The most common question customers ask me is, “Where do you get your stuff?” The brazen nature of the question (do customers really expect me to give away my sources?) always irritates me, so depending on my state of mind I answer with a vague, “Oh, I find things all over the place” (when I’m in a good mood) or “Dead people” (when I’m not.) Honestly, I just don’t want to get involved in a long discussion about my many, many sources: I scour flea markets, church rummage sales, antique shows, garage sales, thrift shops and other vintage stores. I buy on eBay and Etsy. I have dealers and pickers who sell to me regularly. But nothing compares with estate sales: buying from the original owner, to me, is psychologically fascinating: material things may not be “important,” but it’s amazing the insight you can gain by studying the items a person accumulated throughout their lifetime.
This is the rare business that never makes you jaded…there’s always something new to discover. Memorable finds include a trunk full of 1920s dresses in a roadside barn ($20 each), a crocodile Gucci bag at a flea market ($1) a rare Hermes scarf at my local army/navy store ($3), a 1920s pink brocade cloak marked “1960s” at a vintage store ($50) and a solid gold charm bracelet at the bottom of a hatbox full of costume jewelry (free.)
Over the years I have been fortunate to purchase some lovely items, and meet some lovely people, mostly through social networking and kismet. Parents at my daughter’s school knew what I did for a living and would often ask for my help in assessing relative’s estates. Most of the time it was stuff that had no value, but once in a while it was a goldmine. A closet full of 1960s Courreges coats, all in pastel shades, Missoni knits, Gucci and Hermes bags and other top-of-the-line designer items welcomed me at one Park Avenue apartment belonging to an acquaintance’s mother-in-law.
Another time I got a call from a famous writer who was dealing with her mother’s estate. Every day for about two weeks, after I dropped my daughter off at school, I’d help her sort through closet after closet of fabulous clothing. I loved hearing the stories about her mother’s exciting life, and we became quite friendly. A crucial part of buying an estate is gaining the family’s trust: it’s an emotional chore, and often they have no idea what the items are worth, so it’s important that they feel comfortable and don’t think that you will take advantage of their lack of knowledge. After the writer and I parted ways, I read her best-selling memoir, which described her fraught relationship with her mother. And I was mentioned in a memoir she wrote last year, when she discussed the process of cleaning out her mother’s apartment. It was a rewarding experience that I have never forgotten, and we still keep in touch via Facebook.
Lee Herling is a lady of a certain age, a “snowbird” and a dealer who scours thrift shops in Boca Raton during the winter months and sells her finds to me when she flies back north. She found me through my store, and after my friend David met her, he became obsessed with her. She even appeared in our sizzle reel for our reality show: she was of course our first choice when the director asked us who we should film with.
The lady who worked (and bought) at Chanel for 2 years in the 80s, then left New York to live a crunchy life in Colorado and sold us all the Chanel items she had accumulated; the woman who was one of the Rolling Stones’ mistresses in the 90s and had a warehouse full of rare designer clothing that she no longer had the lifestyle for; the neighborhood guy who wanted to get rid of his mother’s gold jewelry: you can now see how when people ask me that question, it’s just not a simple answer.
My daughter and I own three vintage clothing store in Orange, CA, so I understand completely. Thanks for sharing.
When I ran a physical store and people would ask me where the owner got their stuff, I would usually fend off any further questions with an ‘I don’t know?!!’ and my best I’m-just-a-clueless-clerk stare, hoping that nobody would come in and rat me out as the owner during the exchange. Or also just say ‘dead people’ to end it quickly. I sell online now… Thanks for this! Great post.