Category Archives: Clothing
There is a decent market for fine old linen and cotton items, especially those with embroidery, cutwork, or lace. Handkerchiefs, doilies, dainty hand towels for guest use, lace curtains, christening gowns, smocking, and other fine children’s clothing are collected, loved, and used by those who appreciate workmanship that is largely a thing of the past. Even old dishtowels and aprons from the Fifties, like these on the right, are popular with some collectors.
Unless you know what to expect for such items, however, it will be hard to describe and sell them yourself online. An alternative might be the dealers at the better antique shows that come through town periodically. Some dealers have retail stores that can be located in the Yellow Pages or online. If one is near you, make an appointment to bring in your linen and cotton items and see what they offer. They will prefer—and pay more for—complete sets. For instance, a tablecloth with eight or twelve napkins will be desirable whereas the tablecloth alone may be refused.
Until a few decades ago, everyone owned handkerchiefs. Ladies carried feminine lacy ones, men carried larger monogrammed ones, kids carried ones decorated with juvenile prints, like the examples at left. The invention of Kleenex in 1924 marked the beginning of the decline of the fine linen handkerchief, although they are by no means obsolete today. (Interestingly, the Kleenex tissue was invented and marketed as a makeup remover “like the movie stars use” to remove their makeup with cold cream. It wasn’t until several years later that the manufacturers realized more people were using them as disposable handkerchiefs than for makeup removal, and they changed their advertising accordingly.)
Decorative old handkerchiefs are quite collectible today. Even monogrammed ones. People buy them for brides (“something old”) or bridesmaids or to make lavender sachets or handkerchief dolls. Others press them between two pieces of Plexiglas and hang them in a window. Easy to sell on eBay or to vendors at antique shows who specialize in textiles.
Just about every estate will have some used handbags and evening bags. If you find designer handbags of recent vintage, great! You can sell them online and actually get a good price for them on eBay, Craigslist, or other sites. Nantucket basket purses and evening bags, old or new, usually hold their value. Old ones can be sold to vintage clothing stores.
Apart from those, used handbags have virtually no value. Your best bet is to donate to Goodwill or the equivalent.
Hardly anyone wears hats today, so any hats you’ve inherited will probably be quite old. Nonetheless, their value is modest. Consider donating them to a theater program at your local college, high school, or community theater where the actors would rejoice to receive a few fedoras or pillbox hats.
If you prefer to sell and your hats are particularly fetching, take them to a vintage clothing store and ask what they are and what they would pay you for them. If that doesn’t please you, research at the library (Vintage Hats and Bonnets 1770-1970 by Langley is one good reference) or search online for “vintage hats.” Once you know what you have and how old they are, sell them yourself online. An interesting old hat can sell for a few dollars, but the competition is steep. Many, many vintage hats are listed on eBay and less than a third actually find a buyer.
A hat in its original hatbox will fetch a higher price.
In that house full of inherited Stuff, you are certain to come across several pairs of eyeglasses, prescription and magnifying. No one seems ever to throw out eyeglasses, even when they are long past use.
No matter how old they are or in what condition, drop off prescription eyeglasses at the local Lion’s Club. Look in the phone book or online for their location, or call and ask where to take them; often it is a public library or other easily accessed public place. Or drop them off at the nearest LensCrafters, Pearle Vision, BJ’s Optical, or the optical stores at Sears or Target. Someone in a developing country will appreciate your generosity.
The answer will depend largely upon your feelings about wearing animal fur.
People who are anti-fur will want to consider donating the coat to the Humane Society, which promotes cutting up old furs to use as surrogate mothers for orphaned mammals, making their nests warm and comforting. Search the Wildlife International database for a list of nearby rehabilitation centers. Or donate to PETA where they will pass an old fur coat on to a homeless person, who, according to PETA, “are the only people who have an excuse to wear fur.”
Those with no moral objections to wearing fur need to learn what sort of fur they have. Is it chinchilla or weasel? Leopard or mink? Your local fur dealer will identify it for you for free and give you some ideas. They can appraise too, but that might have a small cost. Identifying the fur is the first step. After that, you can:
–donate to a theatrical program at a local little theater, high school, or university,
–have it remodeled and updated at a furrier’s to wear again,
–donate or sell for arts and crafts, or make something yourself (a collar, muff, handbag, pillow, or vest),
–sell directly on eBay or other site, bearing in mind that traditional styles sell best,
–sell to online businesses such as Cash for Fur Coats or to one of the three main used fur dealers in the U.S. (Henry Cowit in NY, Ritz Furs in NY, or Chicago Fur Outlet—find information online) where they buy outright or sell on consignment,
–sell on consignment at a local secondhand clothing shop,
–trade in at your local furrier for credit toward another coat.
Furs are like cars, they depreciate dramatically the day you walk out of the shop and are generally worth less than you think. They also don’t last as long as you think, so if you find an old fur, it may be worthless. Some minks, if well cared for, might last fifty years, but if the fur has been stored in the attic or basement, it has probably been ruined by heat, moisture, or pests.
Items from the Fifties and the Roaring Twenties are in special demand now. Movies and programs like The Great Gatsby and Boardwalk Empire are turning public attention to the 1920s, while serials like Mad Men bring attention to the Fifties and Sixties.
Before Halloween, vintage clothing shops become costume shops. Before Christmas, they sell a lot of jewelry. That means you are more likely to sell your Stuff, and get a better price for it, in September and November when shop owners are looking for a quick turnover. Bring costume jewelry to a vintage store for consideration; bring fine jewelry to a jeweler that has a vintage section (most do). If you’re not sure whether the stones are real, a reputable jeweler can tell you at a glance and for no charge. (They will not appraise the item for no charge–that service costs.)
Among the house full of Stuff you have to deal with, there is certain to be a good deal of clothing. Much or most of it will be old. Vintage clothing stores buy old clothes, but probably only items that are at least 25 years old. The terms aren’t written in stone, but “vintage” usually refers to clothing more than 25 years old and “antique” usually refers to items from the 1920s and older, like the dress pictured here.
If you have clothing and accessories that seem to qualify, start by making an appointment with a local vintage clothing shop owner to show what you have. Don’t bring photos; bring the clothing. Condition counts. If it isn’t wearable today, it has little value. That doesn’t mean it has to be perfect, but large stains and torn lace will reduce the value hugely. The buyer will likely make you an offer on some of the pieces you bring, and she (it is usually a she) can advise you on the others. As always, two shops are better than one, so you can take the best offer.
Vintage clothing and accessories sell on eBay, if you have the inclination. Tedious but profitable. The danger is customer unhappiness when they have the item in hand, so it’s best to scrupulously disclose any stains, tears, yellowing, or imperfections.