When you’ve trolled vintage shops and eBay, rifled through your grandparents’ attics and combed the racks at Goodwill, you may think you’ve explored all the options for procuring vintage duds. But hitting an old-fashioned, off-line auction can be a great way to score designer pieces in near perfect condition.
While you can sometimes find clothing as part of a larger auction or estate sale, Karen Augusta of Augusta Auctions has the only American auction house devoted solely to antique clothing and textiles. Augusta knows her stuff. She’s been in the business for 40 years and is a costume and textile appraiser for Antiques Roadshow. Generally, 50-75% of what she sells are museum deaccessions â€” items that a museum is purging from its permanent collection â€” so they range from iconic pieces like a 1970s Yves Saint Laurent gown to rare collectors items, like an 18th century waistcoat.
While auctions are old hat to her, she acknowledges that they can seem intimidating. Television shows convince us that we could reach up to scratch an ear and end up in the hole for six figures. Or we may fear getting caught up in the moment and bidding our life-savings on a whim.
The former, Augusta assures us, won’t happen. But she advises some pre-show homework to avoid the latter: Get a copy of the catalog â€” many are available online â€” and attend the preview day when items are available for up-close viewing.
â€œWrite down everything you like and pick out the things you love,â€ she said. â€œSet a price and don’t go above that.â€
On the day of the auction, arrive early so you can register to bid. If you can’t make it, you can often place an absentee bid with the auction house. You indicate the maximum amount you’re willing to pay for an item, much like placing your maximum bid on eBay.
A buyer’s premium – often around 10% â€” is added to the bid price to determine the total purchase price. It’s important to factor this into your bidding while being honest about what you can’t live without.
â€œOne thing that happens is that people stop bidding too early on something they really love and then to make up for it they overbid on something they only like,â€ she said.. â€œThey end up buying the B-quality thing and missing the A-quality thing.â€
â€œPeople get too emotionally invested in auctions,â€ she said. â€œIf you want it, you be the one who has their hand up the longest. That’s all.â€
*Augusta’s next auctions are scheduled for September 10, 2009 in Sturbridge, MA and November 4, 2009 in New York City.
Top to Bottom:
Thea Porter Hostess Gown, 1970s
Souper Paper Dress & Mailr, Mid 1960s
Black Battenburg Lace Evening Dress, Germany, c. 1912
Metallic & Silk Brocade Chasuble, c. 1720
Rolling Stones Road Crew Coveralls, 1980s
Photos: Augusta Auctions