Shopping thrift stores, flea markets and estate sales can be overwhelming. With the sheer volume of stuff, how do you know where to start? How do you spot gems amid all the junk?
As a professional reseller who has been combing through thrift stores for the better part of 30 years, I can help. If you’re ready to cut your shopping time in half, score bigger bargains or walk away with brag-worthy finds you can flip for cash, read on.
From hard-to-find household items to resale money-makers, everything featured in my “Thrift Shop Like a Pro” series qualifies as a BOLO (“be on the lookout” for) item. When you find it, buy it!
Featured find: Vera Neumann textiles
Long before Vera Wang and Vera Bradley, another Vera was all the rage in fashion and home decor.
Vera Neumann was born in 1907 and attended the famed art and science academy The Cooper Union. She started her career as a fashion illustrator and eventually began designing textiles. Vera launched her namesake line of retail products in the 1940s.
Combining high design with low prices, Vera brought a fresh artistic sensibility to the masses. Every fabric design started life as an original painting — many of which are now part of New York City’s Museum of Modern Art and Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Though Vera’s iconic designs (and later, licensing empire) included hundreds of products, some are more common in the secondhand market than others. Today, thrift shoppers are most likely to find:
- Placemats and tablecloths
- Napkins and tea towels
- Bath towel sets
- Silk and rayon scarves
Why buy it?
I was drawn to Vera items before I knew they had any resale value. It’s hard not to notice — and immediately love — her wild floral designs, hypnotic geometric patterns and amazing use of color. Adding a Vera tablecloth or sheet set to your home brings a bit of joy and elevates everyday living.
If you’re interested in reselling for profit, vintage Vera is a hot commodity among midcentury enthusiasts.
On eBay, this seven-piece sheet and towel set recently sold for $145, and this pop-art-inspired dish towel sold for $101. Etsy sellers aren’t messing around, either. This Italian-made silk scarf is listed for a cool $250 (ahh, la dolce Vera).
Want to add some artistic oomph to your own home instead? Buy a vintage scarf or linen tea towel by Vera and frame it. You’ll have a unique, upcycled work of art for pennies on the dollar.
What to look for
Identifying authentic Vera pieces is simple because the mark is typically part of the overall design.
On most items — including scarves, towels, and napkins — look for a loosely scripted Vera “signature” at the bottom of the textile print. Scarves and other clothing items often feature a similarly branded sewn label.
There have been many variations of the Vera signature over the years, and those slight differences can help date a piece. For example, items that pair the classic signature with an image of a ladybug were produced from the early 1960s to 1976.
As with all fabric items, condition is king. Avoid pieces with staining, yellowing or fading.
If you’re reselling for a profit, look for:
- Full sets: Complete sets of bedroom, bathroom and kitchen linens command higher prices.
- Bold patterns: Across the entire product line, Vera’s geometric designs typically sell better than florals.
- Dresses: Vera dresses from the disco era are rare, and buyers will pay a premium for unique examples.
- The unusual: Fans are still discovering items that Vera designed or licensed.
Reissue alert: The licensing powerhouse Vera created is still going strong. Her designs have been reissued by Anthropologie, Target and other retailers around the world. Though pristine vintage pieces command higher resale prices, there’s a healthy market for contemporary versions, too.