Tips For The Consignment-Shopping Newbie

Local New Day Northwest television producer and fashionista Heidi Eng’s crash course in the growing
Posted December 14, 2010

(Photo by Hayley Young

Resale Therapy
For anyone who considers herself even reasonably stylish, trying to cash in on your castoffs can be a serious lesson in humility. I first stumbled into the strangely addictive pastime of consigning clothes about a year ago. After nine years as a local television producer, I found myself without a job as the result of company-wide layoffs. Once the initial shock wore off, the cold economic reality set in. After all, I was a single gal who still had a mortgage and bills to pay. I also had a lifestyle—happy hours! shopping!—that I wasn’t willing to totally give up. My brain started scrambling to think of ways I could make extra money. At the same time, it also seemed like a good time to get organized and go through my overflowing Hoarders-like closets. So, I thought, why not try to make money and tidy up? 

Having never consigned clothes before, I discovered there are a couple of different ways to go about it. There’s the kind of store where you make money on the spot when the store buys your clothes from you, and there’s the kind where you leave your clothes with the store and get a cut of the sale later. You can potentially make more money going the latter route, but if you need a few bucks fast, the up-front consignment shop is a perfectly good way to go. 

My first foray was to Labels in Phinney Ridge. A friend had taken some of her clothes there and was surprised at how many pieces they accepted—and that sparked my curiosity to try it out. I didn’t realize you had to make an appointment to do it, though. It was a month before I could get in for an appraisal. Labels has a 50-item limit, so I decided to bring the maximum amount. First lesson learned: More isn’t necessarily better. After I dragged in two huge piles of clothes on hangers and in two full shopping bags, the shop didn’t take a single item. 

The rejection felt like a reflection on me. Who knew that having someone say, “Thanks, but we didn’t find anything” could be so crushing to my sense of style? Had I been falsely led to believe I was a fashionista all this time? My clothes aren’t worthy enough to hang off their rounders! It’s one thing to have guys reject me when I’m dating, but to have my clothes rejected...well, that just hit me below my Massimo Dutti belt. 

I was more determined than ever to prove that my clothes (and, accordingly, my style) were worth something.  Before I left the store, I made a second appraisal appointment. This time, though, I would scale back and bring in half as many items, bringing in only more recent, seasonal pieces in prime condition. It was a couple of weeks later but—bingo! This time they took three items: a pair of sunglasses, some new Nine West boots that I had impulsively bought on an out-of-town shopping spree with a friend (but later realized I didn’t really like) and an H&M top. What a total thrill! 

The only problem was that while I was looking through the store as they appraised my stuff, I happened upon a pair of William Rast jeans for only $60. They fit perfectly. All of a sudden, what started out as a successful mission in personal economic development suddenly became a quick lesson in financial deficit. If the first challenge of consigning clothes is to get the store to take “it,” the next hurdle is to wait and see if “it” sells. That’s when you actually make money. Before I knew it I was $60 in the hole, but I decided the effort of getting my clothes “accepted” was totally worth the reward of new jeans. 

I’ve since expanded my consigning rounds to a few other stores, and in a half-dozen trips I’ve made about $150. I’m still experimenting, but these are some tricks I’ve learned to make the most of your castoffs:

Tip #1: Develop a thick skin. Just because you think your clothes are great doesn’t mean that people will buy them. Store owners know what’s selling and what isn’t, so you just have to trust them.

Tip #2: Have patience. If you really want to be successful at it, you should regularly make appraisal appointments and keep trying different places. It’s fun to discover money in reserves all over town!

Tip #3: Be strategic. Most consignment stores look for styles for the current season. Don’t try to get rid of your winter sweaters when people are starting to break out the short stuff. Styles also differ based on clientele, so strategize with that in mind, too. Your chances of selling a designer suit at Lynnwood’s young and trendy Plato’s Closet are probably less than if you take in clothes from Forever 21 or Hollister. 

Tip #4: Presentation goes a long way. Who wants to rummage through a garbage bag full of wrinkled clothes looking for that “gem”? It saves the stores time and is much more appealing to flip through items on hangers. Don’t forget to iron the pressable pieces.

Tip #5: Don’t stop with just one shop. I consign my clothes in phases. Just because one store doesn’t want your clothes doesn’t mean it’s a universal opinion. The payout also varies from place to place. I have a go-to shop that always gets the right of first refusal. After that, my next stop isn’t as convenient in location, but it tends to take more items, and I still make out pretty well. I take what’s left over to any number of pay-up-front shops. You don’t make as much money, but a few bucks is better than nothing.

Heidi’s Favorite Local Consignment Shops:

(Phinney Ridge, 7212 Greenwood Ave. N; 206.781.1194;
Type of clothes you’ll find here: Free People, William Rast
What they look for: Strictly seasonal women’s and children’s clothes in excellent condition
Don’t even bother with: Anything out of date or in poor condition
How much you get: 50 percent of selling price
How to do it: Consignments are made by appointment only; 50-item limit, including shoes and accessories. You’re asked to bring clothes on hangers or folded neatly in a shopping bag.

Funky Jane’s Consignment

(West Seattle, 4455 California Ave. W; 206.937.2637;
Type of clothes you’ll find here: DKNY, I.N.C.
What they look for: Contemporary women’s business casual and weekend wear, sizes 0–20
Don’t even bother with: Clothes that smell (mothballs, smoke, etc.)
How much you get: 40 percent of selling price
How to do it: Appointments are accepted Tuesday–Saturday, 11 a.m.–2 p.m. They only take 10 appointments per day. Twelve items max, limited to once a week.

Buffalo Exchange

(Ballard, 2232 NW Market St.; 206.297.5920;
Type of clothes you’ll find here: Gap, Banana Republic
What they look for: Current basics and one-of-a-kind items for men and women
How much you get: On-the-spot offers depend on clothes, but you get more if you’re willing to accept trade.
How to do it: There are three locations in Washington (Bellingham, Ballard and the U District). It helps to call ahead to see what they’re looking for.

Crossroads Trading Co.
(U District, 4300 University Way NE, 206.632.3111; Capitol Hill, 325 Broadway Ave. E, 206.328.5867;
Type of clothes you’ll find here: H&M, Ben Sherman, some new overstock
What they look for: High-quality contemporary clothes for men and women
How much you get: 35 percent on the spot of what they will sell the items for in-store; trade also available.
How to do it: Walk in anytime or drop off items for pickup after 24 hours.

Plato’s Closet
(Lynnwood, 18205 Alderwood Mall Pkwy.; 425.775.5868;
Type of clothes you’ll find here: Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle
What they look for: Trendy, brand-name clothes for teens, tweens and 20-somethings
Don’t even bother with: Anything you wouldn’t see in the schoolyard
How much you can get: On-the-spot offers made depending on items, or trade for clothes
How to do it: Several area locations. A buyer will review your clothes using a computerized system, then make an offer. Customer service isn’t a strong suit, and the age of the clientele  skews younger.

Originally published in September 2010