Using the Internet to Trade Vintage Clothing and Textiles

Vintage Shoppingтекст1

Many people are actively involved selling and buying vintage clothing, dresses, accessories and textile related items through the web. Such people do not always have their own vintage websites and prefer to use sites like eBay.

It became clear to me some time ago that people using my costume history web site were often referencing web pages to support the write up for their vintage sales. People are so often blasé about selling through the internet and have limited knowledge of their item. Those of us who have sold any product of any type through the internet, know that the internet can have pitfalls and a downside as well as an upside. There is lots of behind the scenes work.

My aim is to help you start thinking about your strategy for selling or buying.

If you do decide to have your own vintage clothing and textiles website it will cost money to run, time to maintain and need technical know how to put together successfully. So paying a site like eBay and seeing how you like internet selling may be preferable initially. If it can be profitable in your case, building your own personal website and all the associated hosting costs may not be a worry, but just become a business cost.

Two quality examples of vintage web sites I include for you to compare as internet shop fronts against an auction house like eBay, are and I recommend them both, not only for quality items, but the visual experience of browsing their goods. Vintage Textile runs as an independent website, whereas Contentment Farm Antiques once traded within Both and offer museum quality, unusual and desirable items. With eBay sales you have to wade through far more 'vintage' material to find the real treasures.

If you go to Ruby Lane you can read about costs and terms of use there. They approve every shop seller and only admit shops that have an exclusive feel to the goods. Therefore it does not operate in the same 'instant' way as eBay does where any and everyone is welcome initially to sell or buy goods there. But once you go to a site like Ruby Lane you may find it a more enjoyable experience where more exclusive items sit side by side. The way to wet your feet may be with something like eBay to get a feel of what may be involved. The huge customer base means you will probably have some measure of success. Contentment Farm made a good start at Ruby Lane and then developed her own website here.

Yes I know there are some other established superb vintage sites like that of Karen Augusta, but for now I will be concentrating on these two sites who have kindly also donated images for use here.

Preparing Vintage Items for Descriptions and Photographs for Website Sales 

To sell vintage effectively long term on the web, the seller has to do more than just jump in. A little thought on approach to presentation can make the difference between selling successfully and making a living as many do, or making buyers too wary to purchase through lack of quality information. The best piece of information a vintage seller can give to any consumer is firstly an image.

Everyone want to see what an article looks like.

The most important facts to a purchaser of vintage clothing from an internet site or auction, include several good photographic shots of specific aspects of the item, preferably on a mannequin to show shape or set against an uncluttered background.

Certain details shown in photographs, such as zip type, other fastening details, fabric type and seam type finishing such as hand rolled, Paris bound seams, French seams or serged and overlocked seams, brand or designer label, care label if any, all reveal the right information that help a buyer decide if an item is genuinely placed in the correct vintage era. See photographs here on another page showing a label and handbag with and without clutter.

Good Descriptions 

Armed with a decent description, the buyer can decide if the garment is the sort they want to bid on and buy. Good descriptions help make sales, but the descriptions must be accurate and truthful, so that the buyer's trust is won. Likewise the buyer must always remember the consumer watchdog phrase "caveat emptor" or "buyer beware".

Buyers just want to see clear fast loading images and look through as much vintage information in as fast a time as practical. One way, is to use thumbnails, then link to a fee charging reputable image hosting service such as Vendio or Andale image hosting to name two. At the same time avoid using music which really irritates people and again slows loading of content. Ask yourself this question - do you stay at such sites?

Other facts bidders like to know include a written description that should cover all the selling points on page 3 of this section. If you have more information and extra knowledge or a receipt tell buyers about it. This may be correspondence, the item having been displayed in a museum exhibition, couture information, perhaps a photograph of when first worn or original packaging include or be willing to provide evidence of it.

This information helps create provenance (history of ownership). For example I used to verify costumes that came from the Castle Howard Collection. Whilst they were not always in mint condition, they had an appealing provenance as Castle Howard is associated with the series Brideshead Revisited so making them of greater interest to collectors.

Making a Living from Selling Vintage 

Yes, you can make a living from selling vintage on the internet or from a stall or shop. Plenty of people are making a living from selling vintage goods when they love and enjoy doing it. Problems occur more readily when people jump on the bandwagon because they have heard there is a market for vintage and do it simply for the money, rather than the love of it.

Many regard selling vintage clothing as a craft skill.

Passion is necessary to hunt down clothes from second hand vintage and thrift shops, flea markets, charity shops, yard sales, jumble sales, fetes, car boot and garage sales. That's only the start of the process. Then comes the work of maybe repairing a seam, removing stains, laundering and pressing items using products you have to purchase.

Next comes displaying and photographing, writing the description to accompany them, having spent time researching fashion history books and websites. Then you will need to scan or/and upload the photographs to the computer, maybe enhance them and then upload to an auction site. You will probably need to pay to do this as no one operates auctions for free. Every industry involved expects a cut of a few dollars whether it is PayPal, Clickbank or eBay or Ruby Lane.

Then when the sale is completed and it isn't always a sale, you'll still have to pack and ship the goods, paying for packaging materials and taking a trip. You'll use your time to get to the post office. You will of course need to keep accounts for the Inland Revenue and if it gets to be big business the VAT man too.

Hopefully you do have passion, because all of this takes time and time is money. You will also need to invest money to make money. So, if you cannot develop a great passion and follow through properly like a professional vintage seller you cannot hope to make a profit, because profit comes from long term repeat custom of satisfied customers. You only have once chance to make a good impression on a buyer, the first time is the best ever chance you have, so you have to be professional at all times in your dealings. You become "your firm".

So sell the best vintage items in the best condition you can afford to buy. Develop a reputation for quality, rather than quantity so your clientele knows you to be reliable for selling better than average items. It is possible to make a living from this activity if you follow through with passion and professionalism.

You can do it if you want to succeed. But you'll need to understand many of the issues covered in the following pages here. At the same time you will gain hours of experience which will enable you to formulate your own system suited to your way of selling or buying. 

By Pauline Weston Thomas 

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