Today, I had my first experience with selling clothes to a consignment or thrift store. Let me tell you exactly what goes down at consignment stores and give you some good tips for a couple stores here in Washington, DC. And a little warning, if you’re a fashionista, ‘going on consignment’ can feel like playing roulette with your soul.
Oh, I have a right to be dramatic. For starters, I took a $120 never-used bebe purse down to Crossroads thrift store on U Street and got offered about $15 dollars for it. But I’d better start at the beginning…
My first time selling clothes: Crossroads
I had the day off and expected to have a delightful little conversation with the cashier while we chatted about how I bought my gunmetal blue pumps but could never wear them, how nice the holidays were, etcetera. But when I arrived, there were an equal amount of men and women waiting in line to sell big bags of clothing, hats, scarves and shoes.
Then, it was my turn. A few things I brought out of my suitcase were rejected: a pink trench coat and some blue pumps. As for the orange purse I offered them — sadly, the purse acquired a stain from (get this) sitting in my closet for a few years. You can see from the picture above that I have tons, TONS of cute purses, I think they’re breeding, and what must have happened is that the “BEBE” dust cover bag that was protecting another bebe purse squished part of the capital letter “B” onto this hot orange bag and knocked its value down, apparently from $120 something dollars as mostly new, all the way to… $15 dollars? I even had the original tag that came with the purse and they priced it down like that.
I didn’t have to accept the offer, and I still feel strongly that it was a bad one. However, when you add up that I really did not feel like selling my things online; they also took what I considered to be a pretty, but very poorly designed Nine West bag that I consequently hated; and there was something else I wanted to trade these items for in the store… all this considered, I made out alright. In fact, I already estimated what 33 percent of a $120 bebe bag was going to be, and them taking the two purses I offered, not just the bebe one, got me pretty close. I made $33-ish today, and took that in a combination of store credit and cash. I used the credit to get a cute dress I didn’t get the previous day when I was window shopping (a rare-to-me dress from a cool Chinese brand I researched after window shopping), and then took home the rest of the money rather than leave twice as much credit I shouldn’t be using to clog my closet up again ‘back in the store.’
That’s right. Cash money, up front. And if me getting an expensive bebe purse that I grew to loathe over the years (another not-so-well-crafted candy-colored bag with sharp gold hardware that pokes you and other people in the ribs every time you use it on the METRO) out of my closet is my only gripe, that you can go to Crossroads and get cash for your clothes right then and there is a good deal. I did hope that the weapon-slash-bag would help with navigating crowds in the METRO, kind of like a mini cattle-catcher that you see on the fronts of trains or Bender in that one episode of Futurama when they had the Freedom Day parade and he mowed people out of his way… but I better take a breath here, because I digress.
Tips for Trade-ins
After that experience, I do have some tips if you decide to sell your things. Let’s start with Crossroads. First off, be practical about getting less than you imagine. Other than my expensive bag going for a song (can’t guarantee this is the last time I will complain about that bag in this post), I really do like the store, and their business model is obviously clever. Seen elsewhere in retail—turn your workers into patrons a la store discounts, encourage people to spend money while you have them… I could have walked out of the store with $20 or so, but there was already a dress I wanted very badly, so at the end of the day, they really took all of my money. And they got nearly free inventory out of it. We both won… well, won-ish.
Second, as soon as you enter, on your right, you will see a sign that explains everything. I recommend that you sign in on the little electronic pad, hand your bag of swag to the people at the counter for safekeeping, then walk around the store and shop while you wait. I had a few people ahead of me in the line and ended up waiting anxiously for a few minutes before I even noticed the sign. And be ready for a line. At least two people gave up waiting and wandered back out of the door when they saw there were folks ahead of them. I does go pretty quickly, though.
Of course, if your goal is to clean out your closet and make some money, then definitely do not walk through the store and shop. Cozy up on the benches in the corner instead like one smart girl I saw staying focused on her cell phone. One more tip: do not play a loud, annoying cell phone game that involves yelling pirates, like the guy seated on my right.
I recommend going to Crossroads when you either (1) want to get rid of things and you really don’t care how much money you make, or (2) you’re ready to go shopping there and want to save some money on your purchase.
The re-cap for Crossroads:
- They only take what’s in season and they don’t take jewelry, so check out their selling guide first for specifics. I saw them turn down men’s pants that ‘were kinda like this’ but not men’s pants that were ‘more like that.’
- Sign in once you arrive.
- Hand over your swag for the moment.
- Shop till your name is called.
- Review your trade-ins before you pay and get a big discount off your purchase.
That should save you some time standing there nervous with your suitcase of clothes, your heart pounding, afraid to sit down, and worried if those too-small cute shoes that you’ve loved for years are going to be appreciated. Gosh, it was like waiting to be called for an audition! So weird, right?
You’re going to go crazy and think your shoes have a divine right to be better than other people’s shoes
By the way, the gunmetal blue pumps I mentioned earlier did not make the cut at Crossroads. The girl who went before me had a pair of glossy blue pumps too, that were Charles David, so my Nine West pumps that looked like they were carved from a simmering sapphire for some goddess of glamour—her name would probably be GLAMORA: Goddess of Glamor, and you’d make glittering sacrifices of small well-made sparkly wristlets, purse charms, and glimmering piles of costume jewelry encircling a tidy bonfire while out glamping with your girlfriends, chanting the lyrics to Lady Gaga’s “Fashion” and wearing couture… what was I talking about?
Oh — those shoes got rejected because they already had a lot of blue shoes. Eventhough I still think my shoes were more beautiful than those others. (You find you have a mother’s pride when it comes to giving up your clothing). They said to bring them back the following week. I rolled my ‘the Angels have arrived’ free Victoria’s Secret suitcase down the street and gave these shoes to Current Boutique instead for 50 percent consignment price whenever they sell. That’s 50 percent off the $120 retail price for almost-new shoes. I hope I’ll see the $60 soon… And the lady at the counter was very sweet and said ‘they’re cute, we’ll take a chance with these,’ which made me feel very good about shoes that I loved deeply but couldn’t keep. And to be honest, I was only able to part with them after I bought a pair of gorgeous blue ALDO pumps that had a similar theme… but you’ll never see a pair of chrome-but-blue shoes like that again in a store. Ever. Shoes that make other people want to purse their lips and whistle as soon as they see them, it’s like instinct, regardless of gender, I swear. I can guarantee you that—so go buy my shoes now at the Current Boutique on U Street!!!
The re-cap for Current Boutique:
- Call first. It makes sense that they were closed on New Year’s Day, but when I first visited and they weren’t open, I had to re-plan my day.
- Bring only your best. They’re offering a good price (50 percent) for the price you determine and mostly deal in designer items. Also, you only see the money if they can sell the item, so make sure you’re making them a good offer. By the way, they do take jewelry. I bought some, and I swear it was reincarnated from Free People.
- Be prepared for a lovely warm smile and a warm, cozy store.
And before I wrap up on Current Boutique, I want to mention that I really liked the service. A bubble-gum pink, well-loved, wrinkly trench coat was turned down because ‘it was more for the spring and because of the color and the fabric’ at Current Boutique, but at Crossroads, they ‘were going to pass on that one.’
The attendants at both stores were friendly and polite, and each consignment process was comfortable and efficient. No complaints, really, except for my half-weapon-half-orange-purse, of course. I was nervous to begin with, but everything turned out fine.
Getting hurt while out on consignment
So, I very spookily mentioned ‘your soul’ at the start of this post. Giving up my blue shoes, knowing that I dreamed of wearing them for years but never could—that was so hard. It was like breaking up with a boyfriend who is perfectly nice in every way, except that you aren’t really compatible. It was sad. But, in the end, I was happy that I might maybe get something for my shoes and that they would be going to another woman who could fit the shoes and couldn’t wait to wear them all over the place and get many well-deserved compliments. Those were beautiful shoes and they deserved a new life. I absolutely hated one of the shop ladies saying another pair of shoes that I had seen a few minutes ago ‘were the same color.’ I can’t stop talking about how they were NOT the same color… not the blue shoes made for goddess Glamora: She Who is of Glorious Sparkly Sapphire Goodness and Perfectness. It’s hard not to feel like your kid is being slandered in front of your face when you’re thrifting/consigning your stuff.
But then it goes deeper than disappointment. You may find that you get your heart broken too. The very cute pink trenchcoat I was peddling about did not get picked.
The story of Pinky the trenchcoat
That beloved coat was living in the back of my closet, pretty much retired after a great career. I bought this adorable little coat in Express one day, I think it was at Westfield Mall just after college, early 2000s… It was a fabulous coat, but it did not make it through my twenties when I went from a size two and then a four, and then I did what I call more ‘growing’ and went up a few more sizes now in my thirties. That coat and I went to Halloween as Barbie with a great big hand-drawn white and red “Mattel” tag sewn into the seam. My mom was so proud of how beautifully I’d dressed, she gave me a hug if you can believe it (actually, do believe it because my family knew I was having a rough year and she was relieved to see me smile). I added a pink fedora with a wig to complete the costume. That pink coat and I got compliments from everyone who saw us, no matter where we went or how bad my day was going. I loved, loved that coat. The inside was as luxurious and pastel as the outside, down to the buttons and painted buckle. I wore that coat to work and my boss, another woman, asked me, charmed, if I was going out someplace special after work. (I wasn’t, but I was flattered.) That coat and I went through rainy days together even though it wasn’t waterproof. We got dressed up for boys we liked and we made the cute guy at the bus stop finally come around and start a conversation with us. I loved that coat so much, I swore I would definitely give it a new life because I could see another young girl having another great womanhood in that coat. But in the end, I had to stand at the counter and see a clerk put it aside and not even give it another thought. It was painful to even bring it out of the closet that morning. I named it “Pinky” before I said good bye and put it with the other things I wanted to sell.
At the end of today, I put that coat, rejected by two stores, into a cardboard box inside of Martha’s Outfitters so that someone in need could have it and love it as much as I did. Seeing it folded there, among all the bits of newspaper and other little donated things was super difficult. I cried then and am crying now, thinking of it. It was a good decision. I will resist every urge to run back down there and get it back. What would be the point? I’d know that it didn’t fit me, that none of my friends or sisters really wanted it, and that I’d have to make more space in my closet. I would eventually want to give it away again because it is such a good coat. I really hope the next girl loves it and gets so much out of it. And maybe I’m just being very intense right now and I’ll calm down later, I don’t know… But I am a little scared my mom will one day help me move out from my first tiny apartment and ask me where my ‘little pink coat’ went. I’ll probably cry again then too.
There’s no need to go G.I. Jane and bomb your whole closet
That experience taught me something meaningful about cleaning out your closet. Stay with me, here… Don’t be so hard on yourself. Not even if you are a chronic clothes horse like me. You don’t have to give away every little thing. Yes, it’s okay to love objects, sometimes. It’s okay to love clothing in the same way that you love your grandmother’s chipped blue and white gravy boat she always used at Thanksgiving. It’s okay to keep one little thing for yourself to remember how much the good times meant. I have another purple coat, my soul color, that I thought I’d give away today, but I left it back at home because I did what most people do. I tried it on, saw that it ‘mostly fit’ and then remembered all our nice times together and put it back in the closet.
I’m going to keep this beautiful purple coat that’s getting a little moth-eaten the same way I kept a bit of my purple baby blanket as a kid. Actually, it was named Purple Blanket. And my little sister had a pink one that she named ‘Pikka Blanket’ because she couldn’t pronounce the word. So, I’d set a little loving precedent… Naming and keeping your clothes, all fine things to do. You officially have my permission to start doing that.
Remember, this is all good karma
I’d say my biggest recommendation for selling to a consignment store is this: When you do decide to clean out your closet and go to a consignment store, don’t be brutal. No amount of someone (or you) yelling at you to make more space in your closet is worth a piece of you going out the door when you do make the hard decision to let go. It’s okay to keep one or two things that mean a lot to you. And, I think it’s good that some time a long time ago, a few stores realized that people love their things this much, that they are okay with recycling them and giving them a new life rather than just throwing them away.
When life can be so difficult and we really don’t know what comes after we’re gone—at least we know we can reincarnate our clothes, shoes and bags. We can breathe new life into something we loved so much.