To Consign or Not to Consign? The Stressful Journey of Trying to Make Money Off Your Old Clothes

Want to get rack space at a resale store? Better have thick skin


Want to get rack space at a resale store? Better have thick skin. | Shutterstock.

If you were to open up my trunk, you’d think I was a hoarder. There are Hefty bags in there, more than I can count on one hand, each one stuffed with clothes that didn’t make it through one of my ruthless closet clean-outs. There were more bags, but I tossed most of them into various donation bins across Bucks County — you know, to spread the wealth. The bags in my trunk are my consignment bags, my secret money-makers. Sometimes I like to think that these Heftys will net me thousands. Then I will go on a shopping spree and it will be like it was free!

I know what to bring in to consignment stores — newer pieces, mid-to-high price, recognizable labels, no obvious signs of wear — and I know where these consignment stores are (here, here, here, here and here). I just have to, you know, work up the courage to actually go to them. Because I’ve been to one before, and it wasn’t pretty.

Several years ago, I went to the Buffalo Exchange on Chestnut Street. I’d rifled through the racks at the store before hauling in my bag of stuff and I figured I could make some money. They were selling tops bedazzled with the DKNY logo, American Eagle hoodies, flimsy H&M dresses. Surely my haul of decidedly mid-range items — J.Crew, BCBG, French Connection — would make the cut. And then I met my nemesis.

The prickly girl behind the counter sniffed at me, barely concealing a sneer. She was clearly enjoying her position of power, but was also intensely bored. She plucked through my pile like it was dripping with lice. I wondered if maybe I wasn’t dressed nicely enough. (Apparently it wasn’t just me: A coworker experienced the same thing when she visited just over a year ago.)

“Handkerchief hemlines are not in anymore,” she sniffed about one skirt. She was right, but neither were the Victoria’s Secret velour sweatpants with PINK on the butt, and they were hanging front-and-center on a nearby rack. But I was sort of scared of her so I didn’t argue my point. She took one or two things and refused the rest. I left quite baffled, but also with a bruised ego. Were my clothes that bad?

Selling or consigning your stuff is deeply personal.  You’re allowing a stranger to go through your things and put a price on them, to tell you what will sell and what isn’t worth a cent. It feels like a judgement, even if it’s all business.

I tried consigning again this past September. This time, I went to Second Time Around, also on Chestnut Street. The rules here are stricter: You have to make an appointment and you’re only allowed to bring in 15 items at a time. The associate was professional and laser-focused, staring down the underarms of shirts trying to detect a pit stain and digging around unceremoniously for labels. She took 12 of my pieces; I think I actually squealed with delight. This was consignment redemption.

The items she took included an old pair of Michael Kors rainboots, a pair of black wide-legged Theory pants (which I’m actually sort of sorry I parted with, since I’ve now actually lost the weight that was keeping me from wearing them), a pleated Marc by Marc Jacobs midi skirt and several never-worn, tags-on Zara and Topshop pieces (scored on an ill-fated Steve Harvey appearance, in which they tried to get me to dress more “husband-friendly,” which is absurd and also a wonderful party story).

According to the store’s website, they typically price items at “30 to 40 percent of their original retail value, depending on condition and style.” For new items with tags, they’ll price it around half of the price on the tag. Consigners get 40 percent of the selling price, and items are placed on sale for 90 days. After that, anything that doesn’t sell becomes the property of the store. In the end, eight of my things sold*, and I got a check for $141. So not enough for a shopping spree, I guess, but more than I had when I walked in.

I still have bags of things in my trunk, the spoils of countless closet clean-outs, and eventually I’ll get around to consigning them. Perhaps then I can save up and buy a new skirt — one without a handkerchief hem, even though those are, cough, coming back in.

*Note: If any of you lovely readers now own any of these things, I hope you are enjoying them!