A few years ago I stepped inside my first estate sale and within an instant a whole new world opened up for me. That first estate sale launched my career into the vintage fashion business. Up until that point I didn’t even know estate sales existed. I thought they were auctions…something aggressive and scary and not at all suited for someone like me. Was I ever wrong.
I walked across the threshold and into that person’s basement where the motherload of vintage clothing lay strewn across the floor. Piles and piles of 1960s clothing…from scooter skirts to cute mod dresses and petal pushers to shift dresses. I sat down on that dirty basement floor, surrounded by my heaven, and thought I’d better text my husband to tell him I’m never coming home. This. Was. Awesome.
I spent the next couple of hours sorting through those clothes. They were dirty. They were musty. The basement was barely lit. And I loved every minute of it. I walked away with bags and bags of vintage clothes that day. And into my shop they went. I finally had some great inventory!
A picture from a recent haul. I was so excited to have found so many awesome vintage baby and toddler clothes!
Since that day I’ve been to tons of estate sales. I check estatesales.net every week to see what sales are in my area. I pour over the pictures to see which sales are likely to be most beneficial to me. Then I make a list and hit those sales. Since I’ve been to so many sales I’ve learned a few things along the way. Here are some tips:
1. Let’s start with what an estate sale is. An estate sale is like a garage sale but it’s INSIDE a home. The owner has likely either passed away or is moving and they need to sell most of their homes’ contents. If you’re a vintage hunter like me, estate sales are goldmines…as long as you do your research and find the right seller.
2. Get there early and on the first day of the sale. I’ve been to some sales where people have started lining up THE DAY BEFORE the sale. This is crazy to me and not something I’m willing to do, but I have gotten to sales before the sale has started so I can get my name on a list. Most companies will start a list of names based on who has gotten there first so when the doors do open those that got there first get in first. Which brings me to my next tip…
3. You will likely have to wait in line. Most houses are not big enough to hold everyone at the same time. So you wait. In line. For a long time sometimes. I’ve waited in line for hours waiting to get into a sale. In the snow. Without a coat. Good times. Be prepared to wait so you don’t turn into one of those crazies who yell at the door man. Wear a coat, bring water, kill time by checking Twitter and Facebook obsessively.
4. If you’re not concerned with getting one specific item, go on the last day of the sale. Most estate sale companies offer 50% off all items on the last day of the sale. They want to clear out the house so this is their last chance to move everything out. If they don’t offer posted discounts you’re likely going to be able to negotiate on the last day of the sale.
5. Hit up the ATM. Most estate sale companies only take cash. The listing on estatesales.net will tell you what they take. Some take credit cards, but likely it’ll only be on purchases over $50.
6. You will be the most normal person there. Estate sales notoriously attract the strangest people, so there will be all kinds of characters there. If you’re stuck standing outside waiting to get in, you have two options; interact with the crazy for fun or keep your head down and stay focused so as not to attract their attention. I choose the latter.
7. Bring tissue and hand sanitizer. I’ve walked out of sales with so much dirt and dust that after blowing my nose, the tissue was black. And some of these sales are pretty sketchy. I’ve been to sales where the owners were hoarders. I didn’t know what kind of gross was living on all the items I had been digging though. Best to coat your hands with a some hand sanitizer once you leave a sale like that.
8. If you’re a serious vintage hunter, try to mentally map out the house based on the pictures provided. That way you can make a bee line for the items you’re hoping to get. For instance, if I’m on the hunt for some dresses I saw pictured I try to figure out what room they are in. Look at the backgrounds of the pictures. Is it a bedroom? A basement? Are they on racks? Are they in a closet? In a box? A few minutes of savings here can mean the difference between leaving empty handed and leaving the winner of a rockin’ vintage dress.
9. Dress appropriately. This is not the time to try to upstage Kim Kardashian. Wear flat shoes, jeans, and a comfortable shirt. These sales can be dirty. You could be digging through dusty boxes. You could be on the floor of musty basement for hours (if you’re lucky!).
Hope these tips help! I love estate sale shopping. It’s like a treasure hunt. You never know what kind of awesome lies behind that front door!
Here’s a dress I recently found at an estate sale. Be sure to check out my shop for more great vintage pieces like this!
Vintage 1960s wiggle dress