Tips for collecting vintage hats

Tips for selling vintage hats on line

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Tips for Buying Hats Online

(c) 2012 Brenda Grantland, updated 11/19/2012

Vintage hat collectors are in heaven these days -- if they have enough spending money left to invest. The recession forced many vintage clothing shops and antique stores to close their doors, and many began selling on line.  As a result, amazingly wonderful vintage hats by famous milliners and/or expensive stores are turning up online, sometimes offered with fixed prices or starting bids at or below yard sale prices.  Sometimes no one else bids against you, and you can pick up hats for the opening bid price.  Vintage hats were selling for rock bottom prices from June through the fall of 2011. Prices in general have climbed significantly beginning in the spring of 2012, but hats from the top collectible milliners often bring hundreds of dollars each. Still, a savvy collector who shops diligently can pick up great hats at amazing bargains.

It's such a great opportunity that we really can't afford not to buy now while the prices are still going up.  But we have to be careful. Here are our tips for buying on line:

1. Do some research and know what you are looking for before you place a bid. Finding the astounding gems takes careful scrutiny and research. Find out the relative prominence of the milliner or store label. It helps to know in advance which milliner labels and styles you want to collect - then you can do a word search for those terms.  Browse the Hatatorium gallery albums on Styles, Milliners and Materials to learn the different terms you'll need to know.  For more detail, get the Hatatorium ebook.

2. Spend your money wisely. Don't try to buy up a hat collection all at once, or you'll end up with a closet full of mediocre hats and just a few great ones. Spread your purchases out over months, years (or make a of collecting as many of us do) Troll through the hats listed on line and do it frequently.  Expect to spend some time culling through lots of hats you don't like before you find the gems you deserve. 

3.  Do word searches for the styles, milliners and/or materials that interest you, and save all the ones you like to a Watch List (eBay) or Favorites List (Etsy).  Often novice hat sellers will classify the hat in the wrong era category, and will describe it as a "rockabilly steampunk goth shabby chic fascinator topper chapeau" when it is a beret or fedora. They may misspell the milliner's name - Schaparelli instead of Schiaparelli for example - so your word search will not find it. Whenever a combination of errors like that occurs, a great hat can slip entirely under the radar and attract no other bidders, allowing you to buy the hat for the minimum bid which may be 1/10 of its value.  Finding those misplaced gems takes a lot of looking. You have to browse the categories and sift through hundreds or even thousands of listings.
4.  Scrutinize the pictures, looking for stains, discoloration, moth holes, missing decorations, torn veils, etc.  Carefully read everything the seller discloses about the hat.  Beware of stains.  You can clean the dust off but you generally cannot remove stains, and you may never be able to get rid of a bad odor.  If it is misshapen, maybe you can reshape it. The Hatatorium book gives a number of tips for cleaning and restoring vintage hats. Once armed with a few restoration skills you will be more comfortable taking a chance on a hat that needs a little work.

5. Does it fit?  Since you can't try it on, the only way to know if it would fit is to know the inner circumference. Unfortunately most sellers don't list that and you have to email them to ask.  Sometimes the seller will list the diameter but not the circumference.  Diameter is not enough to determine whether the hat would fit.  Heads are not round but oval, and hats are bendable.  The diameter will vary depending on where you measure.

6.  Scrutinize the seller.  Does the listing say "no returns."  That is a bad sign, but not necessarily a deal killer.  Check in the seller info box on the right of the listing to see what the seller's positive feedback ranking is, and check the figure next to the star.  That number represents the number of feed backs the person has gotten on EBay.  If the number is low (say less than 20) then a 100% positive rating might not mean much because the seller is new to Ebay.  Fortunately, if you purchase with Paypal (I highly recommend that you do) you can rely on the Paypal guarantee to get your money back if the hat is not as described and/or depicted in the pictures.

7.  Sometimes the hat will arrive damaged from being stuffed into a box smaller than the hat, or even an envelope. Sometimes it will have a horrendous odor or other undisclosed defect.  This is maddening when it happens, but don't let it ruin your day. Write the seller and ask for your money back. File a claim if they refuse to give your money back. Etsy and eBay are usually very quick to resolve any claims. If you are careful in scrutinizing the sellers, this doesn't happen often.

8. Leave honest feedback. If you had a good experience with the seller, save them to your favorites list, and check their stores again regularly for other bargains.  Ongoing sales relationships with eBay and Etsy sellers often turn into friendships. That's how the co-authors of Hatatorium met.