How to Consign Your Clothes

Purging your closet can feel marvelous. Jettisoning items that have gone unworn for months (or years) alleviates anxiety and guilt, gives you room to really see what you own, and allows you to focus on items that you truly adore. But if you’ve spent big on something and never worn it, or know it’s a quality item that just doesn’t suit you, it can feel frustrating to simply admit sartorial defeat. Donating clothing to charity is always, ALWAYS a generous and admirable choice, as is handing over quality duds to organizations like Dress for Success who can use them to help women further their career goals. But sometimes you just want to recoup your losses. Or some of your losses.

Enter consignment stores. Many major metropolitan areas have them, and they’re a great resource for items that still have life and value but might not be worth selling on eBay. How do you decide what items will work well for consignment? Here are a few tips:

Is it a recognizable brand name?

Although this may not be the case universally, the consignment stores I frequent are very brand-focused, and I can understand why. If you’ve got a gorgeous sweater but it’s made by a brand that no longer exists – like Petite Sophisticate, a thrift fave of mine – or even a high-quality foreign brand that most shoppers in your area wouldn’t recognize, it’s simply less likely to sell. Mall/high street brands are always good bets, as are any designer items you’re prepared to part with.

Is it in very good shape?

Consignment items needn’t be 100% flawless, but they definitely need to be free of substantial damage. Rips, shredding, stains, damaged hardware or zippers, or anything that renders an item unwearable means it should be repurposed or possibly just thrown away. (Thrift stores can’t resell truly damaged goods either, so don’t dump ‘em there.)

Is it contemporary?

Some of the more trendy, young, fashion-forward consignment shops will consider your vintage items, but many want modern clothes and accessories only. In fact, my main consignment source is looking for clothes made within the past three to five years. The newer the better, in many cases.

Now, if you’ve got an item that is extremely trendy, made by a covetable manufacturer, and in pristine condition, you might consider selling it yourself on eBay, Bonanzle, Etsy, or another more direct route. Designer items and higher-end brands with loyal followings – like John Fluevog, Desigual, Coach, and similar – are good bets for direct sale. Think about items, brands, and styles that YOU might search for online to determine what would fit this model. I’ve only ever sold on eBay myself, and can’t offer any magical tips for success, but can point you to the site’s seller tutorial, which covers important basics.

So! You’ve got some items that you want to consign. You’ve still got to convince the store to accept them. Here’s what I recommend:

Launder : They WILL give your items the sniff test. Take washed or dry-cleaned items only. Make sure accessories and shoes aren’t stinky, either.

Press: Wrinkles are a total turn-off. Hang up all clothing and steam or iron every piece. Including scarves. You want your stuff looking as new and fresh as possible.

Touch-up: Bust out the lint roller for any stubborn pet hairs or dry schmutz. Invest in a sweater shaver to deal with pilling. Trim or mend any stray threads, and make sure buttons and hardware are properly affixed.

Before you pack up the car and head to your local consignment outlet, you’ll want to explore your options. Some will take your items, sell them, and pay you out afterwards. Some will evaluate your goodies on the spot and hand over cash or credit immediately.  Percentages will vary by shop and geographic location. Don’t assume that larger or more well-known shops will give you better deals! Sometimes smaller outlets have a better sense of what is truly valuable and what will work for their specific clientele.

A few consignment shops that I both sell to and buy from, many of which are national chains:

  1. Turn Style 
  2. Buffalo Exchange
  3. Crossroads Trading Company
  4. June
  5. Plato’s Closet

Do you consign any items from your wardrobe? How do you decide what to donate and what to consign? What gets sold on eBay or given to friends/relatives instead? Any other tips for successful consignment experiences? What are the best consignment shops in YOUR area?

Image courtesy InspirationDC.

  • Susan

    Yes, I have consigned clothing items. Another point is that these shops will often only take items that are “in season”. Right now, the consignment shop I use is only taking transitional items–not winter, not spring or summer items.

    The shop will also take jewelry and handbags. Don’t forget scarves and things like shawls. They take these as well.

  • http://www.befabulousdaily.us Cynthia

    I sell my really sellable stuff on EBay, but it’s a lot of work. I just found out that around here in Charlotte there’s an org (Green Jeans Consignment) that runs huge seasonal consignment sales. You can sell your stuffs and also volunteer at the sale for a percentage incentive and early shopping. I might try it at the spring sale and see what happens. Also, a Buffalo Exchange (Charlotte’s first) just opened up in my neighborhood a few months ago but I haven’t tried to sell anything there yet.

    When I get in my head that I’m going to get rid of something I find a way to do it. I love to give stuff to people who need it and will actually use it. I have a friend who has the same size feet as me and is in a bit of a tight financial situation. If I have shoes or boots that don’t work out and can’t be returned, she gets first dibs.

  • Katharine

    I’ve only started to consign recently — a load last summer, and another this past fall. Like selling books, it’s not really worth it in terms of return, I find. (Items that cost me over a hundred dollars, the consignment shop sells for $25, and I get 60% of that. Mind you, in turn, I’ve gotten (for example) a Comrags dress for $40 from the same shop, so it evens out.)

    However, I’m far too lazy to sell on Ebay; just shipping online orders back for return or exchange is enough of a pain (and expense).

    I mostly reserve consignment selling for items that cost me quite a bit, and which somehow never worked out well; I just can’t stand the thought of dropping something like that in the Value Village donation bin!

    Another thing I notice about consignment shops is that the requirement for higher end labels only seems to apply to me… funnily enough, when I’m browsing the racks, there’s ALWAYS Smart Set and Reitman’s and even George and H&M items, when they’ve just refused a couple of sweaters in MY stack for being “not a good enough label.”

  • http://notdeadyetstyle.blogspot.com/ Patti @ NotDeadYet Style

    Good tips, Sal. I use the wonderful consignment store around the corner, Cottage Rose. They know me now, and we have a great working relationship. Then of course, whatever I earn, I spend right there : >

  • http://www.etsy.com/shop/DoBatsEatCats Darlene

    Just wanted to note that on Etsy you can only sell clothing, jewelry, bags, etc. that are handmade (by you) or vintage (defined by Etsy as 20 years old or more).

  • Anne

    I have been selling my clothes at consignment stores for about 25 years now. It is a way to extend my clothing budget a little and it helps alleviate the guilt that comes with buying clothes I don’t wear. Over the years I’ve learned to take less personally the process inspecting, rejecting or accepting my clothes and I’ve figured out which stores in my area are the most reputable. I suppose my two cents are these: seller beware. You are not going to come out ahead consigning your clothes. Sometimes consignors will have practices that you don’t like. They also might have a very specific market or look that they are going after and you will leave the shop with your very lovely clothes still in hand, feeling slightly rejected. Finally, think back to that absolute score you made at some consignment shop; designer bag or shoes or what have you. That is exactly what your clothing will be for someone else – minus the 60% commission.

  • lauren.

    i sell at plato’s closet pretty regularly and i’ve gotten a nice amount of money back over the years. i sold 19 items yesterday for $88. however, they are very picky about what brands the choose and how many seasons old they are. they do not buy anything that is not name brand. most of the brands they prefer are younger, like ae, a&f, gap and then jcrew, anthropologie, and the like. this is not the place to take your designer or old career wear and expect to get much (if anything) back. they cater toward teens and young adults so they are usually buying casual things like jeans, tee shirts, hoodies, some sweaters, and dresses.

    the buffalo exchange where i live is very snobby, so i don’t even bother trying there anymore. i sort by ebay, plato’s, and then goodwill.

  • Heather

    I’ve sold a few pieces on Ebay- Gunne Sax dresses and a few unreturnable things that haven’t worked for me. The rest I take to my friends’ clothing swaps- we have them a few times a year and whatever doesn’t get claimed gets donated.

  • Miss T

    I donate probably 80% of my stuff to charity; makes me feel good and also, because I donate high-quality stuff, I take a decent write-off tax-wise. I realize that approach is not to everyone’s advantage, but it works for my lifestyle. The remaining 20% I generally give away to friends and family; I often box up some interesting unworn things and send to my sister, who is approximately the same size as me. Her taste is different, though, so she will often style these things in very creative ways, ways that never dawned on me when I had them. Another option is garage sales (I think they call them yard sales, or tag sales in other parts of the country — I’m in California). These are especially fun because I tend to do them jointly with other friends/family members who have stuff to get rid of. I have sold many pieces of clothing for surprisingly good prices. The psychology of a garage sale is a little different for the buyer, I think; they don’t expect to find something gorgeous when they look around, it’s more of a surprise/treasure hunt when they DO see something they really, really want, and they are often willing to pay a few bucks for it because they feel that they were “meant to find it”. Garage sales for us end up being a combination of sales techniques: we start early, like 8 am, and we set a time limit: anything unsold by 2 pm gets put in a “free box” on the curb; anything untaken by 4 pm is driven that afternoon to charity. That way, there’s an opportunity to sell, an opportunity to give away to individuals personally, and an opportunity to donate to help a specific charity. Good feelings all the way around!

  • Marie

    The Salvation Army can recycle clothing that isn’t fit for resale, so when I donate clothes I also give them anything that’s damaged. Some other thrift store chains might recycle too, so call and ask.

  • Maggie May

    I do want to note that Sal’s comment that thrift stores can’t sell damaged clothes is true BUT I have learned that they will take these clothes and recycle them either to the modern-day equivalent of rag dealers or in other ways. I too used to think that there was nothing much to be done with clothing in unsellable condition but to toss them. In my city, I often just give them to the people living on the street but that is a different story. But now I do segregate and give them to Goodwill. I don’t give them to smaller thrift stores for whom the sorting might be a burden or which might not have those relationships with recyclers.

  • http://fashionableadventuresboo.blogspot.com Bethie the Boo

    Clothes Mentor is another great consignment shop and I have had some luck there selling items, they are a lot like Plato’s Closet but take more professional type brands – Ann Taylor, LOFT, NY and Company, Gap, the Limited, etc. Sort of the grown up version I suppose! :)

  • http://www.meganmaedaily.com Megan Mae

    I don’t consign because I don’t have a place close enough that does it. We have a Plato’s Closet about 45 minutes away, but they don’t have a good exchange rate and it’s mostly full of Abercrombie and Aero jeans.

  • Jenn

    My biggest piece of advice is: if your stuff doesn’t sell, don’t forget to pick it up from the shop. I’ve learned from experience that when I drop something off I forget it exists. Especially with the long sales cycle of a consignment shop. I’m better with consignment sales, since they only last for a weekend.

  • http://www.rosiemolinary.com Rosie

    I just started consigning in the last summer and am still learning a lot. This was a great resource, Sal. Thank you!

  • Barb

    I have been consigning for the last 5 years. It’s a good part time pastime when your closet and all of your auxiliary closets get filled up with clothing. I live in Michigan and like ‘Our Blessings’ in Milford and ‘Mirror Image’ in Grand Blanc (a recent discovery). It’s a great way to turn over clothes that you are no longer wearing.

  • http://nosignposts.blogspot.com The Waves

    We have a Plato’s Closet in our area, and I’ve taken some stuff there before, but they have become really, really picky about what they buy these days – and when I say picky, I mean insane. If it’s not teenage-wear, they will not take it. They’ll take worn-out Urban Outfitters, but not hardly-even-worn Sportmax. Needless to say I’m currently in the process of trying to find other outlets as I am in the process of a major wardrobe revamp as we speak. We do also have a small, local consignment store and I might try my luck there next. Haven’t tried eBay yet, but who knows, perhaps I might try that at some point as well. In Finland I used to take my stuff to flea markets and always made good money.

  • http://ideefixemon.blogspot.com Suzanne aka Punk Glam Queen

    Great post! I do a lot of donation, but on items I paid big $$ for, they go to consignment. I use a few as they each specialize in different “looks”. One of my faves is a bit of a drive for me — Closet Secret Consignments in Danbury, CT — but they’ve been absolutely wonderful to work with! They even take vintage, and I’ve managed to clear out what no longer works plus make a very nice tidy sum! I’m actually heading there this week as they have another big check for me, YAY! Sadly I will say that I’ve had an absolutely horrific experience that is at the point of me having to take legal action with one of the biggest online consignors. My advice to anyone wishing to go that route is to keep on top of them as much as possible, and make sure they don’t tack on needless fees, as well as them getting your items online in a timely manner. Also take extensive photographs as once in their possession, you have no more control of what becomes of your belongings.
    XXX
    Suzanne

  • Eleanorjane

    Very timely. I’m emigrating in a few days so having a major wardrobe sell out. Managed to sell some stuff on-line and am wondering what to do with the rest. I think I’ll try and give it to folks and give the rest to the thrift shop. I don’t have time to fluff about being rejected by a consignment store.

    Gosh, it’s daunting though. Imagine trying to fit your wardrobe for every eventuality into 30 kgs including the suitcase. I’m going to ship a box of summer stuff over in spring, but still, that’ll need to be limited by whether it’s worth the shipping cost…

  • Anonymous

    “Brand Name, In Good Condition, Contemporary” – when I apply these rules to my clothing it always makes me change my mind and hold onto the garment for ‘just another month or two’. I always struggle with the fact that if someone else is willing to pay money for it, then maybe I should be giving it one more chance at redemption in my wardrobe…

  • Carol N.

    I have a problem in that a lot of the consignment stores close by do not take plus size clothing, no matter how nice. I have donated some but I also give the things to my sister-in-law to consign and let her keep the cash. It helps me out by being a source for my gently worn items and it obviously helps her out. As a matter of fact, the thrift store she uses most often has called her recently asking if she has more of my clothing – I guess it sells well in her small town!

  • http://www.shorelinewriting.com Debby

    On the CT shoreline, there is a small independent consignment shop that I have had good luck with, called Fantasia. The owner is sweet and respectful of your feelings for what she feels she cannot sell. I’ve taken mostly accessories to her, but also some tops from the Loft. I don’t earn much, but it’s nice to get something back for items I feel guilty just giving away, if I’ve not worn them much.

    Fantasia caters to an older generation of women. I haven’t seen any high school age labels there, but a lot of J. Crew, Talbots, Ann Taylor, etc. I found a lovely Kate Spade bag there, and a pink sequined skirt from Bloomingdale’s that I adore. There are a few designer racks, and some very high end purses: Prada, Gucci, etc. If you are in the area, it’s worth a stop.

  • Caly

    I started consigning last year, and its been a good way to evaluate my clothing needs and is nice to have the occasional extra buck. The above tips are totally true. The store I consign to (Iowa chain Stuff Etc.) has been interesting to deal with. I find that they accept more items if I dress nicely for the consignment appointment. They ask that you bring your items in two bags, I find that more items are taken if I bring them in nice reusable grocery bags, or nicer plastic/paper bags from mall or brand name stores. They also take a higher percentage of your items if you bring in to several small appointments rather than bring in two garbage bags full of clothes. Just because they see an item once and don’t take it, doesn’t mean that they won’t in a few weeks. The biggest thing for me to make consigning efficient is to go and run an errand while they evaluate your items. It usually takes half and hour to 45 minutes depending on how busy they are, so I will run to the bank or pick up a few groceries while they do it. Whenever I just wait around in the store I end up buying something.

  • http://www.onewomansstyleevolution.com One Woman’s Style Evolution

    Great informative post! Great comments also.

  • http://www.anjeladancer.com Anjela

    I started consigning a year or two ago. It’s really hard to part with my hard-won designer items for just a small fraction of what I paid for them, but a lot of the time it is easier than selling on eBay, and at least more profitable than donating the stuff.

    June is one of my favorite shops! Daune curates such a wonderful collection; several of my most beloved pieces have come from her store.

    I also like Nu Look Consignment when I’m in the mood to dig. I have found some really amazing bargains there–Jimmy Choos for $45, a Coach bag for $12, and my best consignment bargain to date: an Armani turtleneck for $2.

    You wrote, “If you’ve got a gorgeous sweater but it’s made by…a high-quality foreign brand that most shoppers in your area wouldn’t recognize, it’s simply less likely to sell.” I found that to be true last week–I scored a Dries Van Noten wool sweater at Nu Look for $24! I feel kind of bummed for whoever consigned it, because that sweater must have cost a mint brand new.

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  • Dee

    I used to consign at a small private store – a true consignment store, where you leave your clothes and if they sell you make a certain percentage. Then they opened a Clothes Mentor near me. It is the adult version of Platos Closet. (I have sold some of my teenage son’s clothes to Platos but they mainly seem to take blue jeans and other casual clothes.) You don’t get much for your things at Clothes Mentor ($3-5 per item), but at least you get the money immediately and its “something.” They will take all seasons of clothing, shoes, purses, jewelry. I have found that they can be more picky at times. I have been successful at having them take some things later that they didnt the first time. (different person evaluating?). I do bring mostly large or plus sizes there — its nice they carry all sizes. I have not tried eBay and after reading the comments today I am not sure its worth the trouble. I recently moved and had to really downsize my wardrobe. I probably made $300-400 in the last 6 months, BUT those items when new cost me ten times that, at least. I do feel good that someone else will be able to use these items.

  • daisy

    I haven’t read through all the comments yet, but I wanted to share my recent experience. Two winters ago, with a move to a colder climate and some weight gain, I ended up buying several pieces in larger sizes. I’ve since lost much of that extra weight (hurray!) and wasn’t sure what to do with those clothes. Some had worn out and I passed to the thrift store. But what about the nicer pieces?

    I didn’t want to give them away… and what if I ended up gaining weight? But I hated holding them in reserve for that, too. Didn’t feel very good.

    So I took them to a higher-end consignment shop, on hangers. These clothes were mostly 16s, and the owner was SO glad to get them! She said she very rarely gets good-quality clothes in plus sizes. And the brands were okay, but not fancy at all. Some were Dress Barn, for example.

    I know I could get more on ebay, but this is so much easier, and definitely worth it. Thanks for the tips, Sal!

  • Pscott

    I like to consign but find my feelings get hurt when the stores don’t take items I think are GREAT and very saleable. I solved this dilemma by having my son take them over for me. For some reason, when they only take half the items and he brings the other half back, it doesn’t bother me. Don’t know why…

  • rb

    I would add, be sure to think about your tax situation. In many cases, the taxes you save by claiming a full market value deduction may exceed what you might make by selling the same item.

    • rb

      er, I mean DONATING, then claiming a full market deduction. :)

  • Anna

    I only consign at one place and I love it. I go to My Sister’s Closet on Grand Ave in St Paul. I think one may have recently opened in uptown too. As well as excepting new items, they love vintage! My Sister’s Closet is my favorite store to shop at because they have a great selection of high quality clothes and the prices are unbeatable. So, when I consign, I just have them put the money from my clothes that sell into an account. That way, when I shop, I can buy new purchases against my account.

  • http://fashionista-next-door.com Eboni Ife’

    Man oh man, I wish they had a Buffalo Exchange in Georgia. It was my fave place to sell my clothes back in Cali.

    Great tips!

  • http://Divineconsignonline.com Joyette Kendig

    I own a small town consignment shop and I would like to thank you for a thoughtful post (as well as all the great comments). It was a great reminder of what it is like to be on the other side of the counter. In fact I’m going to have my staff read it as well.

    On an average we only take about 25% of what new consignors bring us. It is NEVER personal. (My stuff gets rejected too!) We want to do a good job so we work on a take less/sell more formula. Managing inventory is tricky. We might be overstocked in size 7 shoes one week (no thank you) and the next week be in desperate need (so we accept a lesser brand).

    Like anything new, give consigning a chance. Ask questions and learn what you can do to make your appointments stress free. Shop around and find a store that is a good fit for you. Hopefully you will even become a “CSMS” (our code for cute-stuff-my-size) and find yourself looking forward to purging your closet instead of dreading it!

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  • http://mymanualofstyle.tumblr.com Jackie

    I just started using tradesy.com to sell clothes, and so far, I’m so pleased! Easier than e-bay, b/c the buyer pays shipping, and tradesy provides pre-paid shipping packets.

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  • Robyn

    I have a dress that I was going to wear to my daughters wedding that got cancelled. I’m now 65 pounds lighter and 5 sizes smaller. It is a beautiful floor length dress that was never worn. Where should I sell it?

    • http://www.alreadypretty.com Sally

      If you’re in the Twin Cities try any of the Turn Style stores, Nu Look, or Elite Repeat.

  • http://www.noheelsrequired.com Kimberly

    Being tall (6’2″) finding clothes that fit in a consignment store has always been nearly impossible. That is why I started a website for tall women to buy and sell gently used clothing. It’s a fun way to find clothes that fit and know that the clothes you are selling will be appreciated! Tall ladies check it out! Tell your tall friends! http://www.noheesrequired.com