Flummoxed by foxing? Unsure about “unique”? No idea what NWT means? Read on!
Brush up on your vintage vocabulary with this non-exhaustive list of key words that every seller and buyer should know.
This list is updated on an ongoing basis. Have a term you’d like to see added? Send it to us!
For more, check out our related article covering how we define vintage.
An object that is more than 100 years old. Antiques can range in price depending on age, quality and rarity.
Relics from the ancient past, especially those that pre-date the Middle Ages.
The practice of taking advantage of price differences between two or more markets to make a profit. In the context of reselling, this often involves buying goods at a lower price in one market and selling them for a higher price in another market, or taking advantage of fluctuations in the prices of similar goods across different platforms.
A resin originally developed in 1907 and considered to be the first synthetic plastic. Bakelite was prized for its durability, resistance to heat and electricity, and ability to be moulded into a variety of shapes and colours with a smooth and elegant appearance. In vintage fashion, Bakelite is most commonly associated with jewellery and accessories. It has become highly collectible due to its decorative qualities and status as a material representative of the Art Deco and Machine Age aesthetic movements.
Refers to a highly sought-after item or specific style that a vintage or secondhand buyer is searching for. If a seller asks you to BOLO for a particular item, it means to keep your eyes peeled while you’re hunting.
A type of early plastic comprised of camphor, alcohol and fillers widely used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and commonly found in Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles. Celluloid is actually a trade name but is also used generically to refer to the type of plastic it is. It could be easily moulded into a variety of shapes, colours and patterns, making it a popular material for fashion accessories such as buttons, hair clips and combs. Sometimes called “French Ivory.”
An item that is sought after by someone to add to a collection, such as decorative objects or toys of a particular series. Often collectibles have some value, depending on rarity.
A deal whereby a person gives products to another party to sell. The consignor either receives money upfront from the seller, which is common in the vintage world, or receives a cut of the sale.
The network of fine cracks that appear on the surface of vintage objects, especially ceramics and glass, which is the natural result of aging and exposure to environmental conditions such as heat, humidity and sunlight. Crazing can add to the history and uniqueness of a vintage item, but can also have an impact on its appearance and value.
An edited selection of vintage goods that align with current trends, and that are styled or merchandised as if in a retail store or editorial spread in a magazine.
A decorative item that is considered unusual, rare or otherwise special.
A collection of unlisted inventory items that have been left by a seller to accumulate, resulting in “dead” inventory.
A product or fabric that never sold while in stores or that was over-purchased by a retailer and is still new, even though it may be old or out-of-season. These items may have been donated to charity, sold to consignment stores or wound up at liquidation centres. See also: overstock.
Someone who buys and sells vintage and/or antiques as their business. Often used specifically to describe someone who maintains strong connections in the vintage and/or antiques market, who maintains trading relationships and who can conduct appraisals. Dealers may work for an antiques company or auction house, or run their own bricks-and-mortar or online shop. See also: picker, seller.
A sewing technique that uses two parallel lines of stitching made close together. The theory is this creates a stronger and more durable seam — but if the thread begins to unravel, the whole hem can unravel, too, which is why single-stitch tends to be more sought-after with vintage clothing. The double-stitch technique has been commonly used in the manufacture of clothing as of the late 1990s to reinforce high-stress areas such as seams, hemlines and pockets. See also: single-stitch.
Paper items or crafts, such as tickets, ads, cards and posters that were intended to be thrown away after using and are now considered collectibles.
A process by which a large portion of a person’s items are liquidated, usually due to downsizing or death. Items are tagged with prices, and, unless it’s set up as an estate auction with bids, are usually sold on a first come-first serve basis.
A gathering of vendors selling vintage, antiques and secondhand items, usually held outdoors, but also in indoor event spaces.
An inventory management system that prioritizes the sale of older items in a collection or stock first, before selling the more newly acquired items.
A phenomenon that occurs to old mirrors in which discolouration appears on the mirror’s surface, making it appear tarnished or misty. This discolouration is caused by a reaction between the silvering on the back of the mirror and moisture that has entered the mirror over time.
Foxing is seen as a desirable characteristic to some vintage lovers because it adds to the character and charm of the piece. However, some view it as a flaw or imperfection, as it can detract from the clarity of the mirror's reflection — foxing can be repaired if the silvering on the back of the mirror is replaced — this is best left to a pro, though, and can be expensive.
An event whereby people sell unwanted possessions, usually held in the garage, driveway, or yard of their home. Items are tagged with prices, and bargaining is commonplace. Garage sales are often advertised on neighbourhood flyers or in online communities, with posted hours of operation. See also: rummage sale, tag sale, yard sale.
A location or store that is particularly rich in vintage or secondhand items in good condition and at a reasonable price. Considered a goldmine or hidden gem for shoppers.
The emblem, etching or inscription on a piece that identifies the manufacturer or artist who produced it.
Mementos, often part of a collection that relates to a particular subject, such as concert paraphernalia or baseball cards.
Describes an item of clothing or accessory that has never been worn or used, and still has its original tag attached, indicating its new, unused condition.
Describes vintage items that have never been worn or used, but that are missing their original tags or original packaging. Despite the absence of tags, vintage lovers and collectors still consider “new without tags” items to be valuable finds, especially if they are in pristine condition and retain their original quality and craftsmanship.
A contemplative, often mournful, state of longing for the past.
A phrase used to describe vintage items that are highly prized and cherished by their owners, who have no intention of letting them go. These items may hold sentimental value, be rare or one-of-a-kind, or hold historical significance, making them priceless and irreplaceable in the eyes of vintage enthusiasts.
A sheen on a surface, especially metal or wood, developed through age, ongoing use or changing chemical makeup that lends to the character of a piece. Some forms of patina, like on solid brass, can be polished away.
Someone who visits estate sales, flea markets, auctions, thrift stores, rag houses, etc. to find and buy items. Traditionally, a picker would provide these items to a dealer, and get a cut of the profits when the piece sold.
But with eBay, Facebook Marketplace, Instagram and other online selling platforms all offering ways to list items, many pickers have become dealers or sellers themselves. They can list and sell items without a third party, and keep the profit. See also: dealer, seller.
Used to describe a contemporary secondhand item (usually 2000 and later). See also: pre-loved.
The origin or history of an item. Sometimes antiques or vintage pieces will come with a record of their history, which can increase their value. Other times, a maker’s mark can help to identify provenance.
A facility that processes used clothing bought in bales from charities that receive donations. Graders at the rag house sort through the items to determine what can be sold in large collections to vintage clothing wholesalers, turned into rags, or sent overseas for sale or disposal. Rag houses sometimes employ their own pickers to pull items for the film and television industry.
An object, usually of antiquity, that is held in high regard.
A copy or duplicate of a manufactured item. May be less expensive than the original especially if it’s furniture or art.
Often used interchangeably with seller. All vintage up for sale is, by definition, resold, since it was originally purchased by someone years ago. May also be used to describe someone who acquires vintage pieces from another seller, then sells it again. See also: seller.
A descriptor for a style that is of the past, or that mimics it. Often used to describe new or contemporary items that look like older pieces. These are often reproductions of a designer style and can be more affordable than the original.
A style of clothing that emerged in the 1950s, characterized by a fusion of rock-and-roll and country music. The style is known for its bold and rebellious aesthetic, featuring items such as tight-fitting jeans, leather jackets, bandanas and plaid shirts.
For women, feminine elements such as floral prints and bright lipstick were often paired with edgier pieces such as sneakers or biker jackets. Rockabilly was popular among the youth of the time, particularly those who identified as “greasers,” and is now considered an iconic vintage look.
See garage sale.
An item that was used at least once by another person.
A sewing technique used to construct clothing items. A single-stitch is made by passing the needle and thread through the fabric once and then pulling it tight, creating a single line of stitching. This technique was commonly used in the manufacture of vintage clothing, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s.
Single-stitch is valued for its durability and longevity, as the construction tends to last longer than other types of stitching, particularly in high-stress areas such as seams and hemlines. See also: double-stitch.
See garage sale.
The act of browsing or buying at garage sales, thrift shops (i.e. Goodwill, Value Village) or flea markets. “Thrift” is used colloquially as a noun for items that were purchased from one of the aforementioned places.
A French phrase that translates to “fool the eye.” It is a style of painting and decoration that creates the illusion of hyper-realistic, three-dimensional objects and scenes on flat surfaces.
Refers to a tag or label found in vintage clothing items that indicate they were manufactured by a unionized company. Union labels can be used to date a piece of clothing based on the design of the tag. The label serves as a symbol of quality and represents the efforts of workers to secure fair wages and working conditions through collective bargaining. The most prolific union label is the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union.
Used to describe something that is unlike anything else, possessing qualities or characteristics that distinguish it from all others. It means one-of-a-kind. While vintage pieces may seem unique because you haven’t seen another one like it, it doesn’t mean there aren’t many of them out in the world. When describing vintage items, use words like “unique” and “one-of-a-kind” sparingly — or add some extra contextualization by calling it “hard-to-find.”
A period of manufacture, i.e. a 1960s vintage lamp. Also used to describe any item from the past that has historical significance, or is of good quality. Generally accepted to be items 20 years and older, though this is debated. Some say 40 years and older.
A new or contemporary item that has the look of something older.
See garage sale.
If you have a term you’d like to see added, please send it to us.