Sunday, January 10, 2010
These shirts here? I'm gonna wear them of course!
There are times when I walk into the thrift store and just hit the lottery. Such was the case about two years ago, when I was searching through the men's shirts section of a local Goodwill store. As I combed through the shirt racks, I happened across a dozen identical classic dress shirts. Now I am hardly a fashion expert, but these shirts set off an alarm bell in my head. They were vintage silk dress shirts made by a defunct shirt manufacturer called "Sulka & Co". The collar label appeared very old and elegant and listed four major cities: New York, Chicago, Paris and London. The shirts had the true look of the fifties cosmopolitan style; pleated at the wrist, long tail in the back. Style you just don't see in today's dress shirts. They looked like a shirt the guys in that Showtime drama, "Madmen" would wear to the office. Adding further to my interest, the shirts all had their original tags still attached. These things had never been worn! I surmised they came from a long closed tailor/tuxedo type shop. But despite my radar going off initially, I decided to leave the store without them. I did not trust my instincts when it came to vintage fashion.
Later that day when I arrived home, I looked up "Sulka" shirts and had a huge surprise: they were a highly sought after shirt. I let out a Homer Simpson, "Dohhh!" I spent the rest of the evening grumbling to myself that I should have scooped them up. I decided I would return to the thrift store the following day and grab all the shirts...provided someone hadn't already bought them all !
The next day I raced down to the thrift store repeating a mantra to myself as I drove, "Please be there, please be there" followed by an occasional, "How can I have been be so stupid?!" When I arrived, I raced into the thrift store, making a direct B-line to the racks. I looked anxiously up and down the racks. Lo and behold, they were still all there hanging in a neat row! I folded them over my arm and headed to the cashier. Amazingly, dozens of people had passed those shirts in the 24 hours since I last looked at them. Yet no one figured out they were worth big money! As I stood in line with my find, a little old lady looked at me curiously. I knew it was coming: the nosey question. "Excuse me sir" she began, " May I ask what are you going to do with all those shirts?" Now you can call me paranoid, but I don't like clueing people into what I am doing... even a little old lady! What if she decided to get into Ebay like me? Yipes, competition! I looked at her with a slightly annoyed expression and replied," I am going to wear them". "Oh, well that's a lot of shirts" she said with a look of bewilderment. I quickly shot back, " I don't like doing wash, so I buy multiples". This seemed to satisfy her and amuse the cashier who knew better.
Once home, I hung up my new found inventory. I took multiple pictures, showing the label, attached tags and the pleats. The shirts were all the same size, making it very easy to re-list. I posted them periodically over a year, mostly during the fall and winter months since they were long sleeve. I later read an article lamenting the fact that you can not find quality, high-end dress shirts anymore. Most shirts now come from China and other low wage foreign sweatshops, forcing companies like Sulka out of business.
This would explain why my shirts sold so well and turned out to be the gift that kept on giving. I paid $4 for each one and my average sale was around $35 per shirt. Re-listing after each sale was a breeze too, as the shirts were all identical in size and style. So I made approximately $420 on a $48 investment, a real Thrift store moneymaker!
Although it can be tedious sometimes, it is worth going through the hundreds of shirts at the thrift store, you may come across your next inventory bonanza!
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