New York City may have a reputation for being one of the world’s foremost fashion capitals, but from personal experience, this doesn’t always hold true for secondhand shopping. The stylish millions occupying the city have picked through its thrift and vintage stores pretty thoroughly.
As a result, I (and a lot of millennials my age) have turned to online vintage shopping. The internet is like one big warehouse capable of producing pretty much any piece of vintage clothing your heart desires; eBay is one such portal, but I more often find answers to all of my problems on Etsy. Yes, the website known mostly for cute home decor and handmade jewelry is also the best place to buy your vintage duds.
Most of my prized Earthly possessions are things I’ve found while sifting through the thousands of items that fill its pages. They include but are not limited to a burgundy ’90s leisure suit, a very heavily shoulder-padded blazer emblazoned with stars, and an everyday black slip dress I wear, well, almost every day.
In a lot of ways, negotiating secondhand goods online feels like digging through racks IRL to find exactly what you didn’t know you’d been searching for—just on a bigger scale. So as a seasoned and successful veteran of Etsy’s vintage section, I have a few important tips to help you navigate the seemingly endless options—plus some insider intel from Etsy’s resident trend expert Dayna Isom Johnson.
1. Have your measurements on hand
Whenever you’re online shopping for vintage clothing whether on Etsy or not, the most important thing to have are your main three measurements—bust, waist, and hips. Figure out which one of these is the real defining factor when it comes to clothing—for my hourglass shape, for example, the worry is never the waist measurement but instead the hips.
Johnson adds that it’s important to remember that “Etsy is a global marketplace so the items you find may come from an international seller who uses the centimeters instead of inches.” Nothing will squash your online shopping spirit like receiving something you assumed was measured in inches when it was in fact in cm.
2. You need to (sort of) know what you want
The more specific you can get while you’re on Etsy, the better. It helps to go in with a clear idea of what exactly you’re looking for—say a vintage gingham short suit or a vintage Versace inspired plaid skirt for fall. If you’re not as nitpicky as I am, expand your search out to simply a decade you favor. (It’s the ’80s for me.) You can find some promising and surprising results that way as well.
3. Use all of the filters
Once you search for an item or a decade on Etsy, you’ll see the left-hand side absolutely littered with filters. Typically, while online vintage shopping, I ignore these but on Etsy, making the most of them is the key to success. Start by making sure you click the tab that says “vintage.” You can and should narrow things down by setting a price maximum (there’s no point in crying over something you can’t afford) and continue to refine your search by color, size, style, and more. You can essentially make your search as broad or as specific as you want.
4. Find and frequent sellers you love
When I find myself intrigued enough by a product to open it up in a new tab, I always (whether I buy the item or not) look through the seller’s store. Often you’ll be able to find someone whose vintage sensibility matches yours. You can favorite this store and then just head straight there when you need some new duds but aren’t sure exactly what.
5. Make the most of the favoriting feature
“Click the heart icon to ‘favorite’ [or bookmark] items as you browse. The more you favorite, the more new items, personalized to your tastes, will show up on your Etsy homepage” Johnson says. It’s a method I swear by. Over time, your homepage will become smarter and you’ll be able to do quick 10 minute drop-ins to Etsy rather than dedicate an hour of your day to online vintage shopping.
6. ask all of your questions
The great thing about Etsy is that it’s as close to an IRL vintage store experience as you can get on the internet. Should you have a question about the fit of a garment, a seller’s return policy, or need additional photos before you make your decision, Johnson encourages messaging the owner. “Be specific with questions you ask the seller,” she advises. “Confirm details like colors, fabrics, shapes, and the condition to make sure you know exactly what you’ll be receiving.”
Now you have everything you need to go forth and find some truly one-of-a-kind vintage pieces for your wardrobe.
This story was originally published on October 19, 2018; it was updated on November 20, 2018.
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