How to sell vintage clothing online: a complete guide
If you enjoy rummaging through thrift store racks or endlessly scouring eBay for vintage clothing, then you’ll know there’s no better feeling than the thrill of a find—when you spot that beautiful or rare piece and buy it for a steal. Maybe you’ve wondered—can I do this for a living? The answer is: yes.
Having an eye for quality fabrics and patterns, a knowledge of vintage fashion history, and the patience to find the right pieces is a skill that can pay off. As a vintage clothing store owner you earn money by saving people time: you source, launder, repair and merchandise desirable clothing, so it’s ready to wear, straight from the rack.
While some shoppers buy vintage as a style statement, others have turned to vintage one of the best eCommerce business ideas, as an alternative to fast fashion, and an easy way to reduce their carbon footprint. According to an industry report from ThredUP, an online marketplace for secondhand clothing, the resale economy is estimated to grow 11 times faster than the broader retail clothing industry by 2025. This radical change in shopper behavior is making waves in the fashion industry, causing manufacturers and retailers to rethink their outdated practices.
A combination of eCommerce growth and changing attitudes has opened the door for entrepreneurs that want to sell vintage, but don’t have the budget for a brick-and-mortar business. With an eCommerce website, vintage sellers can launch and grow an online business quickly and on a relatively lean budget.
For those who already sell vintage in a physical store, an online presence opens up a whole new world of customers.
Whether you’re starting a vintage business from scratch, or you already have a brick-and-mortar store, this complete guide will show you how to sell vintage clothing online.
Ready to start selling vintage ? Create your online store today.
How to sell vintage clothing online
Before beginning your eCommerce journey, take some time to research vintage clothing, brainstorm ideas and clarify your vision for your ideal online vintage store. Decide what you’re going to sell, why you want to sell it, and create a plan for your vintage business.
What is vintage?
The words “vintage,” “antique” and “retro” are often used interchangeably, but there is a distinct difference. Let’s get some definitions out of the way:
What is “vintage” clothing?
“Vintage” clothing is any garment between 20 and 100 years old.
What is “antique” clothing?
“Antique” clothing is any garment over 100 years old. These pieces are usually quite rare, delicate and may need specialist care and attention.
What is “retro” clothing?
Retro clothing is clothing produced today, or in the past 20 years, that consciously imitates vintage style.
Why do people buy vintage?
In this world of fast fashion, ubiquitous clothing trends and social media channels saturated with identikit shopping hauls, an increasing number of people are searching for ways to stand out from the crowd.
Clothing is the ultimate way to express your personality without saying a word and, while it’s fun to experiment with fashion and embrace trends, many strive to be different. Vintage clothing is just that. It’s original, unique, and more often than not, it’s high quality and was made to last.
Some pieces are in high demand because they represent a pivotal time in history: the mod miniskirts of the swinging ‘60s, the suede fringed jackets and psychedelic maxi dresses of the free-loving ‘70s, the flannel shirts and band tees of the ‘90s grunge era. There’s also an element of romance and intrigue in buying a vintage piece of clothing. It has a past and a story. Who was the person who originally wore the garment, and what was their life like?
Aside from looking good, vintage appeals to shoppers who are looking to make more sustainable choices. We’ve come to understand the environmental impact of the fashion industry and are beginning to embrace sustainable alternatives, just as we’ve done with renewable energy, electric cars, and reusable coffee cups. Wearing vintage saves old clothing from the landfill, where many garments—particularly man-made fabrics—don’t break down.
How to choose your niche
You don’t need to choose a highly defined niche to be successful at selling vintage. You can sell a mix of styles from a range of decades and find a wide audience However, if you’re particularly passionate about a specific clothing style or era, consider taking a more focused approach with the following niches:
A specific decade. If you have a passion and interest for a particular decade—the over-the-top glamour of the 1980s or the relaxed boho styles of the 1970s, for example—why not refine your focus. Use your knowledge to source great pieces and position yourself as a go-to online store for decade-specific clothing.
Party dresses and occasionwear. If you’re drawn toward sequins, velvet or great tailoring, and you have little interest in casual clothing, consider specializing in the more glamorous side of vintage wear. You could even offer personalized online styling services for shoppers looking for style guidance ahead of a big event.
Designer vintage with clothing rental options. Designer vintage clothing can often rise in value as it ages, making it a particularly lucrative business, providing you can source a regular supply of pieces. Your target audience will have a bigger budget, but you’ll also need to invest a lot of money to build up your inventory. Get more return on your investment by offering a clothing rental service, making designer vintage more accessible to all.
Trend-led vintage. Fashion designs on today’s catwalks are frequently based on designs from decades gone by. Pay attention to the trends popping up at fashion shows, in the streets, and on social media, and source to meet that demand.
Reworked and upcycled vintage clothing. Sellers in this niche frequently save vintage clothing and scraps from landfill. If you’re handy with a sewing machine and have creative ideas that’ll give tired vintage clothing a new lease on life, then this niche is for you.
Casual and sportswear. The demand for casual clothing and sportswear is a trend that will endure, with many millennials now choosing vintage options over contemporary brands. Meet that need by sourcing fleeces, branded sweaters, t-shirts and jeans from vintage wholesalers around the world.
Vintage by the kilo. Appeal to budget conscious shoppers by selling vintage clothing by weight rather than individual pricing. This way you’ll turn over low-cost stock quickly and your shoppers will get a bargain.
Vintage bridal wear. Brides looking for a unique alternative to traditional wedding dresses will often seek out vintage styles. If you can handle the pressure of working in the wedding industry, then this might be the avenue for you. Being an excellent seamstress—or working with one—will give you an edge in this niche.
Vintage jewelry and accessories. Selling accessories alongside clothing can be a great additional income stream for any vintage seller. Some sellers decide to focus solely on accessories, sourcing anything from handbags and shoes to Rolex watches and fine jewelry. Whichever accessories niche you choose, having in-depth knowledge within the field can give you a competitive edge.
Deadstock vintage. On your sourcing journey, you might come across vintage garments—sometimes in bulk—that have never been worn and still have their original tags. Commonly known as dead stock, this is an appealing option for shoppers who want sustainable fashion options that haven’t been pre-worn.
By the Moon Vintage, a Wix merchant, found its niche selling “premium romantic vintage.” Shoppers instantly get a feel for the store’s aesthetic from the font, the soft color palette of the home page, and of course the images—there are lots of natural fabrics, frills, lace and broderie anglaise shot in a beautiful warm light.
In the blink of an eye, small details like these communicate exactly what we can expect from this store.
Build your brand
Once you’ve figured out the type of vintage you’re going to sell, you’ll need to find your target audience. Are they on Facebook, Instagram or TikTok?
Start building your social presence and dedicate time to engage with a local and international community of vintage sellers and buyers. You could position yourself as a vintage expert, you could share insights into your personal collection, or share old-fashioned images that fit your vintage aesthetic. Once you’ve built up a following, use polls or Q&As to do some market research, offering a store gift voucher or discount for those who participate.
Take some time to develop a brand ethos and mission statement while starting your business. This can help guide your business in so many ways, from how you source stock to how you communicate with your customers.
Why are you selling vintage clothing or accessories? Do you simply love the styles of a particular period? Do you hope to inspire others to embrace secondhand clothing? Or maybe you’re doing it purely for sustainability reasons. Why should shoppers choose your store? Think about your position in the market and what you want shoppers to gain from visiting your site and shopping with you.
“My mission is to stop clothing going into landfill, so I upcycle vintage clothing, and transform them into cool and wearable pieces using sustainable dyes and creative sewing skills.”
“My mission is to bring you the best of vintage fashion from the 1980s— a time when no shoulder pad was too big, no color too bright, nor pattern too outrageous.”
Henny Penny Vintage doesn’t shy away when it comes to its brand ethos, proudly declaring, “We're giving fast fashion the middle finger!” on its homepage. This stance, combined with great product images shot in nature, cements its purpose as a store promoting sustainable fashion choices that are kinder to the environment.
Funding your vintage clothing business
It’s entirely possible to start selling vintage on a very small budget. You can start by selling vintage clothing from your own wardrobe or someone else’s, reselling thrifted garments, or selling goods from a wholesale supplier with a low minimum order quantity. Having ready access to cash is preferable, so you’ll be able to source stock in bulk or buy a vintage bargain if one suddenly crosses your path.
You’ll also need to set aside money for eCommerce business basics, like your online store, domain name, packaging, and any business licenses needed in your region. You can always bootstrap your business as it grows, reinvesting your money where it's needed as you make more sales, like buying more stock or renting a bigger studio space. If your savings aren’t enough for your business ambitions, look into getting a small business loan or acquiring an investor.
How to source vintage clothing
Sourcing vintage clothing is often shrouded in secrecy and something that successful vintage sellers keep firmly to themselves. Many sellers build relationships with suppliers in the hopes of getting first dibs when it comes to choosing stock. This tight-lipped tactic is understandable given the rapid growth in eCommerce, online marketplaces and resale shopping apps, and the fact we’re all so interconnected. Vintage sellers from around the world are also potentially your competition.
While we can’t tell you exactly where to find the best vintage clothing in the world, we can give you a few pointers for sourcing it. Experiment with different sourcing methods and find out what’s best for your business.
Here are some of the paths you can take:
Thrifting is a practice that requires tons of patience. It also helps to have a good eye for vintage materials, styles, and labels, especially when searching through large volumes of clothing. While sourcing this way can be time-consuming, thrifting has plenty of benefits too:
Low cost sourcing method
Fast and easy way to build your inventory
Hands-on approach (you can touch materials and check for damage)
Finding items with high resale value
Top tip: Do your research. Study vintage fashion trends and familiarize yourself with vintage brands and styles, so you’ll be able to distinguish vintage brands from contemporary or retro ones. Use online marketplaces like eBay, Wix eCommerce happens to have a native integration, or Etsy to familiarize yourself with vintage brand names. In the absence of a clearly identifiable vintage label, the material and cut can tell you so much. There are plenty of vintage fashion resources and forums online, too, if you need to delve a little deeper.
Many vintage sellers turn to wholesalers as a reliable way to source inventory, especially in large quantities. Vintage wholesalers have warehouses of vintage stock that have been processed, sorted and quality checked, so they’re ready for picking, packing and shipping. Here are some of the benefits of using a wholesale supplier:
Access to wholesale pricing
Access to a wide range of high quality vintage
Source a large amount of stock quickly
Great for businesses with a high stock turnover
Opportunity to build beneficial business relationships
A quick Google search for “vintage wholesalers” brings up almost 8 million search results. While it’s tempting to click on the first result on the first page and consider it a job well done, it’s best to dedicate some time to researching exactly what’s out there.
What to look for in a vintage wholesaler:
Positive reviews. What are other sellers saying about them?
The option to buy in-person or via video handpick. Some wholesalers only sell bulk bales or choose garments on your behalf.
A-grade stock. Do they sell other grades that may show signs of wear and damage?
Premium branded clothing. Do they sell labels?
Low minimum order quantity (MOQ). What’s the minimum threshold you’re required to spend?
Product categories. Are you required to purchase from multiple categories?
Location. How long will the shipment take, and will you have to incur customs charges importing stock?
To retain full control over the quality and standard of your inventory, you’ll want to choose a vintage wholesaler with quality, A-grade stock that allows you to handpick garments—in person or over video call— to fit your store’s aesthetic. Buying bulk bales is more suited to stores selling by the pound or if you’re upcycling vintage garments in need of repair.
Before booking a buying appointment, ask for their MOQ and see if it’s in line with your budget. Wholesalers have to ensure that their time spent with you isn’t time wasted, but many are happy to offer low MOQs to help startups get up and running. Be sure to check out their Ts and C’s too. Some wholesalers require you to commit to purchasing from multiple product categories, which might not suit your business model, for example, if you only specialize in party wear.
Finally, it’s easy to overspend, especially if you visit a warehouse or buy through a video call and you keep finding garments you love, so set a budget and don’t get carried away.
These are just some key considerations you’ll need to take into account, but ultimately your business model or niche will guide your choice of wholesaler.
Top tip: Be aware of additional costs if your chosen wholesaler is overseas. Shipments crossing international borders can incur customs charges and taxes, which can vastly increase the cost of your shipment and impact your bottom line.
Sourcing via eBay is similar to thrifting—only virtually and potentially much more expensive. It requires time and patience, but once you understand how to use eBay well, you can make some amazing finds. Here are some reasons why eBay is a great place to find vintage. You can:
Search and source very specific items
Create alerts for specific items or brands
Find vintage bargains
Find rare or designer pieces
Make offers or choose to bid via auction
Reach out to the seller for more information or background story
Once you’ve created an eBay account you can save items, make bids and create email alerts for product searches. eBay is a great resource for vintage sellers with a niche offering as you can use filters and keywords to narrow down your search by clothing style, decade or designer. Be prepared to scroll—a lot. Some people are unaware of the demand for the items they’re selling and might not include a brand name or era, so you’ll often need to scroll through product listings with a (metaphorical) fine toothed comb. But, you’ll be rewarded with vintage bargains.
Top tip: If an auction is due to end late at night when you’re tucked up in bed, you have two options: 1. Set an alarm and get up to outbid the competition or 2. If you’re currently the winning bidder, add another bid entering the maximum you’re prepared to bid. That way, if bidding continues as you sleep, other bidders will be automatically outbid until it reaches your maximum bid.
Additional ways to source vintage clothing:
In the U.S., estate sales are a popular way to source vintage clothing, jewelry or accessories. Some estates can be a veritable goldmine of vintage and draw visitors from far and wide. Be prepared to haggle if there’s something you really love. To learn about forthcoming estate sales in your areas, find estate sale auction houses that allow you to subscribe to their website for notifications.
Auctions can be a great place to source rare or designer vintage items. Search online for auction houses running vintage clothing auctions and sign up for alerts. It’s worth noting that on top of your winning bid price you‘ll also have to pay a buyer’s fee and VAT so be sure to factor that into your budget.
Flea markets are an exciting place for vintage and antique fans and a prime place to source a vintage bargain. Some markets are famously large, with thousands of vendors. Vintage sellers with bigger budgets will often travel cross county and even overseas to visit these famous fleas. If this treasure hunt-like approach appeals to you, do the math to see if you can still make a profit once you factor in the cost of your buying trip.
Collectors or family members
Once you’ve built up a reputation as a vintage seller, you’ll find that people will approach you if they have vintage items to sell. They could be private collectors, someone in charge of handling an estate, or friends and family clearing out their wardrobes. Some sellers advertise that they buy or consign vintage items from the public. You could buy an item upfront and resell at a higher price point or consign an item, so that you only pay the item’s owner if the product sells.
Storing and managing your vintage clothing inventory
Vintage clothing needs to be handled with care. While some vintage items are delicate by their very nature, others become more delicate with age. To sell vintage clothes at their best, you should endeavor to clean and repair each item, so it’s free from smells, stains, visible damage and ready to wear.
Here are some tips for cleaning vintage clothing:
Check the care label. This should give you guidance on the best way to launder your clothes. If in doubt, take the fabric type into consideration and make an educated guess.
Obey the rules. If something says dry-clean only or hand wash only, it’s best to do just that. Many vintage sellers have rendered something unsellable by trying to cut corners.
Handwashing is your friend. Use soap flakes or a gentle detergent to wash the garment and rinse well.
Research fabrics and cleaning methods. YouTube and Google are great resources if you’re prepared to tackle stains or age-related discoloration yourself.
Use your bath. Baths are a great way to soak a large stained garment and give it the space it needs. Don’t be alarmed if the bathwater turns gray or black with dirt. It happens.
Invest in a steamer. Steamers are a quick and easy wash to freshen up a delicate garment and remove wrinkles.
Inspect each item thoroughly. Hold it up to the light and look for rips or moth holes—anything that might diminish its value. Check seams, zips, hemlines and buttons to find anything in need of repair.
Use a specialist service. If the garment is particularly delicate or antique, consider getting it specially dry-cleaned. If it requires repairs, find a good tailor who you can work with regularly. Remember to incorporate these costs into the item’s retail price.
Practice your sewing skills. Ideally, you don’t want to outsource every small repair. Buy a sewing kit or sewing machine and learn to master the basics.
As you build your inventory, your house, garage, or studio space can quickly start to feel chaotic. Managing inventory is vital to staying organized as your vintage business grows.
Tips for inventory management and clothing storage:
Use a spreadsheet to keep track of your stock and unit costs
Record and label the size, material, brand name and measurements for each garment
Manage inventory using your website’s dashboard tool
Sort products on your website by categories and collections
Make space for your stock and invest in storage if needed
Store garments in a temperature controlled environment, away from direct sunlight, to protect clothes from damage
Separate clothing by category and arrange by size or color for easy identification
Hang garments using padded hangers to avoid damage, rusting or tears
Use well labelled shelving or clear damp-proof containers for foldable items
Use acid free tissue paper to protect delicate garments like beaded or sequined clothing
How to price vintage
In a traditional retail model you would carry out a break even analysis taking all of your costs into account and use it to price your products. But when it comes to vintage many factors can influence the final cost.
Before you set your prices, think of your target audience, their demographics, and what they’re willing to pay. Other factors to take into account include the garment’s rarity, age, brand name and current market value. Some vintage items are incredibly sought after, so it pays to use Google and other online marketplaces to research the going rate for pieces like yours. Whether your online store appeals to budget-conscious millennials or affluent fortysomethings, you’ll build up a loyal following of regular shoppers if you can keep your garments within a consistent price range.
How to photograph your vintage stock
Regular online shoppers know that product photography can make or break their purchase decision. We need closeups, we want to know how something moves, and when it comes to clothing, ideally we want to see what it looks like on a real human being. Even if you only shoot flatlays or on a mannequin, you’ll win a browser’s trust by sharing detailed images so they know exactly what to expect from that old and preworn garment.
Great photography can set you apart as a vintage seller, especially on social media where it’s all about aesthetics. You can take a creative approach, experimenting with colorful backgrounds and interesting locations or keep it clean and simple. Do what fits your store’s ethos.
Photography can often be one of the most time-consuming parts of being a vintage seller—you need to style clothing, take garments on and off, find good lighting, nail the right poses, get multiple shots of different angles, edit and resize—so you have to embrace the process or hire someone who’ll do it for you.
What you need to get started:
Smartphone with high-resolution camera
Or a DSLR camera
Bluetooth remote control camera shutter
Simple lighting kit
Seamless photo studio backdrop
Top tips for photographing vintage clothing:
Decide on your photography’s look and feel. Are you going to shoot on a model, a mannequin or on a hanger? Will you use a plain backdrop, your back garden or a special location like a busy street or vibrant mural. Do you want serious fashion imagery that emulates brands like Zara or H&M, or do you want to use fun and quirky photography? Great photography doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s all about the product.
Plan your photoshoots. Pick the items you want to shoot and set aside the clothes and accessories you’ll need to complete each look. If shooting on location, you’ll have to be more prepared than if shooting at home or in your studio. It’s always best to shoot in batches—that way you can get a large amount of inventory done at once. Ahead of shoot day, ensure your items are clean, steamed and ready to go. If using a model or outsourcing photography, you’ll need to be comfortable creating briefs and giving directions, so everyone else has a clear picture of what you want.
No budget, no problem. You can still take great photos—and film quality videos—as long as you have a smartphone that shoots in high resolution. If you’re shooting alone, selfie mode and a self-timer will be your best friend. If you can’t afford a tripod, get creative and find things to balance your phone on. (Masking tape it to the wall if you must.) And if you don’t have a lighting kit, shoot outside in daylight and use nature as your backdrop.
Set up your studio. Whether you’re shooting in a large studio or a small corner of your bedroom, set up a space for your photoshoot. Position your tripod, use studio lighting if natural lighting isn’t available, get your background on point and line up the items to be photographed.
Use apps and gadgets. If shooting on a DSLR camera, you can probably install an app that connects your phone to your camera. This is a great way to control the camera shutter if shooting alone. You can also use these apps to view images without having to look at the camera and instantly sync the ones you like to your phone memory. Use editing apps to crop and filter images, but, go easy. As tempting as it can be to turn up that warmth or highlight filter, you still want to accurately represent the product for sale. If you plan to shoot solo, use a remote-controlled camera shutter to make the process easier. This handy gadget syncs to your phone or camera shutter via Bluetooth and fits nicely in the palm of your hand, so it won’t ruin your shots.
Use video to show movement. Is that leather jacket shiny or matte? Does that skirt swish or stay rigid? Your photography might grab a browser’s attention, but showing how a garment moves on a real person, can help seal the deal.
Get those angles. What does the front, back, arm and collar of that jacket look like? Shoppers want to see every angle, so they can envision how it’ll be on them.
Show the flaws. The majority of people buying vintage expect to see signs of wear. In order to become a trusted seller, be open about these imperfections. If there’s a stain that just won’t come out, a broken button, or a small pull in a wool jumper, take a photo so buyers know what to expect.
Shoot the label. Vintage shoppers love a good label with the brand's logo and place of manufacture on it. It might even seal the deal on that sale. Sharing labels can also help when it comes to knowledge sharing in the vintage community.
Writing descriptions for your vintage clothing:
You don’t need to channel Shakespeare to write a great product description. While a bit of personality is good, the main thing is to provide as much detail as possible to reduce the chance of returns or unnecessary customer queries:
Describe the garment in terms of color, style, decade, and material
Include measurements and sizing details (vintage sizing is smaller than modern sizing, so adding bust, waist and hip measurements in centimeters or inches will give online buyers a more accurate size guide)
Research the brand or label and mention why it’s desirable
Consider rating the quality and condition of your garment
Add care details and instructions
Mention any damage or age related flaws
Consider SEO keywords that will boost organic traffic
How to build your vintage online store
Here comes the fun part: building an online store that represents the vintage vibe you want to portray. To make life easier, choose an all-in-one platform like Wix eCommerce that comes equipped with all the tools and features you need to start, run and grow a successful business.
Design your storefront. Just as you’d choose a style to set the tone when decorating a brick-and-mortar store, you should do the same with your online store.