Shopping Someone Else’s Closet

Featured image
East 67th Street.

Do you want to guess what the exploding trend in shopping is now?  Here’s a hint: It’s growing 21 times faster than all other retail segments. Remember the charity thrift shops that used to be dotted all over the UES? They were consigned to history when (big) for-profit players took over the luxury consignment market. YES, used clothing and bags, and bags, and bags.

Perhaps it was the rise of the “it” bag, the steadily rising costs of new clothing, or perhaps the new quest for sustainability? Over the years labels like Chanel, Hermes, and a host of others have become collectible, and their goods now change hands for big money. Donating luxury items to your favorite charity lost out to the notion that you could make a profit on your closet.

Maybe it’s time you joined the crowd that’s shopping for value and style without creating waste. But second hand stores? Sleek and sophisticated? Let’s take a look at some of New York’s toniest and smartest purveyors of second hand merchandise and luxury vintage, ahem, luxury resale.

A view of the downtown The RealReal store
The RealReal downtown store.

If you haven’t heard of The RealReal, it’s time to get real. The business started online in 2011. You need to join as a member to enter the website. Business took off and a stunning store was opened at the end of 2017. As a pop-up. It was such a success that more stores are now open on Madison Avenue, and in Los Angeles. As merchandise poured out of closets across the country, their business grew — offering handbags, clothing, watches, jewelry, home decor and more. The stores are always full of customers, and Wall Street loves them. The RealReal is going public with a valuation of $1.5 billion dollars. Yes, for real. The downtown and uptown stores are beautifully designed and welcoming spaces. Everything is authenticated by a professional team so you know you are buying the real thing.

A jewelry counter at The RealReal
The jewelry counter at the RealReal.

The Madison Avenue store just opened as a pop-up in the old Celine boutique. Chances are good that it will stay. The clever owners didn’t even rebuild the store. Why bother; it was Celine after all. A much smaller than the one in Soho, this location has a different mission. They carry a very small selection of bags, clothing and jewelry. Watches and jewelry are one of the fastest growing categories. When you look at the selection and you don’t see anything you fancy, a handy laptop lists everything that is on the site. What’s different here is that The RealReal is courting the consignors in a big way. The entire second floor is devoted to getting more of their neighbors to list merchandise and learn the thrills of the secondary market. Your old handbag might be worth more than you thought it was.

The ever changing display of clothing at the Realreal
The ever changing display.

Hiding under the staircase is a small display of clothing. The outfits change pretty much daily. Upstairs, if you are not consigning, you can have a personal shopper gather clothes for you to try on. Everything is arranged tastefully. Aside from the fact that everything is one of a kind, you would never know that the items in the store were second hand.

Bags displayed at the RealReal
Artfully displayed bags.

A selection of the best bags is artfully arranged. Chanel and Hermes are the most desired; but Celine, Vuitton, Gucci and many others are on display.

Women's clothing at the Realreal
A spare display of women’s clothing.

The clothing is definitely on the luxe side. Chanel, Gucci, Celine are very well represented. The RealReal even sells shoes.

Luxury clothing on display
A display of luxury clothing.

Since the selection is so small, it changes frequently, and tends towards day wear. Again, if you don’t see what you like, you can browse the website and have fully returnable items shipped to you to try on at home.

Bags on display at the Realreal
More investment bags.

The prices are not super cheap; they cost about 50% less than a new item. And the prices follow the trends. Celine bags and clothing had their prices raised when Phoebe Philo announced she was leaving the label. Interestingly, most of the people who consign and sell go on to use their proceeds to buy a new bag, giving the primary market — as luxury retailers are now known — a boost, too.

A video of bags at The RealReallReal
A video of bags.

The Madison Avenue store displays their bags beautifully, and offers a personalized service.

Clothing at The RealReal
Clothing on display at the RealReal in Soho.

The Soho location is a large airy space, with all categories of merchandise on display. Across the street from the Celine and Gucci boutiques the store looks like another luxury emporium — and it is. The RealReal Soho has all the labels you are looking for, and they also sell lots of clothing from designers that are not uber-luxury. All the clothes and shoes are one-of-a-kind, and come in the one size only, naturally.

Curated shopping at the RealReal.

The clothing is carefully merchandised. Clothing is displayed by trend. The displays change frequently. To make finding what you are looking for easier, the racks are then sorted by size. Bags and other accessories placed near the clothing help you put your look together.

Hermes bags for sale at The RealReal
Hermes bags for sale.

And of course there are designer bags. Wherever you go, Chanel and Hermes are top sellers. (Sorry to keep repeating these names, but they are a huge driving force in the resale business.) All luxury brands are represented, along with the emerging mid-priced bags that are so popular now. Wallets and other small leather goods are part of the mix. Jewelry and watches too.

Clothes at The RealReal downtown
Clothes arranged by size.

Everything in the store is on consignment. This means that the owner of the bag or dress gives it to The RealReal to sell for them — and gets a percentage of the sale price. Items in the store are never on sale, but they do go on sale on the website.

Men's clothing at The RealReal
Men’s casual clothing.

Men’s clothing and accessories are downstairs. There are sections for streetwear, casual sportswear and a few suits and jackets. The selection is small, but diverse.

Men's bags at The RealReal
A selection of men’s bags.

There is always a nice selection of bags, from Burberry to Hermes. Belts, sunglasses, sneakers and shoes, and even a luxury chess set are to be found. You never know what will turn up.

Covetable bags at The RealReal
Display tables with covetable bags.

The Louis Vuitton logo-ed shiny PVC bag at the back right of the table is from the new Virgil Abloh men’s collection. How did it end up here so quickly? So too the Fendi logo belt bag. Vintage pieces are also part of the fashion mix.

Shoes at The RealReal
Shoes get a garden view.

There is a good selection of designer shoes scattered about the store, and there are also racks of shoes displayed by size. The shoe area overlooks the outdoor garden. How many stores have their own cafe with garden access? And they don’t mind if you come to hang out.

The garden cafe at the RealReal
Enjoy the cafe with garden access.

The RealReal is a one-of-a-kind shopping experience. It’s a new world, and an attractive one. Bundle sustainability with a way to make some money out of your old purchases, and you have a winning business. At least, Wall Street thinks so.

 The RealReal, 870 Madison Avenue and 80 Wooster Street or

Vintage Vuitton clothing at WGA
The store is packed with finds.

What Goes Around Comes Around has been around since 1993. Known to its fans simply as WGA, it is one of the prime purveyors of luxury vintage in the country. The collection includes rare and unusual pieces that are at least 20 years old. Bags and lifestyle pieces can be newer. They just opened a store on Madison Avenue, which joins the Soho store and other locations around the country in offering one of a kind pieces. The new store is elegantly designed and the space draws you in. I love the Stephen Sprouse Louis Vuitton graphic graffiti top that hits your eyes as you enter the lower level.

Casual vintage clothing at WGA
Casual vintage clothing.

Casual looks and more daytime clothing fills the lower level. Vintage suitcases and trunks make you wish you could throw the convenience of a roller bag away. WGA loves pretty much anything with attitude. It is anti-fast-fashion at its glorious best.

Colorful bags on display at WGA
Colorful bags on display.

The store has been selling luxury bags for decades. They have a separate office that authenticates the bags using a proprietary three-time evaluation process. WGA buys bags from individuals as well as from other vintage sources. They own every piece.

Collectible bags on display
Collectible bags on display.

The bags downstairs hail from the likes of Vuitton, Dior, and Gucci, as well as others. Some of the bags are extremely collectible. The boutique also stocks a large selection of curated vintage Levis, and only Levis. Every pair is 20 years old, or older. WGA knows how to date Levi’s as well.  Stitching, marks, subtle changes in how the jeans were made inform serious collectors. Rare pieces can go for thousands of dollars. Strange the world of vintage, isn’t it?

The upper floor of the What Goes Around store
The upper floor is filled with light.

The elegant upstairs has more serious clothing, and features Chanel and Hermes accessories. There are cases full of Chanel jewelry and Hermes scarves, jewelry and lifestyle items. This is a vintage salon, where the precious relics are showcased with style. And isn’t it nice that vintage is sustainable, too?

Chanel clothing mixed with other designers for sale in NYC
Curated Chanel clothing.

There is a lot of Chanel clothing. Famously in its own retail stores, the brand never goes on sale. They were also one of the brands known for burning their excess inventory. Luckily customers preserved and passed on unique clothing. WGA likes to style it with items from other designers.

The salon like back room at WGA in NYC
The salon-like back room.

The back room is as comfortable as a living room. More curated looks are displayed around the room.

A case of Hermes bags for sale.
A large vitrine of Hermes bags.

There are of course, bags. Hermes in the back; and Chanel in the front.

An elegant display of clothing
An elegant display.

WGA owns a lot of Hermes clothing. Hermes scarves are framed to decorate their stores up and down town. The timeless clothing is extremely collectible. If you are looking for investment dressing, Chanel and Hermes are the labels to own, less affected by ever changing trends. Yes, this happens with vintage, too. A label or style that is worth a lot of money today can see its stock rise or fall as the tastes of vintage shoppers changes. Markets are never static.

Color grouped racks of clothing in NYC
Clothes are grouped by color.

There is plenty of evening wear upstairs. Tucked into the racks are designs by the vrai Yves Saint Laurent, Alaia, Fendi, and so many more labels.

Chanel accessories for sale mixed with other designers in NYC
Chanel accessories make a difference.

Since this is vintage, each piece is unique. At this level, clothing is never considered second hand. The pleasure and pain of the experience is the thrill of finding a piece you love that is your size.

Bags and clothing for sale at WGA
Bags and clothing downtown.

The downtown store was opened in the ’90s. The decor is funky meets posh. Hermes bags are a staple here, too.

Chanel bags and clothing in bright colors on display
Chanel is always in style.

The clothes have a younger feel in this spot. The downtown customer is into Chanel, but in a slightly younger way. Again clothes are grouped by color, and make an impact.

Vintage evening looks for sale in NY
Vintage evening looks.

The same designers are featured in both stores, as is the Hermes scarf decor. The looks on sale go from chic and sleek to fashionista cool.

Carefully curated looks of clothing at WGA
Carefully curated looks are a specialty.

You are more likely to find vintage Gaultier here, as well as boho peasant looks. Old denim jackets are available in normal thrift shops. Buy them at WGA and you know you have a vintage piece that has been authenticated. And the staff can explain why the piece is special.

Cool clothing at WGA for day
Cool daytime looks.

Every item in the store is there for a purpose, i.e. it is extremely special luxury vintage. The store also offers a shoppable archive; and works with the press and the film and stage world, renting pieces from their vast archive. Designers can make an appointment to visit and shop the off-site facility.

Men's clothing and Levi's at WGA
Men’s clothing and vintage Levi’s.

There is a men’s shop at the back that’s original to the era when WGA first opened. Vintage Levis take up a lot of the shelf space. The clothes are casual and include Hawaiian shirts, real vintage concert tees, varsity jackets, and a wide assortment of the ever-hip worn-in black leather motorcycle and aviator jackets.

What Goes Around Comes Around, 21 East 67th Street,  351 West Broadway, 45 main Street East Hampton or

Hermes bags at Rebag in NYC
Hermes bags at Rebag.

Rebag has a completely different business model. The five-year-old group has three locations in New York. Bags are their business. They too have a website you need to join to browse. Shelves chock-full of Hermes?  Chanel? The usual suspects? Of course. But the service they offer is a new take on the sharing economy.

Chanel bags at Rebag in NYC
Novelty Chanel bags.

Rebag only purchases your bags. This is not consignment.  When you sell the bag you are given a choice of either taking Rebag’s offer and walking away or a credit of a percentage of the bag’s value to be used within six months for another Rebag bag. The hook is that you can keep exchanging your bags and have a pretty much endless supply.

Handbags at Rebag
Handbags for days.

The handbags are all vetted before they are purchased from sellers. You can trade a bag in in 2 weeks, or any period of time before the six-month deadline. The bag you want to trade is vetted again for damage and wear before the trade in credit is confirmed. Voila, you have an endless supply of ever changing bags.

A wall of Hermes Bags
Yet another wall of Hermes bags.

If The RealReal has 9 million subscribers and has sold more than 8 million items, and if the shelves of stores in New York are packed with Hermes, Chanel, other top brands, how many bags are there in the world?  The concept of luxury consignment and luxury vintage started in Paris, and is still going strong. Going to London or Hong Kong? Berlin or Madrid? You will find stores there. Websites have proliferated in Europe, and some of them ship to the States. How big a business is this really? Pretty big. Chanel did over $11 billion in new bag sales in the last year and Vuitton over $15 billion.  That’s a lot of product kicking around. And if vintage and resale are truly cutting waste and recycling clothes and bags that’s an excellent solution, and a fashion statement for good.

Rebag, 575 Madison Avenue, 390 West Broadway, Westfild 185 Greenwich Street or

Barbara Hodes is the owner of NYC Private Shopping Tour, offering customized tours in New York and Brooklyn.

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