What is a Trunk Show?

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

A trunk show is a special event within the fashion world in which an artist or designer puts on a special display of his or her work for review by a select group. The name comes from the fact that a designer or sales rep will literally show up with a trunk of merchandise to show off. These shows are common in boutiques and boutique divisions of department stores. The Chanel department at Saks Fifth Avenue, for example, may put on a trunk show for its best clients, showing off styles from an upcoming season before they are made available to the general public. It is quite common for attendees to have the opportunity to purchase or order items during the event.

A designer will offer a special display of upcoming fashions at a trunk show.
A designer will offer a special display of upcoming fashions at a trunk show.

These exclusive shows can be very beneficial to small boutiques that do not have the funds or space to buy an entire line of a designer's work. If such a business was interested in highlighting a specific artist or designer, however, a trunk show could provide the opportunity to show an entire line to loyal customers. It also gives a boutique the opportunity to test a new line of merchandise with clients before placing a wholesale order with the designer or artist. If the show is a success and the customers love the products, then the boutique owner can confidently place an order. If it does not go well, however, the boutique owner knows that the items are not right for his or her customer base.

Trunk shows sometimes offer frequent customers the chance to buy the latest styles before anyone else.
Trunk shows sometimes offer frequent customers the chance to buy the latest styles before anyone else.

Pre-season trunk shows can also be very informative for designers and sales reps. They can see how people react to their upcoming line before fabricating the entire thing. In this respect, it can provide artists and reps with important market information and can help them plan ahead and make alterations to their production schedules. If, for example, a specific blouse is received poorly at show after show, the designer may have time to take it out of the line before it is produced on a large scale.

These shows are also often held by artists and designers who make one-of-a-kind pieces. A fiber artist who makes lavish, hand-sewn felted coats, for example, might keep herself quite busy traveling about and giving trunk shows. Because loyal and fashionable customers are often on the guest lists, those who attend these events are often on the lookout for the next special item to add to their wardrobes.

Boutique divisions of department stores may sponsor seasonal trunk shows.
Boutique divisions of department stores may sponsor seasonal trunk shows.
Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

In addition to her work as a freelance writer for wiseGEEK, Diane is the executive editor of Black Lawrence Press, an independent publishing company based in upstate New York. She has also edited several anthologies, the e-newsletter Sapling, and The Adirondack Review. Diane has a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.A. from Brooklyn College.

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Discussion Comments


When doing a trunk show, does one literally display in a trunk? Or could you bring a collapsible rack, which would seemingly be a better way to display?


Are trunk shows considered non-store retailers? I am trying to determine what type of licensing I need to start a trunk show business in MD. Can anyone help?


Amerikiwi, yes, it's negotiable. I've had trunk shows where the stores didn't charge me because I helped them with promotion. Hope this helps. Good article.


I just discovered the word "trunk show" from a friend today. I was just wondering how I am supposed to advertise a product that is imported from Spain (shoes), and how to start up this trunk show. Should I do it through friends, and during the day or at night?


I have done several trunk shows and 20 - 30 percent is typical. I would not do a trunk show for a shop owner expecting more than 30 percent of sales.


I would have to disagree with giving the store owner 50 percent, especially if the items are hand made. The split is usually 20 or 30 percent to the store owner. The person supplying the items gets the 80 or 70 percent.

If I am bringing all the items, this gives the store owner the opportunity to try out the items without actually making the purchase. Many times, the store owner may find that there are many people interested in items that the store may not normally purchase to sell in the store.

The store and the person bringing the items inventory all the items together. The shop owner determines the retail price that they would sell the items in the store. If they already have the items in the store that current retail price would be used. The seller has put on pull off tags that the seller takes off as the customer takes the items to the store owner/cashier to pay for the item.

After the trunk show is over the store owner and the seller settle up the bill and the store owner pays for the items. The store owner gets 20-30 percent of the retail price to keep. The seller receives the funds of 70 to 80 percent of the retail sales.

Now the store owner knows what items to stock in the store for the future. I hope this helps. --Lin


As the owner of the shop hosting the trunk show, what is the customary percentage given to the shop?


Is there a standard list of locations that host high-end women's clothing trunk shows for boutique designers during the calendar year?


I too would like to know what the retailer expects as their cut of sales made during a trunk show event. I expect like everything, it is negotiable?



I have been before to offer the boutique a discount on a sliding scale for the various price points and then to offer them a wholesale discount of 5-10 percent when they purchase some goods for their store immediately following the show.

I haven't tried this yet but I am going to try to do some trunk shows in the New Year.

Can anyone tell me how they approach new boutiques? What is your pitch? Do you invite people too? Thanks! -Lex


It would seem to me that a trunk show would be a good way to get a number of buyers from boutiques to see your jewelry at one time. Very efficient time saver. Find a place, serve appetizers and drinks and you're there! In my humble opinion.


should the boutique holding the trunk show display the goods as they usually would the rest of their merchandise? we are doing it in the evening so we have cocktails. Are appetisers expected too?


i believe 10 percent of retail sales is customary


50% of retail is pretty much the standard. When talking with buyers, they will usually ask you the wholesale price, which is typically your cost x2. They will double this(at least), resulting in the retail price.


I have never heard of this pricing policy for trunk shows. If the allure is to get discounts on Designer brands, that is only one reason to sell trunk shows. The definition you have included on this page is that the exclusivity is the draw, not the price. Some lines are not available to the public except at trunk shows.


Hi rosanawd,

Am curious to as to the answer to your question as well. I am about to do a trunk show with a small boutique and the owner has requested that we have the typical wholesale price agreement of 50% of retail. Would like to know what others are doing and if there are any standards on this. Looking forward to your comments.

Best wishes,

Adora Deva


I make costume jewelry & want to introduce the line at trunk shows. What is the standard for pricing? Do I give the store a percentage of the sales, or do I give them the wholesale price (ex: 50% discount from retail)? Rosana

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