Career & Money

How to Do Anything: Pro Tips for Selling Your Stuff Online

I’m no stranger to selling clothes. I’ve offloaded things from my closet because I’ve changed styles, or sizes, or because I needed some extra money for living expenses while working unpaid internships. From Levi’s the size of my tenth-grade torso, to plaid golfer caps from my middle-school hat phase, to wedding dresses I bought at Goodwill (some for Halloween, some for no excuse other than it felt too sad to leave them behind), there’s always something in the back of my tiny, vintage-filled closet that’s ready for a new home.

Watching my friends quarantine through the window of Instagram, I’ve seen a friend get dressed in a puffy pink ballgown for an outing to her own rooftop. I have seen sweatpants and oversized t-shirts and lots of Love Is Blind viewings. There are friends in rubber gloves delivering canned goods to needy neighbors, friends in music festival attire hosting digital parties via FaceTime, and friends in their mothers’ sweaters reading the books that have been sitting on their bedside tables.

As long as we’re sharing when we can, and social distancing to the best of our abilities, there are no right answers, no correct ways to dress for the life-altering experience of living through a pandemic, and no sufficient preparations for the undoubtedly changed lives we’ll lead when quarantines are lifted and we return to the outside world.

I don’t know what’s to come, but I do know that one of the few things that has helped me maintain a sense of control has been reorganizing my belongings, weeding through my wardrobe, editing out what no longer serves me and selling my clothes back into a circular economy. (An important acknowledgment: you are under no obligation to be productive during a pandemic. Maybe busying your hands and head with an organizational project feels good; maybe it feels burdensome. Either is fine.) If you have a plethora of clothes idly quarantined in the back of your closet and you want to build up some business acumen, here are six Ps you can use to ensure you’re getting the maximum bang for your retired attire.

#1: Make it PRETTY

Cue the Princess Diaries hat removal scene. Pamper your Lilly Pulitzer sundress/the tulle skirt you impulse purchased after the SaTC Paris finale/bejeweled Guess jeans with a full spa treatment. Give her a warm bath to wash up, hang her somewhere with sunlight to dry, and then use a handheld steamer to restore her to her sleek, unwrinkled youth.

#2 Get that PHOTOGRAPH

Now that your item is feeling like her best self, it’s time to capture her in all her glory. I just got a buzz cut and I recently downloaded Hinge, which was a fun combo. Let me just say: Bless my fairy-god photographer friends, who absolutely rallied in their efforts to capture me in a date-able state. Your job is to be that friend.

You don’t need a fancy-dancy camera—your phone will do, as long as you have great lighting. Make sure to take photos from a variety of angles and distances, so your potential buyers can get a good sense of the item. Capture the texture of the fabric. If there are any flaws—a hole, missing buttons, stain, etc.—take a photo of them next to a quarter, so that the size of the problem is clear. You want to be as honest as possible, so that your reviews will glow this hard.

Some methods:

EDITORIAL: If you’re an aspiring photographer or stylist—or just want an excuse to make cute pictures with friends—ask somebody you know to model for you. It can be a fun li’l activity to get some editorial style shots of your items, and it’ll help them sell for more.

REFLECTIONS OF YOUUU: If you’re yearning for one last moment in the sun together, model the item yourself with a good ol’-fashion mirror selfie. Try to position the mirror across from a window, so the natural light is in your favor. I use my toile curtains as a backdrop for mirror selfies, so that the item stays in focus. You can also use a shower curtain, wall, or bedsheet.

CHICK THAT CAN HANG: If you feel like the item is an independent woman who can speak for herself, use a hanger against a plain background and call it a day, like this.

#3: Choose a PLATFORM

Each selling platform has different demographics and benefits, so take stock of your goods and then decide which platform(s) best fit your needs.

ETSY: Etsy is a haven of handmade and vintage wares. For sellers, Etsy is best for search-friendly vintage clothing that can be listed with specific descriptors (ex: pleated 1950s cap-sleeved peplum linen blouse)—or for specific handmade pieces, like patchwork upcycled jackets. Etsy allows sellers to upload 10 photos per item (many more than most platforms), which is enticing for buyers willing to pay top price as long as they have all the deets.

Cost: Etsy charges $0.20 per item listed, plus around 8% in assorted transaction and payment processing fees.

DEPOP: Depop is Etsy’s Gen Z little sister. She loves mirror selfies and probably wears Lidstar in Slip. If Etsy looks like a marketplace of curated shops, Depop looks like an Instagram feed, with a mix of vintage and modern clothing. Sellers often hashtag brands/references that have a similar aesthetic, so if you’re posting a vintage prairie dress, you could add #batsheva, #thevampireswife, #littlewomen, or #wecantallbejos. OK, that last one prob won’t help you…but as a self-proclaimed Amy, I stand by it. It’s particularly useful for super on-trend pieces—par exemple, when the Rowing Blazers moodboard had me frothing at the mouth for preppy outfits, I took to Depop to source some cheap, secondhand LL Bean rugby shirts. Depop is also a hub for influencers who want to pawn off their gifted goods, such as @PrettyLittleFawn and @SissySaintMarie

Cost: Depop charges a 10% fee on each item you sell.

THE REALREAL: If The Devil Wears Prada were set in 2020, Andy would use The RealReal to resell the free clothes she got on her Paris trip instead of giving them to Emily. If you’re a high-fashionista ready to bid adieu to some big-name brands, this is your spot. The RealReal’s biggest draw is convenience: With other platforms, you’ll need to photograph pieces and ship packages yourself. Not so on TRR: You’ll send them your items (using free shipping labels), and they take all the photos for you, so your effort will be limited to a post office dropoff. The downside is that they set the price, which you may or may not agree with. I once sent in a dress to TRR that they ended up listing for less than I wanted—though to be fair I was impressed when customer service swiftly shipped it back to me, at my request.

Cost: All the convenience of TRR comes with a steep fee. Sellers start by paying 50% commission on each item that sells for under $200. Your commission, though, will go up the more you sell, and the more expensive your items are. 

POSHMARK: If you have a box of Free People going-out tops from those extremely rare occasions when you attended a frat party in college (who me???), Poshmark is the place for you—it’s great for reselling name-brand items on the cheap. Buyers don’t expect fancy images—no-frills flatlay shots are fine—and they’re usually looking for shopping-mall brands like Madewell, J. Crew, and Lululemon.

Cost: Poshmark charges $2.95 per sale under $15, and 20% on any item over $15.

OBJECT LIMITED: Object Limited is the app version of a flea market. The full-screen vertical viewing and in-app recording make it easy for sellers to give detailed video tours of their stock. This app is full of serious shopkeepers actively collecting vintage clothing to resell it, which is why you’ll find so many gems. If you intend to flip clothing as a regular hobby, this is your place.

Cost: Object Limited charges 15% of your selling price.

SQUARESPACE: If you want to get serious about running a digital boutique, I recommend building your own spicy site with Squarespace. The upside is that you’ll have complete control over your branding—and you won’t need to deal with ever-changing policies, like the ones that have lots of people mad at Etsy. Downside: You’ll need to build your own audience—so either get going on those SEO skills or drive traffic to your site from your social media. When building my jewelry Squarespace site (step 5!!), I used vintage shops like Shop Stressed, Lucia Zolea, and Mirth Vintage as examples of highly curated boutique websites that rely on their social followings for traffic.

Cost: Squarespace fees range from $26 to $40 a month.

INSTAGRAM STORIES: This is the most nonchalant way to sell. If you’re looking to get rid of a few low-value items, throw them up on your IG story and see if any friends are interested in Venmoing you for them. This will mean combing through your DMs for responses, and you’ll need to figure out and enforce your own payment and shipping policies. Or you could propose a clothing swap if you’re interested in getting some fresh looks from followers in return!

Cost: Nada

#4: Research PRICING

Take the following into consideration when doing your pricing calculations:

Attachment: Does part of you still want to keep the item? (Price it higher!) 

Label: Is it from a sought-after brand?

Long-term value: Is it a collectable? 

Condition: How well has it been maintained? Are there holes or scuffs? Does it come from a smoke-free, furry-friends-free house? 

Trend: Is this style currently trending? 

Material: What’s it made of? Pieces made of synthetic materials like rayon or polyester are usually worth less than those in natural fibers like linen, cotton or wool.

Take some time to research prices for similar items. You want to be in that sweet spot between the lowest acceptable amount and the average price for items of a similar caliber. Remember: If it doesn’t sell right away, you can always list it again for a lower price! 

#5: Shameless self-PROMOTION

There’s no shame in this game, baby! Post photos of your offers on social media (a throwback pic of you wearing them, mayhaps) and share the links widely. If you plan to add new items to your shop, start a social page separate from your personal page, so that you can maintain a consistent brand aesthetic and build a following of shoppers. 

Just like the olden days of brick and mortar, customers are paying for the experience they have in your store, so carve out your corner of the internet with confidence.

#6: Make yourself PROUD

Your work doesn’t end when you make the sale. Your buyer—this stranger!—is going to be the proud new owner of something you once owned. Twenty years from now, you might be riding on a hover-bus in a faraway city and bump into someone in the hand-sewn blouse you wore to your tenth-grade picture day. You want that human to be excited to meet you!

Make it feel like a gift. Add a little treat in the package, like a scrunchie or a vintage postcard or some ribbons that can be used as shoe laces. Write a thank you note by hand. Send the package in compostable packaging. And honor the exchange you’ve just completed: You’re making space in your closet for things that feel truer to the present version of yourself! You’ve successfully exercised your ability to move on! There’s another human out there making memories with the literal fabric of your life—and that is a beautiful thing!

Photos by Cody Guilfoyle. Prop Styling by Kalen Kaminski. Featuring Simon Miller shoes, Olympia Le-Tan clutch, Derek Lam sunglasses.

Starling Irving

Starling Irving is a New York-based writer and photographer with an affinity for vintage suitcases, toile de jouy, and anything with a mint leaf garnish.

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