vintage clothing

  • The value of vintage: what's it worth?

    October 24, 2011

    This post is one we have been thinking about for a while but have only just got round to composing and (if you're reading this) publishing. It's about the relative value of vintage from the perspective of  a frockophile who turned a passion for collecting and wearing 'old clothes' into a business. Since the aforesaid collecting habit had taken over most of the house, it was either that or divorce, and it's therefore gratifying to report at this juncture that the frockers are still happily hitched!

    A couple of red wine fuelled 'confessionals' with fellow business owners at a recent social gathering caused us to reflect on our own steep learning curve since starting out. Back in 2007, we not only had lofty ambitions to be a more affordable alternative to existing vintage stores which we felt were a tad overpriced, but we were also keen to offer quality preloved contemporary clothing because our own wardrobe was not exclusively vintage and our focus was on sustainability as well as style. We saw our recycling model as a timely antidote to the rash of fast fashion that seemed to be sweeping the nation and which greatly offended our green sensibilities. So far so good.

    Still mulling over the frockers' progress, which has not been without bumps in the road, we happened upon this blog post in which the author considers the value of vintage fashion and, specifically, its pricing in the marketplace. The post was interesting from a personal point of view, not just because it linked to one of our frocks, but also because it mentioned Portobello Road market, one of our very favourite places (although it's not what it used to be, thanks to the encroachment of developers, and is indeed now fighting for its very survival).

    We visit London as often as possible (more regularly now that our daughter lives there - that's her on our website top banner!) and it invariably turns into a busman's holiday as we trek around vintage markets and shops to see what's on offer. Some of the prices can certainly be eye-watering, but we imagine the rents, pitches and other overheads must be equally eye-watering for the traders. Not to mention the cost of living generally.

    Living in Notting Hill in the 80s, when vintage was still very much a minority sport and Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts hadn't yet sent local property prices into the stratosphere, the future chief frocker's passion for all things retro was confirmed on Portobello Road and further nurtured at nearby Kensington Market. Back in '81, while her work colleagues headed to Harrods to spend suitably big bucks on posh frocks for an event where they were to be presented to the Queen (as patron of their employing organisation), Alison bought a vintage black velvet gown for a tenner at Kensington Market, having fallen in love with it at first sight. She still owns it, and despite it now being several sizes too small, will never part with it. That was to be the story of her life, which eventually led to frocking for a living and loving it!

    But back to the salient point of that blog post, where the author ponders the price of vintage clothing after a shocking encounter with an especially expensive frock down the market. As a vintage aficionada and aspiring trader with frugal frocking tendencies, she speculates on the extent to which greed might play a part in pricing. She also wonders, quite reasonably, whether it might be wiser from a self preservation point of view to price items in line with those of other sellers rather than undercut them and risk suffering a damaging blow in the popularity stakes.

    That conundrum took us right back to our own early business planning days and we're the first to admit that when we started out our pricing was a bit haphazard. In our quest to keep prices low, our mark-up was based simply on what we had originally paid for our stock (sometimes years ago) or, in the case of consignment customers, a mutually agreed selling price. Hindsight is a great thing and, if we are being completely honest, we failed to properly analyse all the other costs associated with running our business as we were first and foremost in it for the love rather than the money. Although our overheads were low, and still are, they all need to be factored in to maintain a degree of solvency and keep us in wine!

    Our pricing is now a rather more sophisticated process based on a combination of factors, including the condition, era, size, style, label and current market desirability of our stock, rather than just a straight mark-up on what we  originally paid for it. We also factor in the other overheads like website running costs, rent and storage, sourcing costs, postage and packaging, marketing, administration and compliance with all the legal aspects of running an ecommerce business such as the distance selling regulations.

    Selling one of your own old frocks on ebay is a fairly simple exercise, but moving up a gear to buy and resell multiple frocks means you are no longer a private seller and automatically acquire legal liabilities, all of which need to be costed and met from your profits. Contrary to the head-in-the-sand belief of some sellers on ebay and elsewhere, that includes accepting returns of online purchases whether you like it or not!

    By way of exemplifying relative value, we sold a vintage 70s John Charles cocktail dress earlier this year for £28. It was a real head turner, in very good but not mint condition, and it lasted less than 24 hours on our website before winging its way off to a new home. Imagine our surprise when, shortly afterwards, we coincidentally came across the same dress in a different colour on sale for a staggering £249 while randomly browsing another vintage site (as you do in this business!)  We were frankly astonished because, gorgeous as the dress was, it was not (in our opinion) worth such a massive price tag by any stretch of the imagination. We know we're Scottish, but seriously...

    While there are undoubtedly big price discrepancies in the vintage fashion business, at the same time there are so many variables involved that 'fair' and consistent pricing is essentially a difficult balancing act. Bricks and mortar shops, market pitches and online stores all have different fixed overheads to factor into the equation just to break even, and then there are other important elements to cost, like that bottomless money pit also known as a marketing budget so that prospective customers can actually find your wares.

    These things are all expensive, as increasingly grumpy ebay sellers will testify, given that their ever-rising fees are inextricably  linked to the significant overheads incurred by the giant platform as it seeks to maintain its place as market leader. While greed is undoubtedly a prime motivating factor for some, from corporate giants like ebay and Google right down to the smallest bedroom-based entrepreneurs, it is just one element of a highly complicated mix.

    In order to survive, as well as eat, all business owners need to turn a profit (hardly rocket science!) but we frockers are committed to keeping affordability and sustainability at the heart of ours. In fact, such is the emotional investment in our micro business, we'd definitely be doing something else if we wanted to make serious money!

    Once the poor relation, vintage has finally succeeded in throwing off its musty old image (with a bit of help from Lily Allen et al) to become a celebrated subset of mainstream fashion. As such, it is inevitably attracting its share of sharks and opportunists who will always find a way to make a fast buck and excessive profits from whatever they see as being ripe for exploitation (think Portobello Road and developers). We can only hope that they will eventually move on to the next big thing, but we're not holding our breath.

    It never used to be so, but just like Notting Hill property, vintage prices seem to be spiralling ever upwards and there will always be people with more money than sense. In the meantime, we'll just carry on regardless, vaunting the vintage, rocking the retro and celebrating the second hand, all the while sticking to the same slow fashion principles on which the Frockery was first founded.

  • Lucy in disguise or pie in the sky?

    March 23, 2011

    So who else is watching Lily Allen's From Riches to Rags story on Channel 4? We tuned in to see what all the fuss was about as we had read about Lucy in Disguise when it was launched as part of Vintage at Goodwood last summer. Aside from the initial blaze of publicity and a few follow up stories in some glossies, we hadn't heard much about it since.

    The idea of hiring, rather than buying, high end vintage apparel for special occasions certainly sounds an interesting one in principle. Moss Bros has shown for the past 160 years that garment hire works as a concept, and numerous designer dress and bag hire shops have popped up in more recent times, so why not vintage?

    Sadly, Lily and her sister seem ill prepared for the challenges of setting up a new business in a sector of which neither has had any experience. At least they were honest about that from the outset and sensibly hired themselves a couple of experts, but throwing money down a black hole without a proper plan is inevitably going to end in tears. And there were more than a few of them from Lily when feedback from Mary Portas and a focus group of consumers was  brutally honest about the concept, and especially the pricing, in the first episode.

    The two episodes to date have not shown the project in a particularly good light and we can only hope it gets better. Storing couture vintage clothing  in a smoke filled room which doubles as an office is nothing short of criminal - indeed is it not now a crime to smoke in office premises? -  and will obviously be offputting to prospective customers, smokers and non smokers alike. Similarly, going off on buying sprees without customers or suitable premises on the immediate horizon is an especially perilous pursuit in the current economic climate as it will kill the cashflow stone dead. Enthusiasm for your product is no substitute for the hard work of marketing and selling it at the right price, preferably before your capital runs out!

    We'll continue to follow Lily's  progress (or otherwise) as it makes entertaining viewing, if a bit 'car crash' at times. As fellow vintage enthusiasts, albeit on a smaller and much more affordable scale, we wish her every success, but we're very glad she has a fall back position in that she can sing!

    Back to shop

  • Frockery fashionistas strut their stuff

    July 4, 2010

    50s  tweed vintage  venture 60s mini dress

    The Frockery turned out on 3rd July along with some of Scotland’s finest vintage venturers for a vintage and retro related jamboree in Kirkcaldy, hosted by the Joint Regonal Development Trust to raise funds for the B-eat Charity which supports people with eating disorders.

    Alongside stalls aplenty selling clothing, millinery, jewellery and home wares, the Green Cockatoo tea room served up welcome sustenance in truly traditional style, while music from down the decades complemented the atmosphere of the day.

    The highlight for us was the afternoon catwalk show which featured pieces from some of the stallholders, including the Frockery. The young models showed the clothes off to great effect as they strutted their stuff across the stage, showcasing outfits from the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s.

    It was an exhausting day, but we thoroughly enjoyed it, met some lovely people and acquired a few new customers. Take a bow, Hazel Kelly, for putting together such a successful event for such a worthy cause.

    crochet dress 70s hendrix fan 80s dynasty

  • Ashes to Ashes, the finale

    May 26, 2010

    Whatever will we do on a Friday night now that Ashes to Ashes has ended? The finale was so good we had to watch it twice! Shame about the Quattro, but oh what a poignant episode as all the loose ends from Life on Mars and the previous two Ashes series were tied up (sort of).

    These two popular BBC series have undoubtedly helped fuel a 70s and 80s retro revival as cast members flaunted the fashions of the decades that good taste forgot without a hint of embarrassment. We have some fab retro leather jacket in stock and a selection of 70s dresses for which sunglasses may be required! And while Alex Drake tottered about in high heels like these and donned highly impractical white leather gear and some distinctly dodgy off the shoulder numbers for work as a DI at Fenchurch East, Ray seemed almost surgically attached to his leather bomber jacket. Those were the days...

    As a consolation, Gok's Fashion Fix is back and got off to a flying start last night on Channel 4 with the "buy less, wear more" message. He is a savvy stylist who, we are pleased to say, recognises the potential of vintage pieces to personalise an ordinary high street outfit. Brix Smith-Start, the designer junkie he vies with every week to win over an audience with his high street chic, may have her work cut out this series as we are all having our belts forcibly tightened to reduce the domestic deficit and won't have the budget for many (or even any) £800 dresses. The solution is to shop smart at stores like The Frockery - but we would say that, wouldn't we?

  • New arrivals

    March 23, 2010

    We have just added a few more pieces to the catalogue, including a beautiful 1970s Marion Donaldson deep red velvet and lace dress and the cutest retro red pleated skirt from Clockhouse.

    We also have quite  number of Laura Ashley summer dresses in stock, mostly size 8/10, which will be making their way onto the website in the next week or so, as well as a selection of scarves, shoes and accessories to put some spring into your wardrobe.

    And don't forget that Ashes to Ashes is back for its third series starting Friday 2nd  April! We are all looking forward to revisiting the 80s and catching up with our favourite Gene Genie.

  • Busy busy busy!

    March 12, 2010

    We have been missing in action on the Frockery Talk front lately as it has been so busy here. We have, however, been enjoying modest success in matching items to customers' requests, although some we are unfortunately unable to fulfil.

    This week we have been sorting through lovely Laura Ashley dresses, cowboy shirts and a selection of trench coats, all of which should soon be making an appearance in the catalogue. We have also just taken delivery of a beautiful vintage 1970s dress by Marion Donaldson, one of our favourite designers. And just how cute are these 80s pink court shoes?

    Our new website is still at the planning stage, but we are making progress. Thanks to all who have contributed suggestions for additions and improvements, either directly or via Twitter. We are hoping to launch a brand new site by the summer and it's all very exciting!