Ah, the thrill of the hunt. If you live for the high of scoring a vintage dress at your local thrift store and bragging about how little you paid, selling vintage clothing online might be right for you. Having an eye for sourcing and curating vintage is a skill—and it could have benefits beyond your unique wardrobe.
Fast fashion outlets scramble to mimic vintage-style runway trends, pumping out $20 versions of those corduroy overalls you loved in the ’90s. But nothing will replace the real deal.
With rapidly shifting consumer consciousness about where clothes come from, selling vintage clothing is a sustainable business opportunity with a growing market.
Vintage shoppers rely on store owners to do the tedious sifting, curating a painless browsing experience of only the best items, in the best condition. And with rapidly shifting consumer consciousness about where clothes come from, selling vintage clothing is a sustainable business opportunity in a growing market.
This guide will walk you through each step in building your own brand and selling vintage clothes online: where to find vintage goods, photography tips, pricing strategies, and more. Plus, successful vintage sellers pass on their tips on sourcing and success.
The vintage clothing market
In the US, the secondhand market is projected to more than double by 2026, reaching $82 billion. The demand has contributed to the success of brands like ThredUp and the growing number of vintage clothing sellers popping up on Etsy and eBay.
While there is a lot of competition, there’s no reason you can’t create a unique vintage brand to define your particular taste, away from the crowded marketplaces.
Vintage vs. antique
Before you dive in, there are a few terms you need to understand as you consider starting a business selling vintage clothing online.
- Vintage: Vintage clothing is widely described as anything produced between 20 and 100 years ago.
- Antique: Clothing can be considered antique if it’s more than 100 years old. These pieces are more rare and often found in museums or personal collections.
- Retro (or repro): Any item produced today or within the past 20 years may be created in a vintage style, but cannot be considered vintage. Typically, these would be referred to as retro or repro (short for reproduction).
How to sell vintage clothing online in 11 steps
- Find your angle
- Build your vintage clothing brand
- Fund your business idea
- Source vintage clothes to sell
- Manage vintage clothing inventory
- Photograph vintage products
- Develop a pricing strategy
- Set up your online store
- Add other sales channels
- Market your vintage clothing business
- Set up a shipping and returns strategy
1. Find your angle
Every successful business starts in the same place: with a great business idea. While you may just elect to pick and sell what you like, consider choosing a niche within the vintage clothing world to help your business stand apart. Your store may choose to focus on:
- A decade or decades, say the 1920s or the 1980s
- A specific purpose or occasion, like evening wear or athletic wear
- High-end vintage designer clothing
- A niche item, like vintage band tees
- Reworked or reclaimed styles (adapting vintage clothing into new pieces)
- New retro clothing in a vintage style (read the guide on starting a clothing line)
- Trending styles, like ’90s revival
Dayna Atkinson, founder of FYRE VINTAGE, found her groove in reimagining vintage pieces by cutting them apart and stitching them back together in new ways. “I have a good mix of regular vintage and reworked vintage, which makes my shop unique,” she says.
While building your brand and narrowing in on your focus, consider the following:
- What’s your style? You’ll naturally find sourcing easier when you play up your own aesthetic. You’re already familiar with the brands, and your eye will naturally spot good finds among crowded thrift racks.
- Is your niche too limited? If you choose a slice of vintage that’s too specific (for example: 1930s evening wear), you may have difficulty sourcing enough clothing. Be sure you can establish reliable sources for your inventory.
- Is it too saturated? Are there already too many shops doing the very same thing? If so, how can you differentiate your offering?
- Should you follow a trend or start a new one? What’s happening on the runways any given season, as well as influencer trends, can help dictate your direction. While vintage may be desirable, it still fares better if it translates to a modern style or lifestyle. You’ll also be able to attract a wider audience if your specific niche is in demand.
2. Build your vintage clothing brand
A solid brand for your vintage business will help you find a relevant audience, create a guide for future hires as you expand, and keep your focus consistent.
It’s important that you define your brand at this early stage. Answering a few questions will help you tell your brand story, carve out your visual aesthetic, capture your mission, and more clearly envision your ideal customer.
You will continue to reference your brand guidelines as you design your site and curate your collection, and as you scale and even hire staff, these guidelines will also help keep your messaging consistent.
Dayna’s brand helps her keep her collection tight and consistent. “Be extremely picky with your inventory. Ten great pieces is better than 50 OK pieces,” she says.
📚 Learn more:
- How To Build Your Own Brand From Scratch in 7 Steps
- A Guide to Brand Storytelling [Free Worksheet]
- Simple and Low Cost Ways To Build a Memorable Brand Identity
3. Fund your business idea
Today’s tools and technology mean you can launch your vintage business from your home with very little initial investment.
This is, however, a business model that requires you to buy inventory upfront—unless you opt for a consignment model (you only pay for the items after they are sold). As you scale, consider how long your living space will be able to handle your storage needs, and plan ahead for when you may need to upgrade to a dedicated office or warehouse space.
Due to the nature of the business, having cash on hand is essential for buying one-of-a-kind stock as it becomes available.
Seán Domican and Oisín Manning started Durt Co. Vintage with personal savings and bootstrapped as they grew. They are careful to closely manage cash flow. Due to the nature of the business, having cash on hand is essential for buying one-of-a-kind stock as it becomes available.
4. Source vintage clothes to sell
When you’re starting out in the world of selling vintage clothes, local thrift shops can be excellent sources of vintage finds. If you have the patience and eye for scouring racks and don’t need a ton of inventory, start there. There are a few best practices for finding vintage clothes to sell online.
- Go often and on the right days. Many stores get shipments or put new items on the floor on specific days. Ask the store staff for that information and plan your visits around those days.
- Have a plan. Save time and money by clearly defining the items you’re looking for before you start sourcing. If you have staff or others helping you, create a clear style guide with helpful identifiers they should look for.
- Carefully inspect items before purchasing. Thrift stores often don’t have the same quality standards as curated vintage stores, and items may have stains or other damage. “Take the time at the end of your shopping trip to analyze everything in your cart for any imperfections,” says FYRE founder Dayna.
- Know your stuff, says former vintage reseller Emilie Martin, who studied vintage Vogue magazines and store catalogs. “I always looked for some telltale signs of vintage garments, such as a union label, the fabric used, zipper placement, and, of course, the style of the piece.”
OMNIA founder Naomi Bergknoff still hits thrift stores whenever she travels, and her clothing is picked from a number of sources, including collectors and her customers. Regardless of the source, she says she’s always selective. “I’m always thinking about what I’m attracted to and what I know my customers will like to see.”
Other sources for finding vintage clothing
Don’t stop at thrift shopping. There are many places to find treasures if you’re willing to dig. Here are a few options to consider:
- Auctions: Sign up to receive notifications for auctions in your area. Some of these take place in person, but there are several online auction sites like eBay and MaxSold that allow you to browse and bid in your own time from home.
- Estate sales: These can be a goldmine for a lot of vintage clothes in one place. Stay on top of upcoming sales by getting on the email list of local estate sale management companies. “Oftentimes you can haggle with the estate sale manager on prices if you’re buying a large quantity,” says Dayna.
- Online marketplaces and classifieds: Sites like Craigslist might turn up some treasures, as well as listings for garage sales, moving sales, or estate sales.
- Pickers: Once you’ve built up your business, consider outsourcing by hiring a picker. This could be a person (with a great eye) who simply makes the rounds to local thrift shops on a regular basis.
- Wholesalers: Sign up as a trade customer with wholesalers to gain access to vintage in bulk and at wholesale pricing.
- Consignment programs: Source vintage from others looking to sell their personal collections and resell them on their behalf for a commission. Set up a program to buy or consign vintage items from your customers or site visitors. Consignment is a low-risk arrangement that involves paying the owner only if you sell the item.
- Flea or outdoor markets: Showing up early means first dibs, but you’ll get the best deals at the end of the day and the end of flea market season, when dealers are looking to unload stock.
- Collectors: Private collectors may be interested in working with you to unload some of their stock. These are people you may meet as you start building contacts in the vintage community.
Working with wholesalers
Vintage clothing wholesalers generally get their stock by picking from thrift store cast offs that end up in overseas rag houses. Pickers then cull any items that can be sold to vintage shops through wholesalers.
Seán and Oisín landed on wholesalers as a solution when starting Durt Co. Vintage. In Ireland—where they say vintage hasn’t quite caught on the way it has in other parts of the world—the options were slim. Finding a wholesaler gave them access to bulk vintage clothing.
Wholesalers now often work with buyers to pick items by video call (an industry standard since the COVID-19 pandemic). “Someone has a tripod with a camera and they just go through clothes and pick for you,” Seán says.
They already know what kinds of things we are looking for. Sometimes we get high-fashion brands.Azeezat Owokoniran-Jimoh, COAL N TERRY
The team behind COAL N TERRY also built wholesale relationships to free up their time and expand the business. “They already know what kinds of things we are looking for,” co-founder Azeezat Owokoniran-Jimoh says. “Sometimes we get high-fashion brands.”
5. Manage vintage clothing inventory
Without a plan, vintage inventory can start to feel like a disorganized thrift store. Unlike stores with limited product listings (and multiple units within each), vintage clothes are usually one of a kind.
Develop a system to help sort, store, and identify items to simplify shipping and fulfillment. Processing incoming vintage clothing in batches, Durt stores items using a numerical system—each new piece is tagged, numbered, and placed on racks in order. “Now we know where it is if someone orders it,” says Seán. “We didn’t do that initially, and it was a nightmare.”
💡 Vintage inventory tips:
- Store vintage items in temperature- and humidity-controlled environments (not musty basements), protected from moths and other fabric pests.
- Garment bags can help keep dust from settling on items and protect them during handling, but avoid plastic—it can trap moisture, which contributes to mildew and can even stick to some types of material. Opt for bags made from fabric.
- Use padded hangers only. Wire hangers can cause unwanted rips, creases, or even stains if they rust. Some wood hangers can also cause damage, depending on the wood finish.
- Keep vintage clothes out of natural light—sun can fade colors.
- Use clear bins/baskets (never cardboard boxes) for accessories and open racks for clothing so that everything is visible and accessible.
- Be mindful of sequins or embellishments that can catch on the delicate fabrics of other garments.
- Stay organized. COAL N TERRY sorts its racks by type—pants, tops, denim—and then by color so any of its staff can easily locate items.
Cleaning and repairing vintage clothing
Even though you’re selling vintage clothing—essentially a used product—customers will expect that your items arrive clean and in the condition described. If there are permanent stains, rips, or other damage, they may still have value and be desired by a customer. But be sure to clearly describe and photograph the damaged areas to avoid surprises—and returns.
✂️ Tips for cleaning and repairing vintage clothing for resale:
- Check the label, and follow care instructions. Care instruction labels will commonly be missing. In this case, assess the item’s fabric composition, soil level, and condition, and research the best method and products for cleaning. “We made the mistake of putting a puffer jacket in the dryer,” says Seán.
- If the item is relatively clean, a clothes steamer can remove odors and wrinkles, and is preferable to ironing.
- Hand wash and remove stains the Smithsonian way.
- Find a reliable dry cleaner who has experience with vintage textiles or specializes in delicate fabrics. Note: some items may be too fragile for the dry cleaning process.
- Find a reputable tailor or learn basic sewing techniques to repair simple damage like missing buttons and sequins, or fallen hems. “Know what you can fix before purchasing it,” says Naomi. “And invest in some tools like a sewing machine, an industrial steamer, a stocked sewing kit, and basic leather tools.”
- Remember what your mom taught you: separate your colors. Durt discovered this the hard way when a red item turned an entire load of clothes pink.
- If you’re interested in upcycling vintage, it’s a great way to use pieces of vintage clothing that are too damaged or soiled to sell. If you’re creative, you can design and sew these yourself, or you can outsource to someone who can.
6. Photograph vintage products
Product photography in a vintage business is an ongoing task. Unlike other clothing stores that may schedule shoots once per season or as new collections are released, vintage merchants have a steady intake of inventory, all of which needs to be individually shot.
Building an in-house photo studio
COAL N TERRY’s owners do all of their clothing photography in-house with a basic fixed studio setup, including a DSLR, tripod, simple lighting kit, and white seamless background. The setup is permanent, which means that the photography looks consistent on collection pages, even though the items may have been shot weeks apart.
Shooting in tiny spaces
If you are starting from a small space like an apartment, a permanent setup may be unrealistic. In this case be sure to:
- Keep your equipment stored in one place for easy setup/tear down.
- Take note of tripod placement, camera settings, and lighting conditions so you can recreate the look each time you shoot.
- Shoot in batches (say, weekly or biweekly) rather than item by item.
You may decide that your photo skills aren’t up to scratch and you’d rather work with an existing studio. Do some upfront prep to maximize your studio time. “I plan out the outfits a day or two before the shoot and put them on the rack in the order I want to shoot them in,” says Dayna. “When traveling to a studio for a shoot I use garment bags to keep my clothes protected.”
Vintage clothing photography guidelines
Follow these guideline to help you get the most out of your photo shoots:
- Capture every angle. When you sell vintage clothing items (or any clothing, for that matter), it’s important that you recreate the personalized shopping experience of an in-store purchase, as customers will not be able to touch, feel, or try on your clothing. Remember to capture a variety of images: the full garment on a model or mannequin, zoomed-in details like stitching or buttons, a close-up of the original label, and any noted flaws or damage.
- Supply inspo. Shooting lookbook-style lifestyle photos may be more unrealistic for vintage businesses, but you can still inject fun and inspiration into basic product shoots. If possible, show the items on a model (even if that’s just you and a camera timer!) and with accessories to show how each item can be styled.
- Shoot in batches. “Dividing the stock into weekly collections makes it easier to manage as a batch process,” Naomi says. She does weekly “drops” on her site after measuring, prepping, and shooting a batch of vintage clothes at once versus a steady stream. “It feels way more attainable.”
We noticed that our customers tend to respond better to pictures taken with our phones as opposed to professionally done photo shoots.Azeezat Owokoniran-Jimoh, COAL N TERRY
- Work with the resources you have. During the pandemic, Naomi couldn’t shoot on models but found other ways to be creative. “I’ll do some of the photography on dress forms, which, if styled with care, can look really great!”
- Forget about expensive equipment. Azeezat gets items even more quickly to her fans and customers by shooting and posting candid behind-the-scenes shots on her iPhone for the brand’s Instagram. “We noticed that our customers tend to respond better to pictures taken with our phones as opposed to photos from professional shoots,” she says.
- Don’t skimp on lighting. “I like using natural light, but that can be fickle,” says Naomi. Basic lighting kits and off-camera flashes can be relatively inexpensive and are a key component of your photography toolkit if you’re going the DIY route.
7. Develop a pricing strategy
When you sell vintage clothes, follow the same basic rules for pricing products for ecommerce—be sure to factor in the cost of the item and other overhead and expenses. But forget standard pricing formulas (multiplying wholesale cost by X), because you also need to factor in vintage clothing value.
Each piece will need to be considered independently, but you may want to stick within a specific range, depending on your ideal customer. “I make an effort to keep my pricing consistent so my customers know what to expect,” says Dayna.
It’s rare that we have a piece that requires appraisal. But once in a while I’ll ask fellow vintage dealers for their expertise.Naomi Bergknoff, OMNIA
Price vintage according to rarity, age, wearability, demand, condition, trend, and label. The best way to determine selling price is to search for similar items on vintage marketplaces like eBay or Etsy. Are there a ton of the same? Your selling price decreases. Is your item in better condition than others like it? Your selling price increases.
For very old, rare, or couture items, consider an appraisal service or consult vintage experts. “It’s rare that we have a piece that requires appraisal,” says Naomi. “But once in a while I’ll ask fellow vintage dealers for their expertise.”
Also check Google trends and keyword search volume to see if there is actually demand for the item. Your piece may be rare, but if there’s not much demand, that could affect your pricing.
8. Set up your online store
This might actually be the easiest part of selling vintage clothing online. There’s no risk in setting up a free trial on Shopify and it could be the incentive to ramp up your sourcing and actually get this thing started.
After one of our TikTok videos took off, a stream of people were visiting the unfinished site.Seán Domican, Durt
Be sure your website is ready to receive traffic, even if you haven’t added any products for sale. Seán and Oisín generated hype around their business by building social audiences prior to launch, but when one of their TikTok videos went viral, they had to scramble to get their website live.
“We had the default Shopify ‘Under construction’ page for weeks,” says Seán. “After one of our TikTok videos took off, a stream of people were visiting the unfinished site. We had 1,000 new email subscribers, and I freaked out.”
Store design and critical elements
When setting up your first Shopify store, you can easily customize the design with your own branding without the need for coding. There are several standard themes to choose from—some free and some paid—that you can tweak with colors, fonts, and custom navigation.
Top themes for vintage clothing businesses in the Shopify Theme Store:
- Origin theme. An economical and stylish theme for creative brands (free)
- Dawn theme. Free and fashionable, this theme is great for letting big photos take center stage (free)
- Masonry theme: Dragonfly. Another product-first theme with a slideshow option ($)
- Boost theme: Flourish. Great for shops with a strong identity, looking to feature aspirational lifestyle photos first ($$)
- Shapes theme: Pastel. A retro-inspired theme for bold brands ($$$)
- Envy theme: Oslo. Clean style makes this theme ideal for featured products ($$$)
As you grow, you may choose to customize your site even more. If you need help with code or design, consider hiring a Shopify Expert.
Don’t forget to invest in your About page. This is the place where your brand story lives, it tells your customers what you’re about (decades you focus on, your inspiration, etc.), and it could share information about your mission, sustainability statement, and links to your FAQs and Contact page.
Your FAQ page should clearly indicate that items are used/worn and one of a kind. This is a great place to educate your customers on sizing, garment care, and your condition ratings. You may also use this page as a one-stop shop for shipping and customer service information, such as postal rates per country and your return policy.
Product pages and collections
Product page copy is incredibly important for setting customer expectations, improving SEO (search engine optimization), and minimizing returns. It’s especially important for selling vintage clothes, as these items require more specific information, like measurements, history, and condition. “Every item and every body is unique, so finding ways to effectively communicate what a garment is through a website is key,” says Naomi.
Collections will be your best friend. They will help organize your online store and keep it from looking like a church rummage sale. Consider organizing inventory into collections by era, color, occasion, item type, or season. “We do specialty collections around seasons, holidays, and various themes like tropical, prairie, cabin fever, or novelty prints,” says Naomi. This exercise will also help with SEO and navigation.
On your product page for each item, be sure to explain the item in detail, including label information, brand, size, damage, condition, and rough manufacturing date.
💡 Product page tips:
- If the label is missing, search for similar items online to learn more information about the garment. In some cases, it will be an educated guess—do your best. You can also research vintage brands through the Vintage Fashion Guild’s label resource.
- Develop a consistent system for sizing, as vintage sizing can be very inconsistent. Include waist, hip, and chest measurements in both inches and centimeters, as well and sleeve length and neck opening measurements. A size chart app can help guide your customers with comparisons to standard sizing.
- Define a list of terms to describe the condition of vintage items, and use terminology consistently throughout the site. Create a condition chart or glossary like this one by Savvy Row and link to it from product pages.
- If known, add fabric composition and care instructions to the description.
- Use the duplicate item option in Shopify to help simplify adding products—use the same basic template for all skirts, for example. This is especially helpful if you have built your brand around a really niche item like vintage ’80s Nike windbreakers.
- Tell a story. If the item has a known history, share it on the product page. Maybe you sourced it from the estate sale of someone famous, or it’s similar to something worn on a bygone red carpet.
9. Add other sales channels
“Something that helped me over the years was diversifying where I sold,” says Naomi. “Mixing online with in-person events and vintage markets was a great way to bridge the gap with local customers, move product, and make new connections.”
Online marketplaces and social selling channels
Shopify, Etsy, or eBay? There are multiple online selling sites for vintage clothing brands, and the good news is that you don’t have to pick just one. Having your own dedicated website gives you full control over design, is helpful for reaching customers through organic search, and acts as a hub for your brand.
With Shopify, you can integrate with marketplaces like eBay and Etsy that have audiences seeking vintage items. Apps for clothing stores help sync your inventory across multiple sales channels. As you grow your own audience, you may decide to focus your attention. “Once we got a feel for the market on eBay, we just decided to move on to making our own website,” says Azeezat.
Consider also taking advantage of Shopify’s partnerships with Facebook and Instagram or TikTok to surface your products on these social selling channels. The Shopify Starter Plan is a great option for creators looking to sell vintage clothes directly to fans without a website.
Selling locally and in-person
Seán and Oisín opted to sell only to customers in Ireland, where they say competition for vintage is low. If you choose to focus on selling vintage clothing locally to fill a gap in your own community, consider alternate delivery methods like curbside pickup and local delivery. Many brick-and-mortar retailers adopted these methods during pandemic shutdown, but this consumer trend has continued.
Look for other opportunities to sell in person, like a local clothing and vintage market or a pop-up booth at festivals.
10. Market your vintage clothing business
There are several ways to get the word out and attract customers to your store—some paid, some organic.
Social marketing for vintage businesses
The beauty of one-of-a-kind is the availability of content. With new items arriving constantly, COAL N TERRY uses Instagram to quickly get iPhone snaps in front of its loyal customers right away.
Azeezat and Dare grew their Instagram account (and the business) without spending money on any formal advertising. They rely on shoutouts from celeb or influencer partners, and user-generated content in the form of customer photos. “We actively ask customers to share their photos,” says Azeezat. Durt takes this a step further by sending vintage clothes out to influencers in Ireland. “We never really ask people to post, because we’re not paying them,” says Seán. “But 90% of the time they post anyway.”
Dayna similarly has had success with Instagram: “I post two to five times a day, every day, and always tag the product from my site on the photo.” She also says it’s important to engage organically with her followers.
TikTok has been a game changer for Durt. When the founders had a disastrous experience with a wholesaler, they documented the whole process. The glimpse behind the scenes of a new business went viral, driving sign-ups to their newsletter even before launching with products.
“The weekly newsletter is successful in driving traffic to our new arrivals,” says Naomi, who uses email marketing as a way to communicate when new batches have dropped. This is a great tool for rewarding repeat customers, giving them advance access to new items or other loyalty rewards.
Organic search and content
When building your site, invest time in understanding SEO and how to use it to gain organic traffic to your site. That means considering search terms that your customer might be using to find you. Consider SEO when setting up product pages and planning your site navigation.
You can also drive traffic through your site with content. Pick a medium that you’re most comfortable with, whether it’s longform writing (like blogs) or short video (like TikTok) and create content that answers questions, weighs in on a relevant current topic, or cashes in on a popular meme. Relevant, consistent, and timely content can help you build an audience or gather email leads.
📚 Learn more:
- How to Start a Blog You Can Grow Into a Business
- What is SEO Marketing and How Does it Work?
- 5 Organic Marketing Ideas for Entrepreneurs (2022)
Loyalty and repeat customers
You’re in a great position as a vintage clothing reseller to have a revolving door of new and unique items constantly hitting the site. For this reason, investing in your existing customers is key. There will always be something new to help bring them back. Consider setting up customer accounts, reward programs, and discounts.
Little extras tucked in your unboxing experience can inspire delight in your customers and get them sharing their experiences with friends and online. Investment in a personalized shopping experience can also keep them coming back.
11. Set up a shipping and returns strategy
Sustainability is something more and more consumers are considering as they shop. If you’re attracting customers based on the sustainable nature of vintage, you can take it a step further by using sustainable packaging or carbon offsetting your shipping.
It will be challenging to outsource shipping and fulfillment due to the nature of your business and one-of-a-kind products, but there are ways to streamline and automate your processes to reduce time and cost.
Build a future with looks from the past
Now that you know everything there is to know about selling vintage clothes online, is it still the right business for you? The key to success is a healthy balance of born-with-it good taste and a viable niche, mixed with great curation, presentation, and branding. If that's you, it's time to count down to your grand opening.
“Be one with the hustle!” says Naomi. “It’s truly a labor of love and requires a lot of attention and energy, as well as a genuine affinity for customer service.”
Feature image by Pete Ryan
Sell vintage clothing online FAQ
How do I sell my vintage clothing?
Selling vintage clothing is easier than ever, with multiple ways to get old finds into the hands of new customers. Source vintage clothes from thrift stores, auctions, or wholesalers. Then, set up your own online store and market to your target audience.
What is the best place to sell vintage clothes?
You can sell vintage clothing online through your own dedicated ecommerce store. This is the best way to reach customers directly and build lasting relationships. Selling online through marketplaces is also beneficial as a secondary channel. Also consider in-person sales opportunities as a way to network locally and find new customers.
Is it worth selling vintage clothes?
If you are looking to sell vintage clothes, it can be a profitable business. Invest time in building a solid brand, finding a niche with a healthy market, and using all the marketing tools at your disposal. Also be sure to price your clothing items in a way that accounts for your expenses and profit margin.