A Guest Rant on "Why Are Vintage Patterns So Expensive?"

McCalls 3893

I got this great "guest rant" from a pattern seller (who will remain anonymous) and I thought it was worth posting.

[Although] I will note that no one's raised the issue of "How much did they pay people for the valuable vintage they are offering us" or "I bet they paid $5.00 for 20 patterns, how can they charge us $15.00 each for them??" (or significantly more, in some cases).

[It's] a very valid point and I don't want to ruin your comment section by addressing it … I have a good answer for how and why I price my offerings:

Yes I often buy boxes of old patterns for very little cost for the box. But I got up at 4:00AM to be first in line at the estate sale that I thought might possibly have vintage patterns. I stood in line for 2 hours and tried to be first in the door. When I got in the door I started pushing past people and heading for the garage or shed where the patterns usually are and lo and behold there are 2 boxes, rat pellets, roach carcasses and all …

I make my best deal and tote the smelly mess to my car. When I get them home I sit down and go through them to see if there are any beautiful finds that need my immediate attention. I sort by priority which goes first and which gets stored for another day. Then I start with the high priority ones and spread out and check to make sure all the pieces are there and cry when they aren't. I remove old pins (usually unless I miss one), I iron the envelope and the instructions so they are nice and readable.

Then I scan (or rather the DH scans) the envelope and sends it to me. I size it and clarify it a bit so it is readable. If I'm feeling creative I "clean" the front just for my files and cause I like 'em that way. Then it's time to write the listing. Gotta hold that pattern so I know the proper size and measurements … 'cause they're mostly different through the years.

Then I package the little beauty in a plastic bag and file it away until it goes to its new owner … by this time I've spent an average of 1-2 manhours, gasoline (at $4 a gallon) and we don't even count the time spent in line at the estate sale …

Now it's listing time … we all know that eBay doesn't do anything for free (and even website space costs) so I've got 1-2 hours time, a plastic bag, gas money, and then we add FEES. Take away everything else and the fees alone eat into the profit. If I manage to get $9.99 for a pattern and it better be a special one … I get to put $8.00 of that in my pocket. Take away a few cents for packaging and equipment (scanner, computer, iron) maintenance and we're down to $7.50 … O yeah, the 25 cents I paid for the pattern … we're at $7.25. IF THE PATTERN SELLS! Considering the 1-2 manhours involved … That's below minimum wage.

I thought this was worth posting because so many of us forget about the overhead and just plain TIME that's involved in running a small business, especially when you're doing everything yourself (or with the help of your spouse, who may or may not have another full-time job). Sure, I hear people say "I could buy that at the Salvation Army for a dollar," but I always want to ask them "Really? That exact pattern? You're sure it's there? When do they close, by the way?"

You're really paying for everything above, plus the luxury of choice — being able to select from the range of patterns in the seller's web store. And (at least for my advertisers) reassurance that all the pieces are there, and a good chance of a refund if they're not (try that with the Salvation Army …).

One last thing: if you do think vintage patterns are too expensive, you have a lot of options. You can not buy them, for one. Modern patterns are much, much cheaper (if you wait for the $1.99 pattern sales at the major fabric chains). You can set up a wait-for-it search on eBay and hope someone who doesn't know what they have will list it. And, of course, you can always draft your own.

That pattern up above? It's $75 (at The Blue Gardenia, sorry, there's not direct link to the pattern page). Unused, an in-demand bust size, a fancy pattern, and a great illustration. Is it worth $75? It is to somebody!

116 thoughts on “A Guest Rant on "Why Are Vintage Patterns So Expensive?"

  1. Great Rant!Most just do not realize or care what goes into what is coveted.You always have to break down the time put into selling something.If you even knew what vermin crept on or around the fabric some of your clothing has been made of, you would bathe in bleach!!!!!Thanks for sharing!I love your blog!X


  2. The idea that people sew to save money is obsolete. Back in the day, when clothing was manufactured in the US by small manufacturers with workers who made a union wage, to buy a dress off the rack was a splurge. Buying a pattern, fabric and notions was the thrifty way to go. There were no stores with racks bursting with discounted clothing that was mass-produced overseas by an underpaid labor pool. Women carefully crafted their own wardrobes with a deliberateness that if for the most part lost today. They also didn’t have three bedroom closets overflowing with clothing they bought “on sale” that they just never got around to wearing. Having a modern and vintage consignment store I can attest to the consumer waste visible in most women’s closets today. Bu back to sewing. Those who sew today aren’t doing it because it’s cheaper. They do it because they love to, and because the quality and uniqueness of a handmade garment can’t be purchased in the store. For the level of quality they represent, vintage sewing patterns are a bargain.


  3. The idea that people sew to save money is absolutely not obsolete. I say this as I wear a lovely top that cost me less than $5 to make (that includes the amortization of the pattern, purchased new at a chain fabric store; the fabric itself, bought by the pound at a sale bin at my local garment district; the thread, etc.). A top like this at my favorite boutique would run $80-120. (And mine is better built. The pattern matches perfectly at the seams. Ahhhhhhh…) A dress at J. Crew or Anthro starts at about $150. At the cool, independent stores I like, dresses start at $100 and go to about $350. I can make a dress using the best materials for $40-75. Can I afford to shop for clothes at Target or J.C. Penney? Of course I can! But I’m tired of wearing horribly drafted crap that falls apart before the season is over. I got fed up with shopping at poor people stores. It’s demoralizing to realize you can only afford to wear crap. Pretty soon you start feeling like crap too. This is what drove me to get my trusty old singer out and have it serviced. Do I enjoy sewing? Not as much as I like getting a chic, quality dress for a lot less money. I’m not sure how much sewing I would do if I won the lottery.Please, give us an example of a millionaire who sews.


  4. You have made an excellent point, my dear! There are so many costs involved with running a small business, especially when you are doing all the work yourself. I totally understand your point completely and truly enjoyed reading this piece!


  5. So I take from all this that Jen, Janet and everyone else who makes those gorgeous vintage patterns available at prices (even us poor folk can afford) should at very least get a big hug as well as our repeated business.When I win PCH then I can snap up some 1930’s patterns ($60 – 80) that I have my eye on.And on a final note, I have a couple of 30’s and 40’s patterns I bought to use and just can not cut. I have to trace them first. Very carefully. On the light table. They are a part of history and who knows? Maybe when I keel over, they will become someone else’s treasure.


  6. Anon-You may be talking about a $75 pattern. I am not. No pattern is worth $75 to me as I no longer sew. What I’m talking about is someone slandering an entire industry of people based on their career choice – a choice that is generally based on a love of what they do. It takes a lot of bitterness for someone to try to make that into a bad thing.What I found most interesting was this:** “It’s about the fact that NEW and OLD (that would be me) lovers of vintage patterns who actually use them and sew with them are getting priced out of the market.” **Do you think that those on this thread who’ve said they are willing to pay $45 or more for a pattern do not deserve them?I’m not quite sure what you think these people (many of who have said they appreciate the service their vintage/pattern dealers provide) do with said patterns once they have paid for them? Shockingly, many of them use the patterns for sewing!While it may be more difficult for you to buy patterns at cheap prices, it is just as difficult for many of these people (who are willing to pay $40/$75/etc) to go out and find them – whether because of time, location or inclination. I simply do not think this makes them any less deserving – all of the people who buy these items are doing so for the love of the item. Some pay with time, some pay with money.No one I know is getting rich off vintage – most merely get by. For every item that makes a tidy profit, there are many more than won’t. Personally, I go through what I do for vintage because I love it – and after I have adored the item for a time, I pass it along to yet another caretaker- generally someone who does NOT have the time to go in search of the items they love. Do I sell everything cheap? No, I don’t. I try to charge enough to cover the separation pangs I’ll feel when the item is gone. But I am lucky in that a good amount of people enjoy the items I find for them and are happy to pay me to continue searching for them as they cannot do it themselves.For this, you call me (and the many fine vintage dealers out there) a scavenger? Hardly sporting.


  7. Anonymous, as a current university student I buy vintage clothing. Sure, I can’t afford to buy a million dresses or a million vintage patterns at the prices I see most of them at today, but it’s taught me to be selective and only buy things that I really want or would actually wear/use. I make my own clothes and buy second hand because it’s fun, much more exciting when I find something I do love, and it’s more ethical – a form of recyling and less supportive of sweatshops. Of course some patterns/clothes I would never buy because of the price, so I don’t, but there you go. The clothes/patterns I do have I love and use often, and thus that makes them value for money, albeit they may have not always been entirely cheap at the initial purchase. The best way to protest against prices you do not like is to not pay them and forego the product, easy enough. You obviously have patterns you like and make good quality clothes that you love anyway, which is terrific and I suppose all that matters in the end.


  8. Anon at 8:08, you have to realize that when we were wearing vintage 50s and 60s clothes in the 1980s (Yes, I was buying and wearing vintage 20 years ago, also), those clothes were only 20-30 years old. That’s why they were so cheap and abundant. If you want to wear 20-30 year old clothes from the 70s and 80s now, there’s tons of it at yard sales. And it’s cheap because most vintage clothing dealers do not want stuff from the 70s and 80s. In another 20 years, that stuff from the 70s and 80s will be as expensive (adjusting for inflation) as the stuff from the 50s and 60s is now. If you’re still looking for 50s and 60s pieces now, those pieces are much older and the supply is smaller than they were in ths 1980s because people throw old stuff away. It would be like trying to buy clothes from the 1930s and 1940s in the 1980s. I bet you didn’t find that stuff for cheap back then, because I sure didn’t.


  9. Perhaps someone mentioned this, but there were so many comments, I couldn’t read them all. And let me also comment that this is my personal opinion and you may not agree, but….I don’t mind paying a high price for a vintage pattern I really want. What really irks me, particularly on eBay, is when someone lists a pattern and then they are asking $5, $6 or more to ship the pattern. I happen to know that it costs less than $1 to ship a pattern via 1st class mail and about $4 for priority mail, so where do some of these people get off trying to list paterns this way? I’ve often passed on a nice pattern because I felt people were being less than honest with their shipping fees…I’d rather they start the bidding at $15 and charge a buck or two to ship.


  10. I happen to know that it costs less than $1 to ship a pattern via 1st class mail Actually a 3 or 4 ounces pattern costs about $1.50-$2.00 to ship now depending on how much packaging material your seller uses.I agree that $5 or $6 is too much to ship.


  11. This post has nothing to do with the price of vintage patterns………I’ve been pondering the Donald Trump comment about how he brags that he never pays retail, even in a department store.I come from a bank/brokerage background and I’ll tell you the reason the rich can negotiate fees and prices…..it’s because they are rich and the store/dealer/broker/car store/bank, etc, wants to keep them as a customer and wants the rich guys to refer his/her friends.If a business can boast that they have Donald Trump and friends as customers then how much more likely are they to start picking up even more customers. (Like in England when a business can state the Queen shops in their establishment)Yes, many items are negotiable, but out in the business world you’d better already have pots of money if you want to negotiate, otherwise you’ll just get in line and pay the going rate. Ask me how I know…………..


  12. PS. Unless you are in the market right now for a large SUV or truck. Right now the dealers will practically give one away to anyone who will take the vehicle off their hands.


  13. I love this intelligent discussion you started and the details of economics being openly discussed are very interesting and informative. I am an artist, striving to price my efforts in such a way that I can live from them, as plumbers and dentists live off theirs.I am interested in how one makes enough to live on, following a passion.This post is highly informative, as are the comments people have left.


  14. Wonderfully enlightening conversation. I have spent over 8 hours of my day cataloging old patterns for my wife, and honestly think that any human who spends this much time to preserve a pattern and re-enter it into the market place is doing a historically significant duty . I don’t feel so alone knowing that others dredge through rat feces to bring a vintage pattern “back from the dead” kudos to you !


  15. Hi, I sell vintage patterns on eBay for anywhere from 2 cents per pattern up to about 80 dollars, depending on the pattern. I spend Thursday, Friday and Saturday scouring Estate Sales and Garage Sales and yes it does take a lot of time, energy and gas. It also takes time to check the patterns and scan them and list them, but I really do love it. My hope is to get more of my patterns listed so I can eventually start making money because, even though I may sell a $50 pattern once in a while, most of my patterns are of the $5 variety, and eBay had gotten greedier and greedier with its fees and percentages. Just a short note about digging through nasty sheds and garages: Being a pattern seller myself I can appreciate that patterns are hard to find, however, I am disgusted by anyone who would sell patterns that had been littered with rat poo or roach carcasses. I think that is disgusting, revolting, and downright dangerous. I walk away from huge pattern stashes that are not clean. I also buy vintage patterns eBay and I pray I’ve never bought from rat lady because it sounds as if it could be an unhealthy purchase. EW!


  16. SHIPPING COSTS FOR REGULAR SIZE SMALL FORMAT PATTERNS WEIGHING 5-6 OUNCES:$2.07 (Not including price of envelope and other packing materials such as plastic sleeve.)”Package” postage is charged when seller uses cardboard backing or unbendable envelope.If you don’t care whether or not your priceless vintage pattern is bent, folded, crushed, etc… then ask the eBay seller to slap the sucker in a paper envelope and save yourself about a dollar. Most sellers of vintage patterns are really nice folks.As for the boobs charging 5-6 bucks shipping on a pattern, they won’t last long – they’ll either be suspended by eBay (who does NOT allow excessive shipping) or they’ll just disappear. When no one buys their stuff they’ll scratch their heads and fade away… LOL


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