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How to Shop for Vintage Clothes Online

Our best tips and tricks to get you that grail garment you’ve been looking for.

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Shopping for vintage clothes is a great way to spend a Saturday. But maybe you don’t have time to get out of the house and actually visit a thrift store. Maybe you’re stuck inside because it’s raining. Maybe there’s a global pandemic. Whatever obstacles lie in your way, there’s always our good friend, the Internet.

You can shop from the bosom of your bed and sift through page after page of vintage goods from sites like eBay, Etsy, Grailed and more. But there are ways to go about shopping for vintage clothes online to maximize your time and make smarter decisions. Hopefully, our list of tips will help you procure what you’re after and avoid having to ship back returns.

Know your measurements

Since you’re not in-person to try on these clothes, you’ll have to go based on measurements. You can do this in a number of ways, but there are two we recommend. First, you can measure your best-fitting clothes and compare those measurements against items you’re eyeing. Second, you can measure yourself at key areas. For tops, you’ll want to know measurements for your chest, shoulders, waist (right around the belly button), arms and neck.

Be specific

Rifling through racks of clothes in thrift stores is tedious. The nice thing about shopping online is that you can type in exactly what you’re looking for. This will save you countless hours. So instead of searching for “jeans,” be more specific and search “Levi’s 501 jeans.” Rather than searching for “shirts” search for “linen popover shirt”. There’s no end to the search terms you can enter. Anything you might use to describe a piece of clothing is likely how a seller will describe it, too. Think specific brands, materials, colors, sizes, decades, etc.

Or be general

There’s an advantage to being intentionally general with your search terms, too. Often, sellers don’t use accurate search terms. They might list a chambray shirt as a denim shirt or list a garment with even a sparer description than that. Sellers who don’t know what they have won’t describe their merchandise properly. You can use this to your advantage and possibly score a really rare garment. The downside is having to sift through a larger pool of results. If you have the time and patience, it can pay off.

Search categories you wouldn’t expect

In line with the previous tip, sometimes sellers will list their clothes in a different category than you would expect. A cardigan could be listed in outerwear, or you might find a vintage pair of army pants listed in the more specific ‘militaria’ category. The point with this (as well as the previous tip) is to think like a seller. How would sellers categorize the item you’re looking for?

Ask questions

Don’t be hesitant to ask the seller any questions you have about the item. You want to be as sure as you can be before coughing up any cash. So, ask for measurements and more pictures. If they’re accepting offers, make an offer. You’d be surprised by how low sellers are willing to sell their goods.

Set up alerts

If you’re on the search for something very specific, it helps to set up alerts. You’ll be notified any time a seller lists your desired item and you’ll be less likely to miss out.

Save your searches

Saved searches save you time from constantly having to enter the same searches repeatedly. For instance, if you’re only interested in penny loafers from Brooks Brothers and G.H. Bass, sites like eBay allow you to save that specific search.

Save your favorite sellers

Along the way, you’ll find that some sellers have a lot of pieces you’re looking for. Keep these sellers and stores saved so you can easily check in on them and any new goods.

Avoid scams

Not every seller is a great seller. Some are nefarious, attempting to scam you out of clothes they never had or lure you with intentionally inaccurate descriptions. Never agree to pay a seller through backchannels outside of the site on which the garment is listed. If it’s on eBay, pay through eBay, not through Venmo. Online marketplaces have security systems set in place to protect you from scams, but they can’t help you if you go outside of the marketplace.

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