Determining The Value of Vintage Good Old Things

Emotional investments—trading money for sentimentality—are part of the value proposition of platforms like Depop.

By Christa Tarnovski
Illustration by Tina Tona

Like many of my culturally and financially savvy counterparts, I recently joined the Depop ranks, selling some of my most prized and gently worn material possessions to quirky Gen Z kids and thrifty Millennials across the United States. Sorry International friends, U.S. Shipping Only, for now. Months in, I’ve only sold a dozen or so items, and I by no means am an expert on the platform. However, while aimlessly scrolling the endless marketplace, I noticed—and thought long and hard about—the fact that prices on the platform are, more often than not, wildly subjective and ranging.

My inkling as to why is as follows: prices across the platform are not wholly informed just by material, quality, rareness, but also by sentimental value—a vector as intangible as it is deeply felt. I’ll even go so far as to say products possessing greater sentimental value, or at least those marketed as such, tend to sell faster and at a higher price because, in the eyes of potential recipients, they aren’t merely purchasing used garments, accessories, or objects. Rather, they are acquiring rarities with well-wrought stories through which the buyers’ perception of self and personal style is positively impacted simply through ownership.

Case in point: this $700 SWV x NIN crewneck. Yes, you read correctly, the front of the crewneck features SWV as in Sisters With Voices, the R&B vocal trio behind “Weak,” “Right Here,” and a number of other soulful chart-topping hits. And the back features NIN—Nine Inch Nails for the uninitiated—the industrial rock band behind the wildly popular and controversial hit “Closer.”  According to the crewneck’s seller, the crewneck is priced as such because it’s a test press.

“SWV did a Christian concert in Houston, TX. They were in high school [at the time]. The next day NIN was to have a show at the same venue. The distributor of clothes didn’t know the genres and thought he could apply both [groups]. These are rare because the venue denied the sale. They are now considered a test print of sorts.”

It goes without saying but the buyer expects that a fellow Depop user will grasp the object’s appeal and be willing to shell out hundreds of dollars. The seller was indeed correct because the piece sold for $699 and is no longer available for purchase.

For some reason, the rationale behind the listing and price isn’t completely outlandish to me, but I can’t tell if that’s due to the amount of time I’ve spent navigating the platform, or if I am open to shelling out hundreds of dollars for pre-loved objects with appealing stories. too. Or, as is often the case of vintage clothing: mysterious stains, mismatched buttons, and distressed patches—each uniqueness an emblem of previous ownership and care (or lack thereof).

Or, as is often the case of vintage clothing: mysterious stains, mismatched buttons, and distressed patches—each uniqueness an emblem of previous ownership and care (or lack thereof).

Why are we more likely to exchange money for objects that inspire some form of emotional feeling? Moreover, why are we more likely to do so for objects that aren’t even new? Perhaps purchasing new objects just doesn’t have the same appeal as it once did. Especially with sustainability messaging becoming more and more ubiquitous within the fashion industry and beyond. It becomes a moral judgment to buy vintage (or pre-loved) as well as a way to justify being a bit more human under capitalism. Personally, my shopping patterns have changed within the last 5 years or so. I’ve become much more thoughtful about my purchases, repairing and reviving older pieces and considering product lifetimes before making new purchases. To some degree, Depop shares in that mindset through its product, captions, and sellers.

Personal reasoning aside, the listing in question paired with the subjective pricing observation that surfaced earlier inspires a much broader and perhaps more applicable insight surrounding Depop and its function. Perhaps more than a reselling marketplace, where monetary value is king, Depop’s platform is built upon the selling and exchange of sentimental value. Where money is exchanged for product. But in addition to the object bought, buyers receive an emotional return on their investment. A series of positive and potentially validating feelings arriving in the form of garments, accessories, or objects sourced from the platform.︎