5 Tips to Score Great Consignment Finds
When I was a kid, I used to love scavenger hunts and those little maze books that had you had study an illustration for a hidden treasure. There's a certain satisfaction in a good 'quest'! So, when I stumbled into my first consignment shop about 5 years ago, I was intrigued.
On the one hand, the whole second-hand clothing idea was "ooky". I mean let's face it, consignment and vintage shopping is basically rummaging through a stranger's castoffs in search of something you want...and they don't. But, if you go to the right shop, one that curates pre-owned fashion items for quality and value ... you quickly realize that it can be a lot more like raiding your fashionista girlfriend's closet!
The particular shop I visited was a small local boutique in an affluent part of town, and the owner specialized in designer goods sourced from local clientele. My daughter Christi ended up working there part-time for a few months, and I realized that a big part of a consignment shop's quality is determined by the relationship the owner builds with her consignors. If it's good (which in this case it was), the shop will get a following of loyal consignors who bring in items that they've taken care of, and want someone else to enjoy and take care of, too.
Many of the ladies who consigned with this shop were dedicated fashionistas who treated their Manolos and Guccis with the same attentive care that their husbands gave to their beloved high-end sports cars.
And, these fashionistas tended to have a penchant for stylish clothes, in general. So, even their less-exclusive items were cute, eye-catching, well-maintained... and at a scant 30% of the original retail price, a bargain. Many times, they'd bring in brand-new items with the tags still attached - perhaps a gifted Kate Spade handbag or an impulse Tory Burch blazer that they got on sale and couldn't return. (Okay, that second one was me...)
Possibly the best thing about consignment and vintage shopping is that it's kind to both your budget AND the planet. Worldwide, the fashion industry is second only to the petroleum industry in the amount of toxic pollutants it dumps into the environment. So, any opportunity to recycle fashion items (Stella McCartney calls it "re-commerce") is an ethical way to shop economically, and look great!
Of course, not every vintage or consignment shop will have good stuff. Part of the initial 'hunt' is finding a resale shop that carries items of a quality that you want to add to your own closet.
So...here are some tried-and-true tips:
This one is sort of a short-cut. Scout out consignment shops near upscale neighborhoods...you're likely to find designer goods, if that's your goal, and a selection of current styles.
2. Use Common Sense(s)
When you walk in, make sure the shop smells fresh and looks organized - indicators that the owner pays attention to what he/she takes in. If it reeks of air freshener, steer clear. If an item is stained, pass it by. A reputable shop shouldn't have taken it in. And, that stain will never come out! This should look, smell and be merchandised like a boutique.
3. Be Sensible
Don't buy things just because they're a "steal". If you won't end up wearing them, it's money out of your pocket and clutter in your closet. Look for items that are either truly unique (eye-catching & fun), or truly classic (clean lines, simple silhouettes). The unique piece will add personality to your outfits without breaking the bank or giving you buyer's remorse when you tire of it.
The classic ones will fit in with your current closet - without looking dated. If the item doesn't quite fit...pause to think about whether it's really worthwhile. You'll either have to take it to a tailor (totally worth it in some instances) - OR... you just won't end up wearing it.
4. Know what you're getting
For high-end designer items, be very cautious. For example, it's just very hard nowadays to tell a real luxury handbag from a fake one. I've been in markets in Asia where 10-story buildings are literally stuffed with vendors selling knock-off designer goods that are dead ringers for the real thing, at least to the untrained eye.
Unless the consignment shop owner really know how to inspect stitching and construction on an item, (and honestly if they're selling high-end goods, they should), it's risky to assume that a luxury item has been thoroughly authenticated. Even when the shop owner knows and trusts the consignor, it's no guarantee. I recall Christi having to tell one longstanding consignor that the Louis Vuitton bag she wanted to sell was a fake...turns out she had been duped on her original purchase. Rule of thumb: don't buy it if you'll be heartbroken (or livid) to discover later on that it's not the real deal.
For pre-owned luxury items, a good option is to visit reputable online consignment sites that guarantee their authenticity. The RealReal and MaterialWorld are 2 reputable sites that have a great selection of designer & luxury brands, and offer excellent sales. If you're patient and keep an eye out, you can score big.
My "personal best" was a pristine vintage navy wool Chanel pencil skirt with logo buttons from the RealReal. At one point in its glamorous life, it had been half of an iconic Chanel suit, but now it was flying solo. This thing is constructed like Fort Knox; the stitching is a work of art, and even when I pair it with one of my more pedestrian tops...the Chanel logo buttons down the back vent give my whole ensemble a major shot of panache. I got this flawless orphan skirt on sale, plus a hefty additional discount (...and Coco probably rolled over in her grave).
5. Consignor Tips
If you plan to consign, make sure your clothes are current in style, clean and pressed. And, don't expect to get rich. The shop Christi worked at had a consignor payout formula that was pretty standard: Apparel was priced at 30% of the original retail, and the consignor got 1/2 of that.
Do the math and you quickly realize that you only get 10-15% of what you originally paid (assuming you paid full price in the first place). Handbags are not much better - they were priced at 50% of original retail, and the consignor got half the selling price. The term "investment piece" is pretty much a misnomer for the vast majority of fashion items! (my Chanel "steal" is a good case in point. The consignor probably got a cringe-worthy check for that one, in exchange for 1st dibs on strutting around in brand-new haute couture.)
Altogether, though, those individual amounts can add up to a modest-but-satisfying chunk of change, amplified by the knowledge that you've been ecologically responsible with what's already sitting in your closet, but no longer one of your go-to items. And, you haven't utterly kicked your former fashion paramours to the curb. They've caught the eye of a discerning new fashionista, and a brand-new fashion affair is about to begin.
Honestly, what's not to love about that?