great post recently by Sandra Mendoza of Debutante Clothing. I’ve known Sandra (online) since becoming a member of the Vintage Fashion Guild a few years ago. This girl really knows her ‘stuff’, especially when it comes to vintage clothing. She sources it, researches it, styles it and writes about it. You get the picture! Read more about the delectable Sandra here, and also her splendid editorial entitled ‘Why That Vintage Dress is Worth More Than You are Paying‘. […]

16 Stephanie Anderson { 05.01.13 at 7:43 am }

Very well put. I also think that people don’t understand the difference between true vintage (dresses made between 1920-1960s) and retro (new designs inspired from vintage designs). True vintage is much more difficult to find as you stated and retro is new and thus sold less expensively. I often find a healthy balance between the two (retro and vintage) when curating my rockabilly clothing.

17 Sandra { 05.01.13 at 3:48 pm }

Hi Stephanie! I agree. Vintage inspired is a blessing when you want the look and want it NOW. But vintage is a treasure and worth a higher price tag. P.S. I LOVE Stop Staring dresses. I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Alicia! Such an awesome woman.

18 Karen LaPorte { 05.05.13 at 1:34 pm }

Thank you so much for this! You have explained so simply and directly such a common question. As a vintage seller, I really appreciate it!

19 Sandra { 05.05.13 at 1:58 pm }

You are so welcome!

20 A Must Read For Vintage Buyers | What is Vintage Clothing? { 06.06.13 at 11:25 am }

[…] recently came across this article from the vintage fashion blog, Debutante Clothing, and found it to be a really valuable […]

21 Denise Dougherty { 11.10.13 at 9:34 am }

Good tips and appreciate your insight. Especially liked what you said about “… not for the fan of fast fashion…” Although many seek vintage apparel because it is now almost a fad, not all appreciate the subtle aspects of some lesser-known labels. You’ve won another fan. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

22 Choosing Wedding China | The Reflective Bride { 10.17.14 at 1:52 pm }

[…] (First image from Engaged and Inspired Events, third image from Debutante Clothing.) […]

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