To distinguish if vintage clothing is expensive or not, we need to start by defining what is considered vintage.
For clothing or accessories to be considered vintage they need to be at least 20 years old. A 19 year old Hermes bag would be considered a "pre-loved" luxury/designer piece, while a 22 year old unbranded dress would be considered vintage.
The purse would cost a fortune but still not live up to the vintage criteria while the dress could cost 3 dollars but be considered a Vintage item. So, vintage is not expensive by default. It all comes down to the individual piece, its composition, design and desirability.
The type of vintage store selling the item also factors in on the price. A consignment store has to pay the original owner of the vintage item a percentage of the selling price while still making a profit. This makes vintage items sold in consignment stores generally pricier than if the original owner would have sold them directly.
As Angie Moon, an avid Vintage collector, writes on Quora: Vintage clothing is only worth what people are willing to pay, but some factors include:
Is the item pristine or in need of repair? Deadstock vintage, usually unsold and unworn with tags might cost you a bit more than without tags. Items cleaned and ready to wear, the seller will factor that into the price.
Rarer stuff costs more. If there’s a lot of demand for it, the price will be higher. Reproduction stuff (like 80s does 40s, 90s does 70s) that’s more recent, but mimics stuff from long ago will be cheaper than the real stuff from those decades because it’s easier to find. I have a 90s does 70s Penny Lane Afghan coat and I just bought a genuine 70s Penny Lane style coat made in London. The actual one from the 70s cost more, as you can expect.
Clothing from Pucci, Biba, Mary Quant, etc. is going to cost more than vintage from Sears, JC Penney, and other less expensive brands.
If you’re in a more gentrified or upscale area, shops will likely charge more than if you’re in a working class neighbourhood of a city or a rural area. Why? Because people who shop in more high-end neighborhoods have more money to spend. However, there are some exceptions.
Save a bit of cash by checking if the item on Etsy is also listed on eBay. Sometimes there is a price discrepancy. The reason is simple - Etsy’s target market is more upscale. Your average Etsy shopper is willing to pay more than your average eBay shopper.
Whether it’s more expensive online or at a brick and mortar shop depends on where you go, when you shop (sales), exchange rate, total with shipping and/or duty or taxes.
When sellers price items, they factor in the time it takes to curate their vintage clothing stock, how badly they want to get rid of the item, and clientele. Some sellers cater to buyers willing to spend more, enabling them to charge more. Other sellers are all about volume and charging fair prices.