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It’s official: second-hand is sexy.
Endorsement from fashion icons such as supermodel Kate Moss and top stylist Bay Garnett has helped thrift and charity shop fashion to take hold in the high street. Here we look at how you can make a tidy profit from vintage shoes.
While the perfect retro frock is one thing, buying a contemporary pair of shoes to go with it is quite another. After all, hand-me-down footwear can’t be washed like an old blouse or dry-cleaned like a coat, and is often imprinted with the shape of the wearer’s foot.
But although second-hand shoes have not been at the centre of the current retro revival, our new-found interest in the fashions worn by previous generations has created an opportunity for collectors.
“Vintage shoes are an untapped market because they are the one area of the second-hand clothes market that people are still wary of,” says Caroline Cox, fashion expert and author of Stiletto, a study of the most seductive shoe in history.
There has never been a better time to start collecting vintage shoes and dip your toes into the vintage shoe market.
Although you might not trip over anything like the scarlet satin, rhinestone-studded Ferragamo stilettos once worn by Marilyn Monroe and sold by Christie’s in New York for more than $48,500 (£25,500), there’s still money to be made in this market.
Shoes also trade well. Pairs by Christian Louboutin, with their iconic red soles, typically achieve 64% of their original price.
A £5 pair of seventies stilettos from Oxfam in reasonable condition can fetch £50 in a specialist vintage clothing and fashion shop, or if sold online.
An original pair of 1970s shoes from the British designer Terry de Havilland could fetch between £400 and £500.
A huge collection of more than 330 pairs of vintage shoes amassed by a man from Mansfield recently sold for more than £3,500.
The shoes, made for stores in America, were sold in pairs of eight and a 1950’s lizard skin peep-toe shoe, manufactured for fashion brand Palizzio of New York, was a notable design. Some were from the 1930’s and 1950’s.
Sara Pope is a collector and owner of around 100 pairs of shoes, who’s also studying footwear design at Cordwainers at the London College of Fashion – a joint initiative between the college and the long-established livery company.
Ms Pope holds regular shoe sale parties at her home, with prices starting from £20 and rising to as much as £80, depending on the design and quality of the craftsmanship.
One pair, black with hand-painted flowers, picked up for £2 in a charity shop, recently sold for £30.
“I don’t go for anything overly fashionable or a particular designer,” says Ms Pope. “I just look for beautiful, soft leather and something that makes the foot look good.”
As a vintage shoe collector, she sticks to set rules: never pay more than £40 and don’t buy anything too worn or battered. “The older and more roughed up a shoe is, the more it reminds you that it has been worn by someone else,” she adds.
Would-be collectors who don’t have Ms Pope’s knowledge of the market are well advised to start by choosing an area to specialise in. This might be a particular decade, designer or category, such as shoes worn by actresses in films.
In the latter case, the ‘Holy Grail’ for collectors must be the famous ruby-red slippers worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz, which made $660,000 (then around £412,000) when sold at auction in 2000.
Ms Cox says that among more affordable collectables worth searching out are 1970s wedgies, stilettos and – with their unmistakable note of Latin passion – tango shoes. Alternatively, if you are prepared to hunt high and low for bargains and have the cash to spare, you could look out for designers such as Roger Vivier, whose extravagant 1960s and 1970s creations earned him the title ‘The Fragonard of the shoe’, and Charles Jourdan, whose family firm designed for Dior from the late 1950s.
“Don’t forget the legendary Manolo Blahnik, either,” she continues. “His exquisite footwear turned him into a style icon when his designs were worn by the actress Sarah Jessica Parker in the hit TV show Sex and the City. The Parisian designer Stephane Kélian is another name to look out for.”
Whether it’s ballet pumps or scary stilettos, once you’ve decided what to concentrate on, you’ll need to do your homework. Learn as much as you can about your target shoe – only then will you recognise the ones that are a little different and therefore more likely to bring in extra value.
Given that people have long disposed of their old shoes, you can expect to find unwanted footwear in all sorts of places. Happy hunting grounds are charity shops, car boot sales, attics and even the back of your mum’s wardrobe.
If you look long and hard enough, designer shoes can be picked up in charity shops for just a few pounds.
An original 1970s pair of Terry de Havilland shoes can sell for up to £500, while a pair of satin stilettos worn by Marilyn Monroe sold for £25,000 in the late 1990s.
The best places to sell your shoes are largely online.
Here are some sites you can use to jump start your next vintage shoe career. You can also start your own website to sell your stuff. Read our article on starting your own website to find out how. Get shopping—and selling!
Check out eBay, where you’ll get an idea of prices currently being paid for vintage shoes and which types are most popular.
Keep a close eye on the fashion press, too, to see where the style trends are heading.
Retrodress is an American site featuring a range of shoes from the fifties onwards, including designs from Charles Jourdan and Manolo Blahnik.
Many Oxfam shops are clued-up on the value of vintage fashion including shoes so you might not get the best bargains here. But do check out any charity shops in your area as many of the smaller ones are manned by people who aren’t so knowledgeable so you could pick up a bargain there.
FSJ Vintage Shoes have a wide range of authentic vintage high heels, vintage boots, trainers and sandals of 1920’s, 1930’s, and 1940’s old time shoes. Choose from retro t-straps, Mary Jane, slingbacks, platforms, and retro ankle boots, deco design, and homefront homage.
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