These are some guidelines aimed in particular at new
sellers of vintage who may be considering selling clothing or dresses via
but have no idea what points to consider other than they want to
sell items. Buyers may also find them useful as guidelines
on buying and what features to look for in sale details.
1. Give a precise and accurate written description of
the condition of the item. State whether it is mint, near
mint, excellent, very
good, good, fair, poor, well worn, tattered, soiled, damaged, ripped, moth eaten.
Whether or not you need to use the latter derogatory words will depend
on your mode of operation and standard of purchases. With the
latter terms consider using the word 'cutter', which is a useful term to
doll makers, dressmakers and quilt makers who seek antique fabrics for
reproducing vintage looking reproduction or theatrical goods.
Mint means mint. It means rare, flawless and as perfect and pristine as it was originally, to the point that it may never have been even worn. Garment
tags may still be attached.
Near Mint shows the lightest of wear and a
garment or dress that is in complete condition in all aspects.
Wedding suits and special occasion ball, red carpet and cocktail gowns
for example are often near mint.
Excellent condition means totally sound in
condition and appearance, but any wear is a result of having been
worn now and then, but the item has been well looked after and stored
to still keep good looks. The construction of the garment is
sound with no buttons missing or unavailable for matching.
Very good condition means wearable with some
flaws. Flaws such as stains or minor structural flaws have made an
appearance. However, overall the garment has redeeming factors
such as scarcity or a rare print making it desirable. The position of
the soiling or staining is also important. Since the marking may
be permanent this should be reflected in the selling price.
Good means wearable, but the dress is no
longer in pristine condition and if there are repairs to be made it
could never achieve excellent condition. Remember vintage
garments have been around a long time, so will have deteriorated with
the years and with storage conditions. These clothes have been
worn, but the fact they still exist means they were favourite items or
stylish treasured garments in their day.
Anything beyond these terms means the garment gets
less and less desirable. Whilst I have suggested terms such as fair and poor
is really better to try to trade in items in very good condition or
better. You will have less personal headaches than if you deal
with tat. A wide range of terms is required if you sell a
broad range of textile goods sourced as 'lots' from estate sales.
Once experienced, with sound finance behind you, you may prefer to buy
single top condition
items from an auction house and trade more exclusive items that actually
give you more pleasure to sell and to buy.
Give your general opinion of the quality of the
garment. As buyers get to know you they will recognise fact from
fiction. Sellers like the ones recommended here actually draw
attention to flaws so the buyer knows exactly what to expect. A
buyer expects to see pictures of flaws, minor holes, tiny seam splits
where appropriate, for any of the descriptions above.
All flaws should be disclosed. Do not mislead
as you will do yourself long term customer relations damage. You
want buyers to come back again and again because you provide a good
service and because you are honest and do this not only to make money,
but because it gives you satisfaction of the love of a job well done.
You want to develop a win win situation for you and your customer.
Integrity on your part will enable you to sleep well at night.
If you cannot be descriptive enough, if it is not in
good state, write "sold AS IS" which puts the onus on the purchaser to
read that phrase and derive meaning from it. You can invite them
to email you for more information if you don't want to jeopardize the sale, or
put people off considering the item when you write AS IS. Don't
think a torn garment is worthless and has no monetary value as many
collectors buy up older damaged garments specifically for quilting,
dressing old or antique dolls in authentic fabrics as well as using
pieces of material in re-enactment costumes. But it's worth may be
limited. Describe it as Cutter.
Repro and retro goods are sometimes described as BN
or Brand New.
2. State the dimensions of an accessory or state garment
measurements, measured by you with a tape measure in many places.
You must state the bust, waist and hip measurements always. Have
ready other measurements for email queries or special extra details or
even make it a policy to list fuller measurements.
A good pattern drafting book can highlight typical areas to measure. Apart from the obvious measurements of bust, waist,
hips, other areas like back waist, cross
chest, cross back, and bodice length are important too. Include garment length, plus widths and circumference of hemline sweeps on skirts
and jacket tops, as well as any original statistics stated on the garment.
from era to era and you need to be aware which eras have a smaller more
nipped in fit. Laundering may have increased or decreased the original sizing.
cleaning vintage tips in another section)
3. State the era - date it - what date do you
give it? Aim for accuracy with 5 or less years either side of the
original date. Get familiar with fashion and costume history books.
Use the sitemaps and search facilities of
websites like www.fashion-era.com
and www.costumes.org , that give
reliable logically presented information. There is no one way to
date vintage clothing, but over time and with experience you will
develop a feel for dating items. You must read up on fashion
history and get a reasonable selection of costume books that cover your
If you are searching for initial clues to the date of
the silhouette, my new section here with clear
outline drawings of the era 1900-1940 may help you. Check back
frequently as I plan to add more similar styled line drawing images.
Likewise there are sections on this site on
etc. The coats and capes section on site actually developed after I
dated some vintage garments for an eBay vintage shop seller and I
realised how confusing it was to find coordinated information in one
If you have a dated photograph of
the garment's first wearing it may also be useful. But don't rely
on being told the date. You need to develop these skills yourself.
You can learn how to
date the clothes in photos by starting at my webpage section
here. It is all about
comparison. With time, knowledge builds and you cannot beat
out the images and highlighting skirts, necklines and sleeve silhouettes year by year.
I might add though, that dating lace is a whole field in itself.
4. Name the brand or designer label name.
Name the designer or company if known to you and always show the label,
including any care labels in the photographs which may exist with
garments post 1950s.
Some labels, especially in beautifully made clothes,
may be well hidden underneath layers of linings up side seams. If the
original garment tags are still attached, state that they are with the
Sewn in Care Labels introduced into the UK by the
HLCC (Home laundering Consultative
Council) and as we know them today, are post c1975.
Standardization in the UK was introduced in the mid 1980s. This
will give you access to typical care symbols for UK, USA and
Japanese systems. But good brands often included a swing booklet
on looking after a garment long before this date and would have advised
washing, bleaching, machine washing or dry cleaning.
5. Give a full description of stains and smells,
rust stains or odour of dust, smoke,
perspiration/body odour or other smell. Photographs help here. It may put some people
off, but some people are able to deal with stain removal and stains and
smells like dust come out of certain fabrics better than others.
and keep your reputation. Give the facts and let the buyer decide
if they can deal with the problem - it is after all vintage and there
are often imperfections. If you are more experienced try to clean
up some problems using the hints and tips on the
cleaning vintage page.
6. Tell prospective purchasers if the item has been cleaned or not,
hand washing or dry cleaning. Old and very
precious antique items are best left to the conservationist
professionals. The aged look may even be part of the
If you are in doubt about the success of any
cleaning you might do, don't clean it as the buyer may prefer to have it
specialist cleaned. However selling disgusting, filthy
articles is not generally good for business and the best answer is to try
to avoid purchasing unpleasant goods in the beginning.
7. Give clear fabric composition, type and trimmings descriptions
Here try to familiarise yourself with fabric terms from past and present
eras. Learn the meaning of terms like dupion silk, mousseline de
soie, damask, jacquard, sea island, cheesecloth, crape, crepe de
chine, grosgrain, batiste, organdie, organza, poult de soie, voile,
voided velvet or devore, velveteen,
chiffon, dimity print, brocade, waffle, pique, georgette and so many more and find out the differences.
Read more about
Tweeds here on the fashion-era website.
Learn also about trimming terms like passementerie, soutache
quilting, picot edging, faggotting, bias trim and rouleau work, Vandyke edging, guipure lace,
Irish crochet, Battenburg lace, Chantilly lace, Italian quilting,
appliqué, shadow work, tatting trim, filet, openwork and drawn threadwork, cutwork, macrame fringe and whitework. You will find
links to just about every craft skill link listed at
Many of these typical terms can be found in a good
basic sewing book like Vogue Sewing, which is hard to beat for
understanding various descriptions of terms used in sewing clothing.
If you are new to all of this it will take time, but there is no
substitute for diligent research, asking knowledgeable individuals at
forums and looking at
clothes in museums.
8. Always give a colour description which is
attractive sounding. Variations of blue for example sound more
interesting and are possibly more accurate when described as hyacinth,
iris, saxe blue, bluebell, sky, powder, royal, periwinkle, forget-me-not,
Wedgwood, peacock, cornflower, sapphire, aquamarine, teal etc. Avoid using unattractive
descriptions of colours such as mouse, mole or clay mud. In preference use
cinnamon, taupe, cafe, red earth which have a more pleasant visual
9. Give prospective clients clear shipping details - let them
know how soon after purchase and clearance of payment you intend to send
their item to them. Tell them how well you intend to pack it and
if it will be insured, sent first or second class delivery. Tell them if
they can arrange to pay extra to have insured shipping. Give them
information on any extra or basic costs to shipping and think about
adding phrases that imply cost will be greater or lesser if special
delivery or inside/outside the USA, UK or Antipodes for example,
dependant on which side of the pond you are. Consider where in the world
you are prepared or not prepared to send this item.
My advice is that before you attempt to sell something
on a site such as eBay you first buy several products such as old
fashion magazines or other small goods such as hats, scarves or bags within a specific budget to
understand the stages involved. Buying a few items first, gives you
the stage experience that a purchaser might have. Observe how the
transaction is dealt with, and when/how and what condition the item is
received in and your sense of pleasure or displeasure.
10. Describe the garment and the garment construction details - tell
them if it is couture, mass produced or custom made. The inside
will reveal a great deal of information about construction methods such
and post development of serging. Likewise fabrics
and methods used in the construction tell much about the quality of a
garment. Careful use of net, horsehair, padding, stay tape and
stay pieces, but beneath the top layers, all indicate quality
construction which takes more time to do. This makes the article
more costly when first made.
Vintage Garment Descriptions
Describe carefully garment styling lines such as princess
seaming, tucking, godets, insertions or peplums. Sleeves may be set in, leg o'mutton, gigot, dolman, raglan, batwing,
cap, drop, blouson, shirt, bracelet, angel, puff, straight, fitted or kimono sleeves.
Collars or necklines such as
Bertha, peter pan, Eton, shirt, granddad, cowl, fichu, V-neck, bateau,
sailor, cowl, crew, polo, stand, roll, or topstitched are often
Describing garments depends on the item, but when you
have a mental block or are new to descriptive sales narrative, a good
idea is to simply logically work down the garment describing the
neckline, then the bodice, yoke, waist appearance and closure. Sleeves
may have cuffs or ornamentation. Describe the skirt and the
hemline sweep or train. Mention any interesting back views. Any
decoration such as beading or passementerie can then be highlighted or
reinforced again as you sum up.
Give them a garment condition report which can be as brief or
as long as you like. Tell them if there is button loss or loose stitching
such as hems coming down, fading, or colour loss or pinholes.
Photograph special areas of construction or any flaws that might give
more guidance to the buyer.
In this example the small seam split of this
vintage dress has been
pointed out in this photograph. Shown with the dressform arm to
indicate the position, it makes the statement that it is in a less
obtrusive place making repair more acceptable especially as the
dress is good otherwise.
I think it's preferable to call handmade suits,
custom-made tailored suits. When describing items do not imply at
any time with quality made PROFESSIONAL seamstress suits, that they are
vaguely connected to homemade items that might have an unprofessional
finish. If you know the item was home made, but the quality and
finish is that of a superior craftsperson and you admire the finish
greatly, then state custom made. But if the item is very obviously
home made, be realistic and state that's what it is. No one will
rate you if you tell porkies!
Similarly if you are buying, learn to read between the
lines on such item descriptions. One important point is to make
sure that the item is
very carefully measured. Women who have
clothes made often have figure flaws such as thick or narrow waist, slim
or fat top upper arms, flat or fuller bust.
11. Let them see the zipper and describe it.
Photograph the zipper. Photograph major fastening features
bakelite buttons. Read about
zippers below and how many
people use this as guidance when dating.
12. Tell them your methods of acceptable payment
such as using ClickBank or PayPal or Visa, but don't labour everyone who
peruses the sale with too much info on this at the selling stage, leave
the bulk of the payment information for the final purchaser or anyone who cares to email
you about their preferred method of payment.
13. If you have accumulated too many of a
particular item and only perhaps 3 out of 6 items are desirable items
think about selling lots.
If you have for example a selection of 20's hats, 50's
skirts, 60's pinafore dresses, or 70's caftans they may do well as a
'lot' of one type. At least one third of the items should be very
desirable so that people get something out of bidding on a lot. No
buyer wants 6 reject caftans, but they might like 2 highly attractive
items with a special cache perhaps in a Pucci print fabric or with
You can also group lots as sizes making a lot of five
or six items all size 32 bust, or all size large items. Group
items together as day dresses, evening dresses, trousers, shirts, coats,
stoles, scarves etc.
14. Avoid off putting descriptive terms like "mother of the
bride" and "would suit older person" both of which can imply a limited
wear, often dowdy style in favour of terms that sound more favourable to
all age groupings such as classic elegance, classy and sophisticated, elegant and
luxurious, feminine or cute when
15. Develop a refund policy. Either
choose to refund or don't, but state clearly your returns policy.
I have to say I know which seller I would support. Trust and
integrity in sales brings repeat custom. Imagine how you would
like to be treated yourself when making decisions like this.
16. Let your buyers see your love of vintage
and your reputable personality with integrity shine through your descriptions
and quality sales. Success and profit will become yours.
Update September 2006 - One site that has incorporated some of my
policy suggestions above is
buffalogalvintage. This website gives clear information on their
approach to shipping, returns, sizing etc. They sell interesting vintage
items across the clothing range as well as accessories such as the
1950's beaded gloves shown right.
Nothing can replace an understanding of the quality of
a garment, of fabrics, trimmings, construction methods and sewing
techniques. This combined with a knowledge of fashion history
gained over time will eventually ensure you develop an eye for dating
items and for sorting the desirable vintage piece from the undesirable.
Some collectors use techniques like the presence of a zipper or its
absence to help indicate
the age of an item.
Schiaparelli liked new things as well as new ideas.
In 1933 she promoted the fastener we call the zip or zipper. The metal
zip had been invented in the Victorian era as far back as 1891 by W Litcomb Judson of Chicago USA.
He patented a clasp locker system of fastening constructed from a series
of hooks and eyes with a clasp lock for closing. By 1893 the
zipper was in production. But it was clumsy as it needed to be
locked tooth by tooth. It was slow to catch on
until refinements were gradually introduced.
In 1913 a Swede developed Judson’s ideas in the USA,
making a hook less fastener with interlocking teeth. By 1917 it was
somewhat timidly used for tobacco pouches and shoes. B. G. Worth
of Goodrich and Co., gave those shoe zips the name zipper and it stuck.
In 1917 it was used for clothing when the U.S. Navy applied it to
Schiaparelli's use of the new plastic coloured zip in
fashion clothes was both decorative, functional and highly novel.
Her 1930’s designs were the first to use it as a major feature of
fashion garments. Even so most garments were still designed with button
fastenings until the 50s when improvements in zip manufacture were
acknowledged. They soon became universally used and are now a very
reliable form of fastening.
patterns sold to the public still did not include instructions for
zippers. Many considered it 'unreliable' as it was prone to
failure. More traditional closures were often thought more reliable
and easier to insert. This means that many 1930's dresses are
finished with press studs or buttons as shown here.
Zippers were usually put in the side seams of dresses,
skirts and trousers until the 50s. Later they were used in the
centre back of dresses, skirts and the centre front of trousers.
Whilst there is no official reason to this it is obvious to anyone who
is capable of constructing garments that it is much easier to apply a
zip to the centre back piece of a garment in the flat stage, rather than
to the side and curved hip seam of an almost completed closed garment.
Zips were often unreliable in the early days and so if a zip split open
in a side seam underarm insertion it would provide the wearer with
greater modesty when covered with the arm than a gaping back of a
Garment shape change may also be responsible for this.
Pre 1960 garments were very fitted. They often had a waist seam
and so bodices were almost totally completed and then applied in the
round to the full or straight skirt of a dress. Applying the zip
to the side may also have been a leftover technique from the times when
zips were inserted by hand.
In my opinion it is easier to invisibly hand insert a
zip into a side seam using a hand couture sewing method than to machine
stitch a zip into a curved side seam. The hand sewing allows for
manipulation of the fabric in a way that the machine will not.
Improvements in mass production during the Utility Era also meant that
production methods were speeded up and it is certainly more speedy to
apply a zip to the centre back of a garment at the flat stage.
In vintage terms many enthusiasts believe that a metal
zipper in a garment is a good rule of thumb that along with other factors
indicate a garment is probably pre 1960. I say be
wary, as whilst the presence of a metal zip may be an indication of age
it is not reason enough to believe an item is vintage. Metal zips
can be replaced and there are unscrupulous people who will deliberately
fake items using metal zippers. Metal zips can still be bought
today particularly for use with work or jeans wear and many dressmakers
continue to use them.
Plastic zippers were available in the 1930s, but made
with individual teeth moulded onto them in the exact same way as metal
zippers were constructed. Concealed zippers which are very fine
were introduced in 1958. In 1961 I recall my sister having a
beautifully made bought dress from a local boutique in the latest new
fabric "Crimplene". It was the height of luxury, with a concealed
zipper of such neat insertion it fascinated the whole family. The dress cost her 7
guineas, about $30 at that time.
Some people who dressmake regularly recycle zips from
garments no longer worn and even buy jumble or boot sale thrift garments
just to remove zips and buttons. Likewise a vintage garment may
have had its metal zip replaced at some time with a nylon coil (self
In 1963 EFLON woven zippers appeared and this is
where some people become confused with the later finer knitted tape
zips, but with continuous coil features of one single shaped
monofilament. Plastic coil zippers as we know them were first
introduced in 1971. The plastic coil is woven as part of the
fabric of the tape with single loops each making one tooth.
Thermoplastic resins, specific versions of the plastics Nylon and
Polyester are both used today in zip making.
Zips are not the only things to be wary of.
factors to consider include what type of item to collect, vintage
garment sizing, preparing and displaying your garment for
cleaning or valeting and once sold,
garment. These points are covered in the next pages.
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