Hats have been around for centuries and, over time, became not only stylish and practical, but also an indication of societal status. Specialized hatmakers—called milliners—were born out of Milan in the 1700s, and the industry remained popular into the mid-20th century.
Today, enthusiasts keep the millinery art alive, but finding quality supplies in this mass-production society is challenging. While there is a limitless supply of inexpensive, plastic pieces available, dedicated crafters prefer the quality found in bygone days.
Cori Hoag recognized this unique niche and now sells vintage millinery hat supplies and paper ephemera at her eBay shop, Vintage Millinery Flowers Shoppe.
Millinery supplies were all handmade, once upon a time, and had a wonderful attention to detail, Hoag notes.
While Hoag, herself, has never made a single hat, she found success selling vintage millinery supplies to those who know what they're doing.
I try to visualize what their plan is for the items they have selected, and imagine their joy when they open the box
"I try to visualize what their plan is for the items they have selected, and imagine their joy when they open the box, remove the ribbon from their package, unwrap it and see their own petite millinery collection," she says.
Drawn to the details
Granted, Hoag is quite creative and has a history of making her own clothes, but she stumbled into this particular business by way of her personal background and a bit of chance.
At age 16, Hoag worked in a ladies department store that featured clothing and sewing supplies. The experience helped her understand the retail business, and her knowledge increased with college courses in business, retail and clothing design.
Meanwhile, Hoag designed and sewed her own clothes to express her personal style. Part of what makes fashion so personalized is the little details, like the types of fabric and different trimmings.
Hoag has been particularly drawn to color, design and texture, she says. It's those beautiful details she appreciates most, especially with vintage silk threads, fabrics, handmade lace and silk ribbons.
In later days, the entrepreneur and her husband, Dar, collected and sold antique items. Hoag also took up gardening with flowers and herbs. It's no surprise, then, that falling in love with vintage millinery items came naturally to her when she first discovered them.
In 1990, Hoag attended an estate sale where she found a large supply of millinery items. The ribbons, velvet flowers and other beautiful trimmings instantly attracted her, and she found they sold quite well. Thus began her journey as a vintage millinery supplier.
Since that fateful day, the online seller's millinery inventory has increased significantly, but she enjoys every bit of it. In fact, Hoag was once asked when she would have enough, and her response was a succinct, "Probably never."
They wear many hats
In addition to millinery supplies, Hoag and her husband also sell cement statues and paper ephemera.
Even today, in our digital world, people like to see and feel paper items about their interests and their pasts
"Ephemera" refers to any printed material that is generally intended for one-time use, such as catalogs and postcards, yet collectors in our online world keep these relics alive.
People like to find memorabilia from their school, hometown or other special places, Hoag notes. Others prefer ads and brochures that, for example, may pair well with their collectibles or depict their favorite cars.
"Even today, in our digital world, people like to see and feel paper items about their interests and their pasts," she says.
The paper collections and other non-millinery items in Hoag's eBay shop are mostly attributed to Dar, who is gathering his own personal collection of vintage Michigan maps.
Things like vintage maps and catalogs not only provide visual appeal, but they also give us clues about how things were years ago, Hoag notes.
The Hoags initially collected antiques and sold their treasures in antique malls. But when the online community grew, Hoag started finding collectible pieces on the Web, which made her realize she could have a good market for her antiques online, as well.
Hoag has been selling online for about 15 years, and has amassed almost 23,000 feedback ratings with a 99.9-percent positive score.
"Although it does take a lot of work and time, I feel fortunate to be able to do something that brings me joy, allows me to have funds and freedom to travel, and brings fun and surprises every week," she says.
The couple work together to create each listing. Dar focuses mostly on photographing the inventory, while Cori writes up the listings and manages customer communication.
The entrepreneur uses popular tools and social media sites for advertising, but only to a minimal degree, Hoag says.
"The bottom line is that our business has grown every year, so something must be working," she reports.
Many people rush through a sale and look only for big ticket items…We have found that it is far easier to sell 12 items for $12.50 than one item for $125
Don't overlook the little things
One of the reasons for Vintage Millinery Flowers Shoppe's success can be attributed to Hoag's eye for unusual vintage items that often get overlooked at sales and thrift shops.
"Many people rush through a sale and look only for big ticket items," Hoag says. "We have found that it is far easier to sell 12 items for $12.50 than one item for $125."
One area often overlooked is vintage craft supplies and craft kits, she notes.
"Many people want to continue with a craft, even after its popularity has waned."
This is good news for the online seller, who often can find large collections of abandoned craft supplies at yard sales and thrift shops at very reasonable costs.
Hoag suggests sellers recall a craft fad from days gone by and check eBay's "completed listings" search function to see how well that niche is surviving in today's modern society. You will be amazed at what you learn.
Visit the Vintage Millinery Flowers Shoppe.