Why Are Vintage Clothes So Expensive?

Vintage has always been a constant, think of the box of hand me downs that came from your third cousins whom you viewed as being somewhat exotic, partly because you never really met them and had only heard stories about them and partly because they lived in the city which made them seem worldly and street wise.  

Vintage clothes are expensive as they are made from superior quality, natural fabrics, well cut and tailored to a finish which is incomparable to today’s standard; vintage items are neither numerous in availability or editions which means that each vintage piece is individual and irreplaceable.  

Their hand me downs seemed magically imbued with this exoticism.  Do you remember being heroically determined to channel this energy and become what you thought they were?  That is one of the key attributes of vintage; you imagine that you are channeling another energy from a time or individual which can give you a type of confidence that you just do not get from fast high street fashion.  

Superior Standards

One of the key characteristics of a classic is quality; it is the reason why so many become hooked on wearing vintage in the first place.  Have you ever noticed how a vintage pattern, whether brocade, check, gingham, floral or abstract print, is carefully matched at seams whereas a modern high street piece just makes do with whatever way the pattern comes together as it is too costly and time consuming to ensure the symmetry.  

In fact the only comparable adherence to this previously fundamental design principle can be seen in contemporary high end designers who playfully create new visions using fabric pattern in their design.  If you want quality and feel strongly about the integrity of a design then vintage offers a more affordable alternative. 


In the past garments were made to last and more durable than today’s modern equivalents.  Less disposable income meant that clothes were an investment and needed to last.  Better quality fabrics and adherence to stringent quality control ensured that the buyer’s investment would last a lifetime.  

Clothing such as skirts, dresses and suits were fully lined and even trousers were either treated to a full or half lining meaning that the garment could be relined as it wore.   Seam allowances were generous and left enough room for the garment to expand with the wearer irrespective of price point.  

Today fashionistas are waking up to the benefits of vintage clothing and its unspoken guarantee of superior quality and finish which is timeless.  Demand in the vintage fashion market reflects a realization that fast disposable fashion is no longer acceptable and investments are being made now before vintage sources run dry.  As demand increases so too do prices, making it all the more urgent to get hunting and sourcing that investment piece.

Original and Unique

Each vintage item is individual, irreplaceable and original as it is period you will not see it on the high street, perhaps mirrored in an attempt to copy but the overall quality of vintage always surpasses fast fashion and wins out in the end.  

Purveyors of vintage are invariably discerning individuals and are respectful and aware of the uniqueness of an item and will price match it accordingly.  Therefore vintage bargains as were are becoming increasingly rarer but the quality of the items still bears out and makes the investment worthwhile. 

Holding Value 

The big names such as Vuitton, Gucci, Chanel and Hermes not only hold their value as investment pieces but actually in many cases increase in such if the item is well maintained and preserved.  Condition is a very important factor as is the original packaging of items such as boxes or cloth bags as in the case of small leathers or hangers and suit/dress bags in the case of clothing.  

On one of my visits to a local thrift shop I waded through a huge box of bags and to my delight I unearthed a vintage 80s Gucci Hobo bag for 50cent, there was no damage or obvious wear to the piece and although I did not have the original cloth bag and it was missing a bolt cap from the handle which I replaced, I eventually sold it for 265e. 

High-end fashion is guaranteed to hold value but this rule applies to the more well known names and despite the fact that other contemporary houses offer the same quality, they may be more challenging to sell as they are a lower profile.  

Mid Range Investment

The vintage item does not need to originate from a big house name, it may well be an item that has been made popular or become iconic as a consequence of some celebrity; think Twiggy and the 60s shift dress; Farrah Fawcett and her 70s bell bottom Levis and cropped sweater; Bianca Jagger in her classic white double breasted trouser suit; the 80s Princess and her Pussybow blouse and not forgetting the power of Dynasty and those emancipated shoulders and enormous reflective buttons. 

High Street Investment

Vintage high street fashion is essentially low-cost vintage clothes which are rare to find and getting rarer.  The 1970s was the first decade in the history of fashion which offered off the peg clothes in a wider range at an affordable price to buyers across the age spectrum and that is why so much of it is still available to buy in thrift stores today. 

Up until recently the 70s were not considered the most successful fashion decade but if you like the look there is a lot to choose from.  Care is advised however, as those over the age of 30 will find carrying off this high street retro look very challenging; being at the lower end of the scale when it comes to quality 70s high street is very unforgiving and you quite literally get what you pay for. 

Despite being less costly as a vintage investment, Laura Ashley frilled Prairie Maxi dresses are a good investment as are the 70s cotton crochet dresses and suits which sell in excess of 100e.

Future Vintage Fashion Investments

When making a purchase one should always buy with the heart but also consider if the item would be a likely collectable for the future.   Clearly not all of us can afford to invest in iconic brands such as Chanel, Dior, Pucci or Vuitton but there are opportunities to invest:  

  • Balmain for H&M
  • Missioni for Target
  • Kate moss for Topshop

Names that will be highly collectable into the future:

  • Alexander McQueen
  • Burberry Prorsum
  • Balenciaga

Think also about well known figures and their connection or endorsement of a product; Mondi and Escada grew in popularity and status as a consequence of their favor with Princess Diana in the 80s and 90s.  Temperley, LK Bennett and Burberry seem to be among the current favorites of the Duchess of Cambridge which will ensure that certain pieces from these brands will remain particularly popular and as a consequence be investment pieces of the future.

The luxury brand Maxmara and their iconic ‘Madame’ coat is a definite investment piece; I bought one of these new in 1992, it cost me about 650e at the time and if I were to sell it today it would command a price of at least 1,200e in today’s vintage market but remember condition is everything. 

Bag it!

Most vintage aficionados are conscious of the fact that handbags from the top fashion houses are worth their weight in gold.   This is particularly true of Vuitton, Hermes, Chanel and Gucci.  There are other less well-known brands that have a strong resale value such a Rodo, Bally or TODs whose classic D-bag in medium which has just been rereleased S/S 2021, selling for 2,150.00stg but can currently be picked up online in its vintage edition for a fraction of the cost and is only likely to appreciate in value.

Belt Up!

If you want to invest in vintage, accessories are an excellent area to focus on, primarily because they really never go out of style and when it comes to investing in the future of your wardrobe, this is where the money will make a return.   

As is so often the case with vintage clothes, very often the brand is an important consideration.  Think Gucci or Bally web belts in a variety of patterns, elasticated and finished with a circular metal interlocking clasp, these are a definite investment for the future as is the Chanel chain belt finished with pearls and interlocking ccs. 

So too is the distinctive Vuitton patterned belt complete with untarnished hardware of  monogram initials or the iconic Hermes hand crafted dual leather strap and characteristic ‘H’.

Condition is paramount of course and this should be taken into consideration before purchasing.  Leathers, especially belts can suffer from a great deal of wear as they are exposed to close contact with the body and sweat which unfortunately compromises the leather.   Leathers can become brittle if not well stored and metals can become tarnished from too much contact with perfumes.  Care should be taken to protect your investment.


A nasty word for many but there is plenty of it still around, especially shearlings and sheepskin.  The point is that there is nothing as warm as fur and that is why you still see these items being worn in countries such as Russia and Canada as they offer an insulation which is incomparable.  

If you buy vintage fur you save the item from landfill which is a very positive point for our environment and in not buying or commissioning new pieces you are also helping to protect the animal kingdom.  Alternatively, garments such as trench coats can be lined with fur, benefiting from the advantages of insulation whilst at the same time avoiding the incidental gaze of judgement.

Vintage furs can be quite pricey and on average start from around 150e which means that they are at the higher end of vintage pricing.  When you decide to invest in a piece, keep an open mind and remember that the item should be gently worn and checked carefully for moth holes or hardening of the skin; do not worry too much about the style as this can easily be adjusted or altered.  

An Investment

When you buy a vintage piece you are making a bold statement about who you are, your philosophy, ideals, your vision for the world and you reveal your uniqueness and intelligence as not alone are you not following the fashion herd, but you also recognize the enduring quality and style of vintage whilst single handedly doing your bit to safe the planet too.  The fact that cleverly bought vintage can make a return on an investment makes it an even more attractive prospect.

Sharon Cunningham

I enrolled in The Grafton Academy of Fashion and Design and studied there for six years before being taken on by a German fashion house with whom I worked for nine years, eventually leaving to return to university to complete my MA.

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