So you want to sell vintage? Reselling vintage has always been popular, whether to pay bills or as a side hustle. And just like everything that gets resold has a story behind it, every person who gets into flipping gets there by a different path. Some sellers are just really into “stuff.” Others started as collectors. Some dealers just wanted a career change, while others were forced to find a different job.
Vintage clothing buyers and resellers often shop estate sales to source inventory. A few decades ago, these buyers usually had brick and mortar shops to sell their finds. These days however, since everything’s digital, it’s easy to set up virtual shop anywhere. But can you really make a living selling vintage?
We talked to a few of our favorite vintage resellers from Instagram to find out their strategies for sourcing and selling vintage, including which items sell well (and what doesn’t), and how to shop estate sales to find the best stuff.
1. Dive in
It can be scary to jump into any job, let alone reselling. Some people vintage shop for years before taking the plunge, while others are forced to make a living sooner than they had planned. Whether you’re starting this new career from scratch or turning your part-time hobby into a full-time job, the only way to make money is by just doing it.
“I had always shopped thrift stores and soon realized that I could make money selling “vintage” items online about 2003. I dabbled for years and then I started in earnest in 2008 when the stock market crashed and I found myself out of work. It was an opportunity to earn a living on my own terms.” – Vintage Renude
“While I had been collecting and reselling vintage as a hobby most of my adult life, I didn’t take it too seriously until 2008 when I saw that my position as a pre-school cook was soon to get eliminated during the economy downturn. – Citizen Rosebud
2. Repurpose or DIY
Sourcing and reselling is a great gig for creatives. Creative people usually have an eye for what’s interesting and enjoy DIY projects. The beauty of this business is you can make it your own. Repurposing second-hand finds and making them your own is another way to expand your inventory, especially if you’re an artist or maker.
“I was a graphic designer for many years and have always been a creative person with many different types of projects going on… I make jewelry, quilt, do pastels etc. decided to open an Etsy shop where I could sell the many different types of things I make.” – The Lavender Pear
3. Shop estate sales
Resellers know that in order to find the coolest stuff at the best prices, they need to go straight to the source. Thrift stores and flea markets often source their finds from estate sales. Unlike garage sales and yard sales, which are full of cast-offs, estates are often downsized due to natural or unexpected circumstances. In other words, the items for sale aren’t things people no longer wanted — they’re things they could no longer keep. This makes a big difference in quality. Finding estate sales in your area is easy, too.
“I began shopping estate sales when I realized finding great deals at thrift shops was quickly becoming a thing of the past. Since the financial meltdown of the stock market had created a whole new group of thrift shoppers, I began to shop estate sales. Now, I not only shop estate sales, but also work at them on occasion for friends and colleagues. You can usually find me at estate sales on a monthly basis.” – Vintage Renude
“When I realized that 1) Not every estate sale is due to a death and 2) If someone’s heirs are not interested in keeping things in the family, I can honor their collections in my own way. Even though my customers and I aren’t family, we can give people’s lifetime of collections a loving home and honor what made them happy. I try to go to estate sales at least twice a month.” – Highfield Wild Rose
“When my sewing machine died and I was looking for a new one, I found so many unfinished projects [at estate sales] such as needlepoints, yarn and fabrics, as well as beautiful pieces of vintage lace. I also found vintage pieces of jewelry, sometimes even broken parts, that I thought could be fun to remake into something else.” – The Lavender Pear
“Estate sales offer a peek into someone else’s passions and lifestyle. I have found myself attracted to things that I may not have typically gravitated towards until being shown in a space where someone had displayed them with much love for those particular items.” — 510 Decor
It is interesting and [nostalgic] to be able to step back into time and see antiques and furniture from the past. I like to see some of the things that spark memories of my childhood or my grandmother. – Eclectic Junketeer
4. Shop estate sales often
If you’re serious about reselling, you need to get serious about shopping. Successful vintage resellers are always on the lookout for fresh inventory for their buyers. Since estate sales are always happening (and always different), you can find anything – in all styles – year-round. We asked vintage resellers how often they shop estate sales for an idea of what to expect.
“Every week.” – Posey Vintage
“When ever I am financially allowed! Which isn’t often enough!! I’d love to be a picker with an unlimited account to buy for!! – Patique’s Pottery
“Twice a month, I really like online estate sale bidding, but sometimes I get carried away and probably pay too much only because I’m competitive and hate to lose. – Victoria Lynn Finds
“I try to go several times a month.” – I Married A Milkman Vintage
“I shop estate sales about once a week, more if I stumble across one randomly.” – Simply Mal Vintage
“We usually shop estate sales on Thursdays and Fridays.” – Eclectic Junketeer
“I shop the local estate sales as often as I can, 2-3 days a month, depending on what looks interesting to me that week. Some days are a bust, and I bring nothing back. And some are testing the load limits of my car, but all of them are interesting!” – Luaubee’s Vintage
5. Know which sales to hit
Not all estate sales are treasure troves. While there are no hard and fast rules, most resellers have a game plan. Since time is limited, and estate sales often only take place on weekends, it’s more efficient if you know which neighborhoods to focus on – and which to avoid.
“Perennial flowers and established gardens outside a house make me giddy because I know someone cared enough to make the outside beautiful so they probably filled the inside with pretty things too. Gardens take lots of time and work so they always make me hopeful the estate sale could be on behalf of someone who didn’t have to move often. Moving often can mean paring down. When I see well-loved garden, I’m hoping it’s a house filled with a lifetime of collections, the opposite of pared down. – Highfield Wild Rose
“For me the best neighborhoods for estate sales are the older ones since I love antiques and all things old. Living in Los Angeles, some of the best sales are held in Toluca Lake, West Hollywood, and West L.A. – Vintage Renude
“I think some of the more rural homes can have some of the most interesting and oldest things (some old farms that have been in families for generations). Fancy homes can tend to have overpriced items since the agencies holding the sale assume everything is so valuable, which is not often the case. – The Lavender Pear
“Seek out communities with large populations of retired people. They’ve got the old stuff in droves.” – Salad Days Vintage
6. Know your “stuff”
If you’re selling vintage, you should learn as much about “stuff” as possible. The more you know about things, their history, what they’re made of, and what they’re worth, the better buying decisions you can make. This is also how you build credibility and a following, which will make or break you.
“I like stuff that you often find in the garage. My tastes are fairly broad, though, so just about anything unique, interesting and old in a house catches my eye.” – Salad Days Vintage
“We don’t look for common items, household stuff. We really like old stuff that you don’t always see, or with some sort of history, or that we collect, like glassware and such. And we stay away from the ordinary things like modern kitchen stuff, garage items and such.” – Eclectic Junketeer
“We found a 1912 porcelain mining signals sign being used as a cover for a furnace door. I bought it for $1 and it was later appraised for $2000.” – Dee’s Vintage Mercantile
“A Carnival glass corn cob bottle for a dollar sold for over $450…a small covered ceramic tumbler I paid $3 for, with a small circle of leaves on the top, marked Morcroft made for the Liberty Company in London sold for $750. I like to learn all I can about the unique items I sell, it is my continuing schooling! Never stop learning. – Patique’s Pottery
7. Make a plan
Your goal is to make money, so your inventory will largely depend on your buyers. As you build a following, you’ll have a better idea of what they want and are willing to spend. Once you figure this out, make a plan and stick to it!
“Go in with a budget and be open to taking a few risks, like a bulk bag of random goodies. You’ll never know, and you might score something rare. Also, have fun!” – Citizen Rosebud
“Know going in what you’re looking for. Most companies have preview pictures posted ahead of time on their websites. You can get a feel for what’s going to be available. Also, don’t just visit once! By the second or third day prices are generally marked down big time.” – Highfield Wild Rose
“The early bird gets the worm and utilize the estate sale websites.” – Salad Days Vintage
8. Practice discernment
Likewise, after awhile, you’ll know what to steer clear of and what’s difficult to package, deliver or ship.
“Since I am limited on space I tend to overlook large items such as furniture, and lamps, sports equipment, and basically anything that would be found in a garage. Over the years I have learned to stick with what I know so I tend to avoid all else unless something absolutely stops me in my tracks.” – Vintage Renude
“Shoes. Old shoes tend to fall apart, making for unhappy customers. Also, heavy items. Since I sell online, items weighing over 10 pounds cost a lot to ship and sometime people don’t want to pay cost of shipping. I’ve learned to look out for unique vintage pieces weighing under a pound. That way I can ship the item anywhere around the world at an affordable price.” – Citizen Rosebud
“Glass…namely because I’m not very knowledgeable in that arena, but also due to the fact that I’ve watched my mom and sister have a hard time selling it recently.” – Salad Days Vintage
“Used cleaning supplies, paint or chemicals of course, and anything that just looks like it belongs in the garbage.” – Simply Mal Vintage
9. Be resourceful
When going out in the wild to wrangle finds, be prepared, especially if it’s at an estate sale. Besides mapping out your route, sticking to your budget, and knowing what to look for, here are more tips you might not have thought of.
“Bring plenty of folding reusable bags for your purchases, and keep a pack of wet wipes and a bottle of water in the car to refresh yourself and clean your hands after digging through decades of lovely dust!” – Luaubee’s Vintage
“Bring a bag (which I usually forget), see if the estate sale company does second day ½ off prices, and never be afraid to ask if they’d accept a lower price! Also, be respectful while perusing and shopping! You don’t know if there are family members around or the owner themselves!” – Simply Mal Vintage
“Take a small flashlight. Old houses, garages and barns are poorly lit.” – Patique’s Pottery
10. Notice everything
Being a successful reseller means spotting things first, whether it’s the current trends or valuable finds. When sourcing, look in the unexpected places. This means taking the time to look on the backs of old postcards or (carefully) flipping through old books. For one, you’ll have an advantage over those who leave stones unturned. Stay alert to get the good stuff.
“Look behind and under furniture, drawers and shelves. You never know what else you will find. One set of filing cabinets we bought had several magnet key holders stuck under it with old coins in them. – Dee’s Vintage Mercantile
“Breeze through the whole sale quickly, scan everything and then go back and look more closely. You don’t want to be looking over a room, meanwhile your dream item is being snatched up in the next room. You took too long.” – Eclectic Junketeer
“I purchased a small leather-bound dark green autograph book at a sale just before Christmas a couple years ago. It was half price day so the little 4 X 6 book was 50¢. I didn’t pick it up again at home until the next month I found it was the childhood autograph book of a young extra in 1950s Hollywood… and the book contained the autograph of Margaret Hamilton who signed the boys book with her famous Wicked Witch of the West Wizard of Oz signature! I sold the 50¢ book to a collector on the East Coast for $403. – Luaubee’s Vintage
11. Buy brand names
People love brands, even thrifters. (This is why even the most non-materialistic thrifter lights up when they come across designer goods at a garage sale). As a professional reseller, your eye should be trained to zero in on the good stuff. And it doesn’t have to be high-end, like Chanel or Prada. Reliable brands like J. Crew, GAP, NIKE and of course, Pyrex, can fetch as much money and are reliable resells.
“Over the years I have been lucky enough to find several Bakelite pieces for pennies or a few dollars. Some special pieces have sold for considerably more than what I purchased them for.” – Vintage Renude
“Vintage French Limoges for 50¢ each. Swoon! The tiered trays I make for shabby chic homes and events include three tiers of mix and match china. They sell anywhere between $35 to $60, so that box full of perfect, collector china was a huge find for me.” – Highfield Wild Rose
“Pyrex, Fisher Price …One of my favorite finds was a Pyrex Pink Gooseberry little casserole dish with the lid. I bought it for $2 and I sold it for $36 I love those margins. – I Married A Milkman Vintage
“Jadeite, vintage Pyrex, uranium glass, just recently I’ve been looking for vintage clothes and purses.” – Eclectic Junketeer
“I live near Pittsburgh and I do really well with HJ. Heinz items.” – Victoria Lynn Finds
12. Develop your eye
There’s a certain talent to being a trend spotter. When you’re a reseller, you’re not only aware of what’s cool now, you know what was cool decades ago. Part of this is innate, but this knack can be developed, too, with time and experience.
“Cultivate your eye and your interests. Visit antique stores and linger in the booths you like. Do your research. Buy what you like and what piques your interest but also look into what other people are into. Instagram is also a stellar avenue for this. Follow some [Instagram] feeds you’re attracted to and pay attention to what they post. I’ve not only cut the learning curve off a lot that way, but I’ve also discovered so many cool antiques that I didn’t know about. – Salad Days Vintage
“Go with your gut. You either have to study up on antiques and really get into what things are worth which I think is hard to do, or just go with your gut feeling about the item. There are so many experts out there, and I could never learn all there is to know. If the price seems like a bargain to you and you would pay more for it than they are asking, go for it. Do a search and see what people are asking for similar things. You have to have an eye for quality as well as a feeling for market demand. You also have to have a place to store everything! – The Lavender Pear
13. Get online
Take advantage of the digital age. The Internet is an incredible resource for resellers to buy, sell, comparison shop, and of course, research. Once your business gets rolling, you’ll want to build your online presence in order to market your goods and let buyers know what you have available. Many vintage resellers have success on social media sites, especially Instagram. Instagram makes it easy to showcase your latest items and allows you to link to your shop in the bio. And don’t forget platforms that let you browse and shop online, like Etsy, eBay, and EstateSales.org.
“I haven’t had any thousand dollar finds, but there have been enough that ended up netting me $200-400 plus to count on two or three hands. One recent sale was an original 1950s Salton Sea figural ashtray that I bought months ago at an estate sale in Anza, California. I posted it on Instagram shortly after I got it and someone got in touch about 3 months later offering me $500 for it. I think I paid $2. That was a pretty good one. – Salad Days Vintage
“I love the online estate sales because of the amount of time I have to do research on items I’m interested in.” – Victoria Lynn Finds
Look for the following vintage resellers on Instagram!
- Jeffrey Berry of Salad Days Vintage @saladdaysvintage
- Jena D’Cruz and Milena Nord of Posey Vintage @poseyvintage
- Patricia Thompson of Patique’s Pottery @patiquepottery2
- Victoria Lynn of Victoria Lynn Finds @VictoriaLynn.Finds
- Kerry Wiebe of I Married a Milkman Vintage @imarriedamilkman
- Mallory Hill of Simply Mal Vintage @SimplyMalVintage
- AC Gigliotti of Eclectic Junketeer @eclectic_junketeer
- Janis Dority of Luaubee’s Vintage @janisdority
- Pam Jones of Vintage Renude @vintagerenude
- The Citizen Rosebud @TheCitizenRosebud
- Leslie Wasgatt of 510 Decor, LLC @510Decor
- James Estrada of Dee’s Vintage Mercantile @dees_vintage_mercantile
- Savanah Sivadon of Highfield Wild Rose @highfieldwildrose
- Pamela Bernstein of The Lavender Pear @thelavenderpear
Are you a professional reseller or looking to become one? What questions or tips do you have? Leave your comments below! Want to read more about vintage? Check out VintageUnscripted!