Tips for collectors

Tips for buying hats on-line

If you sell hats and/or other vintage items, and have standards as high as those we espouse on this page, you should be selling in the HATATORIUM EMPORIUM, our new exclusive marketplace for vintage hats, fashions & accessories.
Click here to find out how to apply. 

The most frequently misused terms in on-line hat listings:

Shabby chic - is not  a hat term. It's a style of interior decorating with  wood furniture that is intentionally beat up or "distressed" to make it look old, teamed with floral sofas and drapes.  Hat sellers may be referring to the floral pattern when they call a hat "shabby chic" but because of the "intentionally distressed" connotations, it is not a flattering term for a hat.

Rockabilly - is a modern revival of 1950s style  music (like Elvis). There is also a rockabilly movement among youth who like to dress up in an amalgam of 1940s and 1950s bobby-soxer vintage with a punk twist  (exaggerated hairdos, makeup and tattoos). Hat collectors who are not from this culture will not recognize the term.

Steampunk, like rockabilly, is a modern term for a movement, a science fiction version of the 19th century. Steampunks take vintage hats (often top hats, derbies and military style hats) and add watches, goggles, gears, chains and feathers to it to make it a steampunk hat. Without the stuff added, a vintage hat is not "steampunk."

Madmen - Madmen is a t.v. show. Although it may describe the approximate era of the hat to buyers who watch the show, it won't mean anything to others.

Titanic or Edwardian - The movie Titanic used real Edwardian hats - huge wide brimmed hats with lots of flowers and feathers and birds and ribbons. The reign of King Edward (the Edwardian era) ran from 1901 - 1910. But just because it has some ostrich plumes doesn't make it Edwardian - wide brim hats with feathers were worn in every era.

Flapper - is misused so often it's funny. One recent listing described a hat as "1940s flapper." Flappers were only around in the 1920s. The cloche is most often associated with the 1920s, but there were other types of hats in the 1920s, and cloches were popular for several decades.  A lot of the cloches labeled "flapper" are from the 1960s. If the hat is a cloche, it's better to call it a cloche. Cloche collectors will likely look for "cloche" instead of "flapper" though it doesn't hurt to include flapper as a key word too.

Chapeau - is just French for "hat". Unless it is a French hat, technically it isn't a chapeau.

Fascinator is the most frequently misused hat term on eBay. Novice sellers seem to think "fascinator" means a hat that is arty or fascinating. Hat books published before 1999 didn't use the term, or defined it as a "scarf-like covering worn around the head and shoulders." In the past decade it has come to have a very specialized meaning: a head piece made of feathers and trims without a solid hat body. Although the trims may sit on a tiny base, generally there is no solid base - they just fasten to the hair with a comb or a head band. The 1960s  had a similar style - the "veil hat" or "whimsy." Whimsies and fascinators are not the same thing.

Bird cage hat: is a newly coined term for whimsies. Whimsies or "veil hats" are made of trims attached to veils (often veils that cover the whole head) without a solid hat body. They were not called bird cage hats in the 1960s when they were in style. The term "bird cage veil" originated in the 1990s, to describe the veil on a 1960s style whimsy. When a hat has a veil only on the front, that is not a bird cage veil.

Pillbox: a pillbox is a brimless hat comprised of a cylinder with straight sides and a flat top.  If it has a brim it is not a pillbox. If it has a rounded top or sides that are not strictly vertical, it is not a pillbox.

Topper: is a nickname for a top hat. Sellers often erroneously apply it as a generic term for "hat." Unless it is shaped like a top hat, it is not a topper.

We linked each of these  misused terms to search results for the term on eBay. Click them to see how often the terms are misused. Collectors use word searches to find the styles they collect. Terms used incorrectly are like spam - they clog up the search results with irrelevant entries we have to plow through to find what we're looking for. If you want collectors to find your hat, use the right terms.

If you don't know the right term, this website and the Hatatorium ebook are here to help.
Tips for Selling Hats On-line

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

Copyright notice: This website and the accompanying eBook, Hatatorium: An Essential Guide for Hat Collectors, are copyrighted and may not be reproduced, distributed, copied, or excerpted without the written permission of the authors. Copyrights to the images in the Guest Albums are held by the owner of each album, and permission to use the images in any manner must be obtained from that person. All other content on this website is copyrighted by Brenda Grantland.

Some vintage hats sell online for hundreds of dollars each, but that doesn't mean your hat is worth that much, even if it is made by the same milliner.  Great hat designs have intrinsic artistic qualities that are very subjective. It often takes knowledge of the vintage collectible hat market to spot a really valuable collectible hat from among a group of beautiful but ordinary hats.

A novice seller may luck out and sell a really great hat on-line for big bucks. But to attain high resale prices consistently, seller has to know what they are doing when they buy hats for resale.

Whenever you see a hat sell for great price, note the seller. A highly regarded seller has a reputation that collectors know they can bank upon, because they only sell merchandise of the highest quality. We're willing to pay a premium for their expertise in selecting hats for resale - their reputation gives us an assurance of quality. 

Buying collectible hats from a novice seller is a gamble, and collectors are naturally unwilling to pay as much for a hat from a novice seller. There are many unknowns: Is the hat as described? Did the seller misjudge the quality or materials? Will they package it right? Will the sale fall through, requiring a return and refund?

Because collectors can't visually inspect a hat, smell it to detect mildew, smoke or other odors, or try it on, we have to rely on the seller's thoroughness, truthfulness and expertise to determine whether to buy or bid on a hat.

As an avid collector, I do a lot of shopping on eBay, Etsy and other internet marketplaces. Every day I see novice sellers make the same mistakes that virtually guarantee their hats will not sell for their fair value, or which will likely result in stressful disputes, returns and claims.

Here are my tips to help novice sellers get fair prices and build a loyal  following of repeat customers.

1. Remember the golden rule. From the first sale you are building your reputation. Consistent positive feedback over an extended period of time is the key to building customer confidence. If your past feedback record is bad, or your listing doesn't give enough information to make a well informed decision, collectors will only buy from you as a gamble - if they believe they may get a great bargain. 

Since buyers can't inspect and try on the hat, we have to rely on your listing to provide accurate and thorough information about the condition, size, age, and any other information we need to make a decision. If you aren't willing or able to do that, most serious collectors will pass you by. You might have better results selling your hats at a yard sale where people can inspect and try on the hats. 

If you don't know how to price a hat, do your research before you list. If you are selling it at an auction, understand that the minimum bid you set and the shipping costs you state in your listing will be enforced. If only one person bids and they get your hat for less than what you think it is worth, you have to honor that sale.

Treat people the way you would like to be treated and be reasonable or you won't have a good feedback score.

2. Inspect the hat thoroughly and spruce it up before photographing it.  Wipe off the dust from velvet, felt or straw hats with a lint brush, a slightly dampened sponge, or a tape roll lint remover (but don't get the tape near feathers!)  While you're wiping it down, inspect it. Make note of any damage or defects. You will need to disclose all visible defects including moth nicks, missing or loose trims, broken stitches, holes in veils, fading, stains, bad shaping and bad odor. When you're photographing the hat, photograph the defects too, so the buyer can make an informed decision to buy the hat defects and all. Also while you're inspecting and photographing the hat, take measurements. Note the inner circumference of the hat.

3.  Take good pictures.  Bad pictures are your worst enemy. If your pictures don't present the hat in its best light, or don't show enough detail about the hat to make out its shape, materials and its special features, then you won't attract enough customers to sell it for what it is worth. Taking hat pictures is much more difficult than taking snapshot portraits or outdoor scenery, and many sellers just don't know how. The Hatatorium eBook has a chapter on how to stage and photograph hats - the ebook is worth the investment for that chapter alone.

4. Write a truthful, accurate and thorough description.  Don't puff and say it is "awesome" if it isn't.  Using your notes from your inspection, fairly and accurately describe any defects that you need to disclose.

5.  Use the right terminology.  If you describe a vintage hat with a long string of incorrect terms, you are signalling to buyers that you are a novice and that you have not done your homework. That will put doubts in collectors minds about your reliability that will cause many to not look any further at your listing.

Many novice vintage hat sellers who don't know the right terms to describe the hat look on eBay to see what other sellers call it or just throw terms out there even though they are unsure what they mean. Bad mistake! eBay sellers are often novices too and very often they are wrong. If you don't know the proper term for the style or the age of the hat, describe it in generic terms - wide brimmed, floppy brimmed, felt, straw, etc.  But if you want to get what your hat is worth, do some research and tell collectors what they need to know to make them want to bid higher to buy your hat. The Hatatorium gallery is a good starting point for research, but if you plan to sell more than one or two hats, it would be worth the investment to buy the eBook.

6.  State the size of the hat in your listing. If there is a size tag, state that, but if not, measure the inner circumference with a tape measure and state it in inches/centimeters - whichever is the standard unit of measurement of your country. Include the inner circumference measurement prominently in the listing. If you want to measure the height of the crown or width of the brim in diameter, that's fine, but stating the diameter "across the head hole" - even if you "measure two ways" - is not enough for the buyer to determine whether it will fit. You cannot compute the inner circumference of a hat from the diameter  taken in two places because hats are ovals and they are flexible and sometimes stretchy. If a hat is 1/4" too small or too large it will not fit - so saying the inner circumference is about "20 - 21" is not helpful. If you do not want to bother measuring accurately, then you should not list on line. Some styles of hats are "adjustable" (some even have tags saying that) or sit perched on the head, or are stretchy with elastic in the band. Those are the only hats that should ever be described as one size fits all. Felt, leather or straw hats that fit down around the head are not "one size fits all."

7.  List the names on any labels in the hat  It may be that your hat was created by a famous milliner, which substantially increases the value of the hat.  Some hat collectors limit their collections to particular milliners, and will do a word search only for the milliner's name. If your hat doesn't come up in their word search you will miss your most valuable customers.  Note, if the hat is in a box with a logo on it, that doesn't mean the hat is from that box, so don't rely on the hat box as any evidence of a hat's maker. In fact, if a hat box has a logo on it, you can be sure the hat from that box would have a label too. Most vintage hats will not have a label - that doesn't mean they aren't great hats. The big name on a label might help sell a hat but a mediocre hat with a big name label might not sell at all, and certainly won't sell for as much as a great hat with no label.

8. Categorize the hat in the correct era.  Someone with no background in vintage hats may think a hat is "Edwardian" or "Victorian" or "roaring 20s" if it looks old -- i.e. the style is unfamiliar and maybe the hat is in deteriorated shape. To determine what era a hat is from takes some effort and research.  The Hatatorium eBook is a good starting point, and often will instantly answer your questions. Some styles span many decades and it is harder to tell those from different decades apart. In the case of those ambiguous styles, you may need to do follow up research on clues you find from the methodology used to make the hat, the materials, and information listed on the labels in the hat.  The eBook has chapters devoted to each of these subjects.

9.  Do your homework before you set your prices.  How much to ask for a hat is a very difficult question. Vintage hats change hands every day, and the prices vary greatly. Even the most  experienced collector can only estimate what a particular hat is worth.  If you're setting a fixed price for your hat on Etsy, or an eBay "Buy It Now" price, put yourself in the buyer's shoes and set a price you would be willing to pay for the hat knowing what you know about it, if you were collecting in the market you are selling it in. If you are brand new, then figure out what you're willing to part with the hat for (or what you paid for it at that yard sale last week), add enough money to make it worth your effort to list and ship it and your profit, and hope that it sells.  If it doesn't reduce the price and try again, or sell it at a yard sale.

When you list a hat in an eBay auction, you set a minimum price and perhaps a minimum reserve and hope the bidders will bid the hat up to what the hat is worth or more. Whether you will attract enough bidders to do that depends on the hat and how good your listing is in photographing and describing it, and on your reputation as a seller - and luck.  It takes at least two bidders bidding against each other to "bid the price up." Sometimes in the heat of passion several competing bidders bid the price up beyond the true value of the hat - but that doesn't happen often.

If you don't have a track record of successful sales and positive feedback, or you haven't taken good photos or described the hat well, you could end up with only one bidder, with the hat selling for the minimum bid.  If you set the minimum bid at $5.99 or even $.99, you have to follow through on the deal anyway.  Needless to say - trying to get the buyer to rescind the sale because you weren't happy with the price or getting mad and retaliating by shipping the hat improperly will only create a bad reputation which will haunt you in the future.

Shipping fees are set by the seller - so saving money on shipping is not a good excuse for packaging the hat improperly. Do your research before you state a shipping price - especially if you are offering free shipping. Postal rates recently went up, and the Postal Service and other shippers add extra charges for over-sized boxes even if they don't weigh much. You may have to buy a box - or even two - and cut them down to fit a wide brim hat. You will need shipping supplies - plastic pillows or bubble wrap, tissue paper, packaging tape, etc. You can save money on shipping supplies by using free USPS priority mail boxes, re-using boxes you already have or by using plastic dry cleaner bags or newspaper as stuffing (just be sure to protect the hat from newspaper ink by wrapping it in newspaper or a clean plastic).

10. Package the hat properly for shipment.  It is shocking how many hats arrive damaged because the seller stuffed it into a box smaller than the hat -- or even an envelope -- or put it in a box too flimsy to withstand the rigors of shipment. Hats are very fragile. Even if a hat is made of flexible straw or felt, bending the brim to fit it into a box for a trip that lasts several days means the hat arrives misshapen.  Straw, felt and velvet have memory.  Once dented, a hat remembers the dents. Although there are methods for reblocking or reshaping hats, some hats never completely recover on their own, and the cost of having them reblocked is more than the hat is worth. Even if you purchase insurance from the shipper, they will not honor a claim if you fail to package the merchandise properly and securely.