1. Buy used clothes 2. ???? 3. Profit!
December 13, 2009 11:55 AM   Subscribe

Where (and how) do vintage clothing stores buy their merchandise? I'd like to buy a few types of items in bulk.

I'd like to purchase 50-500 gently-used men's wool suit jackets, silk neckties and cotton button-down shirts. Is it even possible to be this specific? Can I inspect the merchandise first? I've googled clothing brokers and used clothing brokers and haven't found much information. Bonus points for resources in the San Francisco Bay Area.
posted by bendy to Work & Money (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Most vintage clothing stores here in Seattle buy their merch from customers, in much the same way that a used book store will. Some stores have a separate "buy counter," and in others you just bring your clothes to the front desk.

I assume a lot of them also comb through estate sales and eBay lot sales as well.

I don't believe there's a nationwide network of vintage clothing brokers, I don't think it's a big enough market for that kind of thing, but you never know.

Obviously movies and TV shows need orders like that all the time. In that case, they just have them custom made by their prop costume department. If your order only has to LOOK authentic, that's a route you might want to explore, as well.
posted by ErikaB at 11:58 AM on December 13, 2009

Best answer: A friend of mine owns a vintage clothing store. She brings extra luggage with her no matter where she travels to buy other people's clothes from (drumroll..) other vintage clothing stores!

She also goes to estate sales. I think this is where she finds the best stuff - that which has been tucked away for thirty years without any damage, i.e. wear.

Consignment shops get their wares from customer's who sell to them directly (so it's usually more expensive).
posted by marimeko at 12:07 PM on December 13, 2009

How about instead of 'vintage clothing store' which makes it sound expensive you think 'Goodwill' or 'Salvation Army?' I've seen men's wool blazers for a buck.
posted by fixedgear at 12:11 PM on December 13, 2009

I used to buy my bulk lots from warehouses that had the contract to empty the charity clothing bins dotted around the suburbs. If there are charity bins in your area, contact the charity and see if they have sold their bin contract to such a warehouse. The warehouse made its money by separating out the vintage from the good from the rags; bundling up the rags for rag merchants while the good went back to the charity's op shops (goodwill) for retail sale. The vintage were sold to folk like me.
posted by Kerasia at 12:16 PM on December 13, 2009

Best answer: Nthing estate sales for the good stuff.
posted by desuetude at 1:07 PM on December 13, 2009

The vintage clothing shop owners I've known were both obsessively secretive about where they found their merchandise, but I assume estate sales were their major source.
posted by BostonTerrier at 1:20 PM on December 13, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the answers. I have been visiting Goodwill stores, but haven't seen anything particularly cheap - not to mention the logistical difficulty of multiple shopping trips to buy that many pieces. I'm hoping to avoid the markup in a retail vintage store or even Goodwill since I'm going to be cutting these pieces up and using them to make bags. I have considered buying wholesale wool and doing the tailoring myself or in production, but I also want to appeal to the current recycled goods market.

I will investigate estate sales though.
posted by bendy at 2:26 PM on December 13, 2009

There are thrift stores near me that have special racks in the backroom that you have to ask to see; I'm about an hour out of nyc and I think some dealers come out this way to shop. If you have consignment and/or thrift stores near you, I'd ask tell them what you are looking for.
posted by katinka-katinka at 2:29 PM on December 13, 2009

Best answer: there are certainly resources for buying vintage in bulk, though you may need to take a trip to the LA area to get to the good stuff. You'll probably want to navigate to the wholesale section of the links below, hope this helps!

Vintage American Clothing

Rusty Zipper
posted by Bohemia Mountain at 3:34 PM on December 13, 2009

oh shoot, sorry Rusty Zipper is in Oregon, not CA!
posted by Bohemia Mountain at 3:38 PM on December 13, 2009

I know someone who part-owns a big vintage clothing store, and most of their clothing comes in bulk from goodwill etc. - goodwill gets the donations of clothing, but sells a lot of it at a pretty low price to other stores, which then sort it out (they send the worst of it to developing nations, the lower quality stuff by weight, and the best normally). I'm not sure how you could get a specific item that way.
posted by R a c h e l at 5:19 PM on December 13, 2009

Best answer: Do the clothes have to be vintage?

My Dad's friend, who was, shall we say, a bit of a clotheshorse, passed away, and they've tasked me with getting rid of about 100 (or more? not sure) suits, shirts and ties...

Send me a PM and I can give you more details.
posted by lhall at 5:35 PM on December 13, 2009

I used to own a vintage clothing store. We found our best stuff in small town mom and pop thrift shops. The city Goodwills, Salvation Armys, DAVs- they're all spotty and overpriced. But if you're willing to drive a half hour or an hour outside of any metropolis, you can find the thrift stores dedicated to the local humane society or whanot, and these places are killer cheap. They don't have the room to store stuff that doesn't sell, so everything has to move and will be dirt cheap.In MO, where I owned my store, bag sales were common- everything you can fit in this trash bag for five bucks, for instance. Not to mention, people in small towns often have older (vintage) clothes, and the truth is they often don't know what it's really worth and donate.
posted by joechip at 10:31 PM on December 13, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for all your input. Goodwill and other stores are definitely pricier here in the city. I believe that I need to get out of town for serious deals. Also, the Goodwill flagship store has an "As-is" store that I will check out - it seems to be merchandise that wasn't quite good enough for the store, sold in bulk.

Bohemia Mountain thanks for the links to wholesale stores, I will definitely be calling them.

Thanks again y'all!
posted by bendy at 12:58 AM on December 14, 2009

« Older Where can I get Bendaroos at a retail store in NYC...   |   Is there a track set without batteries or winding? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.