Thursday, March 28, 2013

Let's Talk Semantics: "Vintage" and "Reselling"- Starting to Hate Those Words

Are we really "resellers"? Is what we sell "vintage"? Does the dictionary just need to play catch-up?


On "Reseller": "Reseller" comes with negative connotations. Ocassional flea market vendors and thrift store owners dislike us. To others it sounds second-class or scavenger-like. The stigma is unfounded; all retailers are resellers unless they're creating all the merchandise they sell. I classify myself as a vintage curator because I'm very particular about what I select to sell and how I stage and present it. What creative spin can you put on your brand of reselling?

On "Vintage": Then there's the word "vintage" which I have a love/hate relationship with. Saying I curate "vintage" helps people understand I specialize in retro rather than antique merchandise, but if you look it up in the dictionary, "vintage" isn't a word in that context yet. Instead, it references a the year a wine was produced. I embrace it since it's a keyword that sells (hell, it's a category for selling on Etsy, semantics-be-damned) but what do you think? Are there better words to use? Should we be more specific when categorizing every single thing we sell? (Mid Century Modern, Retro, Antique, etc.)

Let's discuss semantics in the comments: What do you call your style of thrifty picking and reselling? How do you classify what you sell? You getting sick of using the same words over-and-over, too?
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48 comments:

  1. I'm basically just a junk dealer. just last weekend I was at a high end auction house and one of the owners told me we are all just junk dealers. Yup that's what I am and very proud at that . in terms of vocabulary I will basically use any term that will sell my merchandise. I never lie at least not on purpose as I always sell items before the 70's.I use vintage , antique, Art Deco freely as those are terms people search with. I really don't care what other sellers think of me I just offer junk at good prices to people who are interested. And yes I do use mid century retro etc etc etc

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    1. Same here, could care less about negative connotations that come with "picking" and "junking". I like how the term "junk dealer" is playful and down-to-earth, but I avoid it since I've heard it being used to describe resellers (especially in antique malls) that just fill it with anything at all, usually not vintage items. I've seen everything...Twilight books mixed with sports team caps and Pier One Imports randomness in one booth. Plastic tupperware from the dollar store...

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  2. I never had any bad connotations with the word reseller - at least not until now, lol! Vintage just sounds cool to me - it sets me apart from the other antique booth owners who are all about Antigues with a capital A. I get the fun hipster crowd, and I am fine with that because, heck, there are a lot of them and they have money to spend on FUN things. That said, I do not like the words junk and junking - it sounds dirty, dusty, disposable, etc. I always say that I am going treasure hunting when I am out thrifting :-) But that is probably just personaø preference as one of my best thrifting buddies always proudly says she is going out junking when she is treasure hunting. Shudder, lol! :-)

    Great topic for discussion, Van. I will be checking back in to see what other people say.

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    1. I like how junk and junking can sound sweet and home spun, like digging for artifacts, and it recalls creative upcycled art which I really appreciate. But then the bad side is people getting the impression that you sell literal junk, like trash out of the back of your car, haha. Delicate balance.

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  3. You're right about "vintage" being used to mean old but not real old as in antique. You know, antique used to mean at least 100 years old? Words come and go just like clothing trends. Who knows what we'll say in ten years. I try to label items with accurate style descriptions (like "art deco") and a year/decade if known. Lately I've seen "MCM" to refer to something 1950s/60s. So who knows? What about: Finder of Sacred Objects??

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    1. I need to go through my Etsy and get more specific on the styles of everything and clean up the key words. Always an evolution. You're right, it's always changing!

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    2. The 50s and 60s were mid-century, right? So MCM is accurate, unless it's not something that doesn't fit the MCM style. Anything sleek, wood, danish I would call MCM. Anything super kitschy, I wouldn't necessarily label MCM but call it retro or vintage.

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    3. I call 50s and 60s things mid century modern. Even if you're selling a replica that highly resembles the style one should throw it in there so the right person finds the style they like. (As long as you let people know it's not authentic mod.)

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  4. I don't really think too much about it. If people ask, I am the owner of an online vintage shop. Vintage meaning 20+ years old as it is recognized on Etsy. I go thrifting to look for items to sell. I am a reseller as what I sell was sold before but I don't call myself that as that term has big negative connotations. I think of myself as a vintage dealer as we are called here in our area. (Don't know if that is just regional or not.)

    I do tons of research on my items to make sure they qualify as vintage. I need to branch out and use more style terms and era terms though. I do get tired of the same terms over and over, BUT that is what people search for so until that changes that's what I'll use.

    :)

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    1. We don't sling "vintage dealer" around here, save for a small amount of (usually creatives) in my area that sell it on Etsy and in stores locally. The majority would identify as "antique" and "junk" sellers. I need to branch into more style terms as well and get creative with key words to experiment and see what brings traffic. Thanks for sharing the feedback Adrienne, always helpful!

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  5. I mostly just say that I buy and sell vintage... If then people ask for more info, I tell them I have a booth at an antique mall. If I give more details, I say I sell mostly housewares from the 60s.

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    1. Yep, that's how my convos usually go too. :)

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  6. I don't understand all the problems with words. There are TV shows that promote what we're doing. i.e. American Pickers on the History Channel, Junk Gyspsies on HGTV and I belong to Mary Jane's Farm Sisterhood and they call it Junktiquing. Whatever we call it we are all trying to make a living and survive. If people want stuff from their past and we have it why not sell it to them? Look at what's not going into landfills. People have been doing this forever and I intend to keep doing it because it's the most fun I've ever had. This Junktiquer is going to keep up the hunt.

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    1. Agreed on all points! I'd add more but you covered our thoughts so well.

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  7. I've found that in my town, retro has come to mean "new made to look old" so I avoid calling anything retro! It's funny how words have different connotations from one region to the next. I call myself a vintage dealer, and like a lot of you, use that to set myself apart from the actual antique dealers in the mall with me. I have a friend who does shabby chic, and she calls her stuff junk, and it works. I just can't bring myself to call what I sell junk. She truly rescues things from junkyards and gives them a new life. I sell pieces that are in great, usable condition- they just happen to be old-ish. I guess I feel like "junk" isn't accurate for me.

    With all that said though, I always try to identify my pieces. I like to be able to tell my customers the maker and the pattern as often as possible. I don't sell online as much now,but when I did, most of my tags were specific to that item. I tried to keep generalized tags to a minimum. If I can substantiate the date, style or era I use that, but I try not to guess or assume. I think that comes from being a third generation dealer... it's ingrained in me!!

    Good topic,our words reflect more than we realize!

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    1. I've noticed that too, that "junk" applies better to people who upcycle or craft new pieces from antiques/aged items. The items usually have lots of texture. I absolutely love the word junk, junk shops, and junking but I don't think it applies to what I do, either.

      And just like you I'm making a point to identify era, year, style more and more these days and I'm going back to old listings to update them. I'm working on new larger tags for my antique mall space that will allow me to get specific. Doing this tells a story and the history is why people love vintage.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Jennifer!

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  8. Well you are buying and selling used items. So yes re-selling. Just as if it were a coat or car. As long as you project the item as used..I see no problem. Buyers of vintage are aware that the stuff you sell has probably been purchased from a thrift or a sale...it's big business..and as always buyer beware!

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    1. Agreed, most vintage buyers know what they're getting is uses and/or from a thrift or estate/yard sale. Unless you have a huge attic full of unopened vintage. That's an amazing, unlikely fantasy right there...

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  9. A while back I took my sister to a few thrift spots to pick up inventory for her new Etsy shop. We were browsing an isle apart when she picked something up and said loudly.. "So how much do you think I could get for this?" I quietly shushed her and got the side eye from two ladies who snarkingly said "Oh, they're resellers." Like resellers is a bad word or something! Like reselling in general is bad! Since then I never liked saying reseller (or thrifting with my sister ha.)

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    1. Hey Amanda, hope all is well in your world! It's a fine line to walk when we buy to resell. When asked sometimes I say I'm a reseller, sometimes I say I'm a collector, both are true. I just try to follow the golden rule and not be a dick! I've had the same scenario you had with your sister happen to me more than once.

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    2. Resellers have unfortunately gotten a bad name because of a few bad apples. I run the yearly rummage sale for our school, and a few of the resellers have behaved horribly by trying to get some of our best stuff for practically free. (It's okay to ask politely if I'll take $x for something, but when I say no, don't keep nagging me.) I've also had trouble with resellers snatching vintage toys and books out of small children's hands! The good resellers probably aren't as easy to identify because they are low-key and polite. We don't care what someone does with what they buy; we're just trying to make some money for our school.

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    3. I'm not a fan of the rude resellers either, Marsha. There's too much to go around to bum rush people and be rude to vendors. If you can't get the price you want, move on.

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  10. I think some thriftshoppers don't like 'resellers' because they buy stuff they don't need for cheap to resell it, while some thriftshoppers buy from thrift shops because they can't afford anything else. On the other hand, there are thriftshoppers who even get angry at 'rich teenagers' that go to thrift shops.

    To me, thrift shops are for everyone. If you found it first, you get to decide what is going to happen with it.

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    1. I have the same attitude you do, it's for everyone. And furthermore, there's PLENTY to go around. I'm going to follow-up on that theory of second-hand abundance soon.

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    2. They are for everyone. 99% of thrift stores are private, for profit businesses who get their merchandise for free. They mis-represent themselves by boasting about the little bit they give to charity (their tax deductions).

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  11. Sometimes I get frustrated that I say the word "vintage" so much on my blog and in everyday life - but then again, it's what fits the best, I think. I like to say that I'm a "vintage go-between" as I like for it to be more like I'm helping facilitate the adoption of beautiful vintage things by people who wouldn't have found them on their own. A middle man. Er, middle woman? I don't know.

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    1. I like "Vintage go-between," perfect for those of us who are passionate about connecting a vintage-lover with the beautiful housewares they crave.

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  12. I am relatively new to re-selling, vintage-curating...whatever you want to call it! I only started thrifting last fall and our booth is just finishing up its 2nd month. At first I was only sticking to vintage items while thrifting but lately I have just been buying things I like or that I think our shoppers would enjoy...even if it is newer. I like the mix of old and new. By day I am an interior designer for a very high end firm where clients spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on furnishing and accessorizing their home! So for me it is refreshing to put things together and curate items that are fun, useful, nostalgic and beautiful. And the best part is you don't have to spend a lot of money. So I am not sure what you call re-selling mixing vintage with the new??

    Van, happy to report "the little booth that could" in the back by the dealer door is MOVING ON UP! We move on May 1 to a 4x4 booth in the small room behind the register! We are super excited to be able to have more flexibility and bring in bigger items! Aren't you moving soon?

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    1. I would say mixing the old with the new is like curating since you're bringing items together for your vision. Congrats on the move up! I'll be moving into a bigger space this April and keeping the older one. It'll be a busy month! I'll drop the smaller one if it's all too much to handle.

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  13. I just tell people I sell vintage collectibles or deal in second hand goods.

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    1. That's basically what I do too, gonna see how "vintage curator" does for me.

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  14. I tell people that I dig vintage, and that is mostly accurate. However, if I hit the thrift and I find something produced within the last ten years and not dug from the annals of history, my rule is: If I like it, I buy it.

    So if I take the time/date factor out of the equation, I suppose I could possess the title of: Purveyor of Cultural Oddities. And this makes sense given my growing collections of dolls, clowns and other assorted creepy thrift goodness in which the level of vintage isn't a deciding factor. Although I would also like to note that I do always, ALWAYS hunt for 60's compilation LPs. There's no room for compromise there. My collection of 60's pop, garage and classic rock is getting pretty respectable.

    Nonetheless, it's an interesting discussion.

    <3 Jackie @ Let's Go Thrifting!

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  17. I just sold a beautiful brass bankers lamp with a duckbill green glass shade in perfect condition on ebay. I only had one bidder on it and the guy got it for a little of $27, so, a steal if you ask me. I listed it as "vintage", I guessed it to be from the 70s because I actually remember them being popular then, but I wasn't positive, I just knew it wasn't the cheapy ones you can buy from Office Depot. Well the guy left neutral feedback that said "Vintage....made in Taiwan!!" I didn't want my perfect feedback tarnished with that, not to mention, he basically called me a liar. I ended up working it out with him and he and he retracted the feedback and left positive instead. Long story longer, obviously everyone has their own definition of the word vintage, but I'll still use it to sell. I'll just be more careful about the way I word my descriptions because the last thing I want is to come across as deceiptful to potential buyers.

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    1. It is a dangerous word to use as I've had similar things happen to me. There is no universal definition of it, especially because the dictionary doesn't even use it like we do online to sell. Again, it's just referencing the year a wine was made. This is a good reminder to play it safe and research to find the specific year something was made. We can use "vintage" and "vintage-inspired" as keywords to get eyes on our product as long as we're informative in the description about the era the item is from.

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  18. Well, as long as I'm not called a "hoarder", then everything is fine in my book.

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    1. Haha :D I have definitely been called a hoarder more than once.

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  19. I tend to say I resell vintage items on etsy. I usually only resell new items on ebay, if I happen to have bought something I thought was older and it is, in fact, newer. If that makes any sense. I always say I buy weird stuff that I like, and that my optimal customer is someone like me!

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    1. I like how "weird" and "unique" are thrown in this convo by you and our fellow lover of the morbid, Jackie. I also buy things across the board that suit my quirky animated aesthetic. I'm working on setting up an ebay/storenvy store just for selling my newer imitation vintage and comic book/nerd culture/pop culture items.

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  20. Great discussion. If it's someone I know, I just tell them I sell on eBay. If a stranger asks me in say, a thrift store, I just tell him/her that I'm a reseller. Until I read your thoughts on this, I never gave it another thought, and I have yet to meet anyone who's given me a strange look for saying so.

    As for the term, "vintage," I use it to describe items that are at least 20 years old. Interesting that the dictionary definition has not caught up with us! If I know the period or date of an item, I will include that, but I usually use "vintage" as a catchall descriptor of all things older.

    Looking forward to your post about plenty of stuff to go around.

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    1. The conversation of plenty will be fun, since I know it's a regional thing and not everywhere has as much loot for the picking.

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  21. It's all about branding as all the marketing papers say. If you want yourself to be known as a junk dealer or a reseller or a vintage collector and purveyor to each his own right? :)

    I also wanted to tell you I nominated you for a Liebster on my blog. Maybe you'll consider participating!
    http://www.harperhoney.com/2013/03/liebster-awards.html

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    1. Thank you for the nomination! That's two now, I need to get on that thing.

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