Consigning Your Clothes: What You Need to Know

I'm not totally sure why the phenomenon's labeled "spring cleaning." Personally, it's the dead of winter that turns me sartorially stir-crazy, making me want to start the new year with a new closet, too. Once that happens -- it's like a switch -- I start step one of the process: editing out the things I'm really not wearing, in hopes of turning them into cash via consignment.

Here's what I've learned about how to do that most effectively (and most effortlessly, since it should be fun, too):

Pick the items in your closet that are currently in-season. Most stores will only accept weather-appropriate garments anyway. No linen in December, no fur in July.

Remember that labels matter. Maybe your American Apparel sweater looks a little fresher to you than that Theory one. But people get more excited about designer labels, so consignment shops are more inclined to buy them.

Inspect everything for snags, stains, pilling, etc. Quality is WAY more important than you might imagine. Even if you know no one's ever noticed that millimeter-sized hole in the armpit of an otherwise-perfect cashmere sweater, it doesn't matter. The store buyers are always meticulous. Get it fixed if you can, but don't bother trying to sell it if you can't.

Call shops to ask what they're looking for specifically. Beyond just in-season items, some stores will pay a heavy premium for things that seem to be selling really well. (Right now at most Crossroads stores, that's waxed jeans, equestrian boots and trench coats.)

Also ask what they're not buying. Then you won't waste time and energy cleaning up clothes that they're not likely to accept anyway.

Launder or dry clean all clothes you plan on taking to the store. Even if you don't think you need to.

And have your shoes spiffed up at the cobbler. They'll be way more likely to sell.

Now your consignment options are ready. Next up:

Contact shops to ask if they take selling appointments and if they recommend making one. Some do, some don't. But why wait in line if you could've avoided it? (Or, if they're walk-ins only, ask about the least busy times to come in.)

Make sure you fully understand their policies. There's a difference between consignment stores and buy-sell-trade ones, for example, but many people bandy the word "consignment" around for both. At a buy-sell-trade place, you get money up front, rather than once your item sells (like you would at a consignment shop). Buy-sell-trades will give you less cash up front, but it's guaranteed cash. Consignment stores pay more-but only if the item sells, and if it doesn't, you get nothing. So picking a method that's right for you and your stuff depends on how much you're willing to gamble that those items will sell.

Know standard policies. Fifty percent of the final selling price is a pretty decent cut for consignment; 35 percent of sticker price is fairly typical for a buy-sell-trade place.

Once you've sold what you can sell, remember one thing:

Don't forget to keep your receipt for anything consigned instead of sold on the spot. You might need it later to sort out any mix-ups the store has about what they owe you.

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