Old Gold: Paper Bag Princess

Last year’s frocks may be worth more than you think

Model tall and thin, Bev Hills blond, and trailed by a yappy dog, Elizabeth Mason picks up a gray Vivienne Westwood jacket and holds it to the light. “Westwood has a high resale value, and this particular style transcends fashion, so you can still wear it,” she says. “But it’s got a hole in the back, so it’s worth about $450.” Rooting deeper in my closet, she informs me that removing labels (which I do because they itch) devalues clothing and notes that a no-name wool skirt, bought for $1, is so well made that it would be tagged at $895 at her vintage boutique, the Paper Bag Princess (8818 Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills, 310-385-9036). A member of the Appraisers Association of America, Mason brings the Antiques Roadshow concept to the closets of celebrities, dowagers, and the occasional desperate housewife. “More often than not, they plan to resell clothing and want to know the value,” she says. “They see secondhand clothing selling on the Internet and know there’s a market for it.” Her jobs have ranged from a single eBay purchase (it was counterfeit and needed certification as such for a complaint to be lodged) to a couture wardrobe crated in more than 25 boxes and shipped from Paris to its inheritor, a San Francisco soccer mom. “It was mainly Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent couture, worth $2 million.” Wardrobe appraisals, previously limited to furs and jewels, are gaining popularity as people awaken to the resale value of clothing. Celebrities and socialites need tax deduction figures for designer gear they donate to charity, and litigants in wardrobe damage cases need independent opinions on value. Moonlighting brings Mason more than extra income (jobs start at $250); it also attracts new sources for her main business, dealing vintage clothing. Case in point: After appraising a Comme des Garçons gown, Mason bought it and flipped it to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art—but not before loaning it to Sarah Jessica Parker, whose red-carpet walk in it garnered free publicity for Mason’s boutique.

Illustration by Klas Fahlé