Part 3: The True Cost of Vintage

January 17, 2019

NOTE: I had originally published this post 4/3/2017 in the TCP blog but with some website changes wasn’t able to transfer over all the previous content. This is part of a series. See Part 1: The Meaning of Vintage here & Part 2: Where does Vintage Come From? here.

Welcome to the last part of series.

This is the part of the series that I've been dying to share because it was something I misunderstood before getting into the business. How do you price vintage? How do you make a living off of it? Why do people think vintage cost so much?

There's two parts to this conversation so lets just dive in.


The first part I want to address when it comes to vintage pricing is perception. Perception is what causes us to think that vintage is expensive. Why would we pay $40 for something "used" when you can buy something for $40 new? Therefore vintage becomes "expensive" but lets be real. You'll spend more than $40 for one piece at Zara but won't buy a vintage top for $40?

It all has to do with perception.

Putting things into perspective is one way to change your perception. Watching documentaries like The True Cost brings visibility into cheap, fast fashion clothing. Yes the new item costs $40 but the cost to the planet and the people's lives that are sewing each piece? That adds up WAY beyond the price tag you see.


The second part of this conversation is the time it takes to curate, find and sift through the billions of pounds of clothing that are donated. This doesn't even include the 26 billion pounds of clothing that gets thrown away and in our landfills.

There is A LOT of clothing on this planet. The majority of it is cheap, poorly made items that people don't want. But sometimes like a diamond in the rough, there will be a piece of clothing that was donated that has the potential to be loved again. This is what vintage sellers do. They find the best unique items in the sea of unwanted clothing and re-conceptualize it to be purchased and used again. But this takes time. It doesn't help that more and more cheaply made clothing will continue to make it harder to find quality items that people would want to wear again.

Lets use an example to show some numbers.

Person A makes $60,000 a year which is close to the average salary in the US. That breaks down to $31.25 an hour before taxes for a 40 hour work week. So in the end the pay per hour is actually less than that, but we'll keep it simple for the sake of this example.

Person A decides to leave their $60k job and open up a vintage shop.

Person A will still value their time at $31.25 an hour based on their previous job just to try and make the same living wage.

  • Sourcing Vintage: Person A goes to a thrift store to pick up some items to resale. If you've ever been to a thrift store you can easily spend 2-4 hours looking through everything because that's just what you have to do to find the "good" stuff in the sea of cheap clothing. Lets say its a good day and Person A goes home with 10 items and it took 2 hours. That's $62.50 towards the cost of each item for resale.
  • Cleaning Vintage: The items still need to be cleaned, pressed and prepared for sale. This can take anywhere from 1-2 hours. Let's just add 1 hour of $32.25 to the total cost.
  • Creating an Inventory: Then the items need to be inventoried. With vintage, each item is unique and needs to be documented as so. Many sellers take the item's measurements, write up a description and note the condition. This can take another 2-3 hours. Let's just add another 2 hours of $62.50 to the total cost.
  • Photographing/Selling: Then the item still needs to be photographed and styled if going online or it'll go into a brick and mortar shop. Photographing, styling and selling can estimate to be around 4-6 hours and for a brick and mortar, you're paying for rent, employees and potentially still photographing it for social media. Lets just say this all accounts for 5 hours ($161.25) that will be added to the total cost.

So lets calculate the total cost of each item based on a pre-tax $60K salary.

$62.50 (finding the item) + $32.25 (cleaning the item) + $62.50 (inventory) + $161.25 (photography/selling) = $318.50

$318.50/ 10 items = $31.85 additional cost for labor.

Average item might cost $10 so each item could have a total cost of $41.85.

This ends up being ~ 4x markup just to cover all the work and time you've spent on the items. The average markup for new clothing is 3x to 10x depending on the brand. Newer clothing of course has a much higher markup due to the cheap labor issues.

This is all based on a "good" day for a seller. Sometimes you spend hours and get nothing. Sometimes you get items at $1 a piece (SCORE!) or you go to estate sale and each item you purchase averages around $15 instead. Or maybe you drive to a vintage warehouse, average $20 per item and need to additionally factor in the drive or shipping for those items.

AND...this is all assuming each item sells. Many sellers have to take a loss for some items that don't sell so many add that into their markups and pricing as well.

AND...this example was only for 10 items. Many vintage sellers need at least several hundred items at the very least. So multiply all that time and money by at least 30x.

So in conclusion, putting things into perspective and acknowledging it takes a lot of time and work to sell vintage clothing is the key to understanding the price tag on vintage.

Some may say, "Why don't I just go get the "vintage" myself at thrift stores?" I say, most definitely! I love the idea of people shopping secondhand on their own. The more people that do it, the more people like me can cater to those who avoid thrift stores. Cause we all know you're out there. ;)

The price tags for vintage are normally honest. Key word...normally as some resellers charge WAY TOO MUCH, but just do your research, know that you're doing something good for the planet and in the end supporting a hard working vintage entrepreneur that went through pounds of cheap clothing just to get the good stuff.

I appreciate you taking the time to learn and build awareness. Now keep spreading the word, share your thoughts via comments & keep choosing secondhand first.

Till next time my friends!
Copyright 2020 The Consistency Project
Copyright 2020 The Consistency Project