How to Turn Old Clothes Into Vintage Treasures
A lot has been written lately about the gentrification of second-hand clothing. Generally this is aimed at the fashion conscious who trawl charity shops for a vintage gem. Nothing wrong with that, although the argument is that prices have taken a hike due to rising popularity and so those in genuine need are paying over the odds for what should be cut price clothing. However, there is a huge difference between happening on a bargain designer piece in a thrift store and dealing wholesale second-hand clothing. The latter has been a large part of my business for at least twenty years and it is my fashion conscience that drives me, a passion for recovering, repairing and reworking garments otherwise heading for landfill.
Prices of vintage clothing can vary a lot with original designs in pristine condition capable of fetching big money. However, the decades are more often unkind to outfits from over fifty years ago, usually why they've been discarded. That is where businesses like mine come in. The clothing I collect is rarely fit for resale and a lot of hard work has to go in before the old clothes become vintage treasures.
The stock is first collected, packed in huge sacks that can reach shoulder height which have to be transported home. Once home the initial sort through starts, rubber gloves are useful here as some items can be particularly ‘aged’. This is the most exciting part as I’m never quite sure what I’ll find. The vintage dealer I work with hand picks pieces for me, items he knows I can get the best out of.
The next stage is to wash clothing, not everything can be treated the same though. For this reason I separate pieces that I can launder together, whether in the machine, hand wash or dry cleaning methods. The rest of the stock is stored in categories awaiting their turn for the TLC each piece will get. Washing is done using eco friendly products and line dried, I never use a tumble dryer. Garments that have survived so many decades deserve the best care, in most cases it is those traditional methods that have kept them in good condition.
Once clean I begin checking the clothing over more thoroughly, every seam, each fastening and hem has to be looked over. Under closer scrutiny I will often find stains that can’t be removed or fabric pulls and holes which are irreparable without transformation of the garment. In these cases the clothing is put aside for rework but only when every other option has been ruled out. I don’t agree with slicing up perfectly good clothing for the sake of it, especially when it’s survived intact all those years.
I’m then left with three piles; rework, repair and resale. Eventually all will go to the latter but most need even a little attention before they’re fit for selling on. The process of preparing each garment for resale then varies depending on which pile I take them from. I have a large haberdashery, including fastenings and elastics, sequins and feathers. If it’s a rework then I keep all parts of the clothing I’ve had to upcycle, so often a reworked design can include two or more vintage garments. I have a wonderful collection of buttons, many are vintage I’ve collected over thirty years so I rarely need to purchase any. I always use traditional tailoring methods when repairing and avoid overlocking in order to ensure the garments remain as authentic as possible. It’s here that I find previous repairs, often beautifully delicate darning or careful attempts to mend and make do a treasured outfit. When I’m satisfied it’s fit for sale, each item is pressed and hung.
Next to display, photograph and list. So many factors need to be taken into account. The right mannequin, lighting and backdrop which isn’t as simple as it sounds; the best light is always outdoors but British weather means this is frequently unfeasible. Better still is the opportunity to have clothing on real models but this isn't always possible, especially at short notice. Quite often this is done in collaboration with other creative business.
Once on the model, every angle has to be captured and any imperfections shown before it can be uploaded for sale. All stock is sold on my website and Etsy and that means a listing process where a thorough description with measurements and tags are written up, prospective buyers need to find out all there is to know about each individual garment to avoid purchasing something they will then return. I also list a few items on eBay, it depends what market is the best fit.
It doesn’t finish there though. Making an online sale requires marketing; customers rarely just happen across the product they want, it takes careful direction on the sellers part, that’s where a full description, good photography and the right tags are essential.
Social media plays a huge part in making sure products are seen by the right people. For me that means creating content fit for all platforms and lately this has included videos, well out of my comfort zone but a lot faster than photographing and typing up lengthy information.
Finally, when the till rings and a sale is made it’s time to pack and post. Clothes are given another once over before they’re carefully folded and bagged up. I include a compliment slip with a short note thanking the buyer. All packages are then weighed and measured to make sure postage costs are met. I’m fortunate to live close to the main sorting office so I print all postage myself, as I sell worldwide this includes customs forms. Once safely handed over I complete the sale and send images of the postage labels or tracking info and hope for good feedback.
If you consider the journey of each vintage piece from collection, through wash and repair to photography and listing, it is a lengthy process. Each step is factored into pricing which I endeavour to keep as affordable as possible. Therefore, when articles speak about vintage clothing being appropriated, they neglect to see the hard work given to breathe new life into discarded outfits. The thrill of restoring an aged garment to its former glory and sending it back out to be cherished, hopefully for decades to come is a mission that involves patience, skill and a lot of love.