There are many people who believe that the only way to shop smart when it comes to shopping vintage is to shop offline at traditional stores. Some vintage retailers refuse to e-tail or sell online at all. Many vintage shoppers like to touch items in person before they buy, especially vintage clothing and accessories. But, and this is a big one, resale, consignment, and vintage has found its home online and sellers have found dedicated vintage buyers online, too. Read below as I offer my tips to shop for vintage online.
Vintage items by definition include any object that is 20 years old or older. For a purist like me, I think of vintage as older than that – about 50 years old—but even I know that some great crop top from the late 1990s or early 2000s can be just as vintage and sought after as a pair of 1970s bell bottom jeans. But as more of the market for vintage items find homes online, shoppers are realizing that the best way to get the best vintage stuff is to shop by smart phone or computer. When it comes to vintage cool stuff, it’s all about online. So warm up those fingers and get tapping.
When it comes to tips to shop for vintage online, most people think it’s as easy as search, find, click, pay. That’s just for shopping for necessities like soap, potato chips, or Q-tips. But, when it comes to vintage art, antiques, jewelry, clothing or collectibles, that’s a whole different ballgame. Shopping online has its pros and cons but when you are shopping online at sites like eBay.com, Rubylane.com, Etsy.com, etc. for some of the best vintage options out there, you want to be sure you are in the middle of the shopping game.
Often when buying vintage stuff online, you will be getting something special and maybe even something that is one of a kind. Many people say that you shouldn’t wait to buy because it may not be there after you’ve pondered over your purchase. I say be sure you are buying the right thing and be sure you have shopped around so you get the right item at the right price.
Be proactive, not passive
Passivity will get you nowhere in the vintage online shopping arena. You simply must get involved with the seller. None of this “I don’t want to get to know you” stuff in today’s online market. People want to know where the vintage item came from, how much it costs, and every single trait about it. Your shopping experience will go better and it may even save you a couple of bucks if you make a connection with the seller. Start asking questions, converse politely, and learn to like each other.
What does that really mean? Ask questions, look closely at the photos or videos of the vintage object that you are interested in which is posted online. Be specific about your concerns. Are you thinking about the color of the 1970s pair of Dr. Scholl’s sandals and wondering if the footwear is really true to the photo? Do you think there is something wrong with the Lucite handle on that mid-century modern handbag but you can’t put your finger on what it is? Are you thinking that something about that 1940s oil painting looks odd but you can’t tell if an area of that landscape has been painted over or if there is something hiding a rip in the canvas?
Ask the seller. Don’t be shy, always be polite and confirm the details about the piece you are looking at while shopping online. Color is always important whether that vintage item that you are potentially going to buy is a toy revolver or a sapphire ring. Ask about materials: Is that sculpture brass or bronze? Is that rug wool or silk? Is that quilt machine stitched or done by hand? Ask before you hit the submit payment button online.
Be a Specific Shopper
Don’t forget that you need to know all the specs about a vintage item before you buy. Some of you are thinking… Wait, aren’t all the specs I need to know provided in the listing? In short, no. No they are not. Not by a long shot. Many listings have very little information –no sizes, no background info, no info about restoration or conservation, no list of materials uses, no time period when the piece was made–for many reasons. Sellers may not know or be willing to share all of the information about an item in order to properly represent the object for sale.
Again, tap those keys and ask questions like: what are the dimensions of the object in both inches and cm? Sometimes you can get a better idea of size if you get the measurements in cm and then you can convert international measurements using apps online. Ask the seller to be exact when they tell you how big or small something is. Vintage clothing may be smaller than the same size dress or blouse made today. Home décor items like antique and vintage bedding may have different sizes too. Be specific and ask questions or ask for more photos of aspects of an item like the back of a framed print or the hem of a skirt or the border of an antique quilt.
How to tell if it’s vintage?
Some people don’t know how to tell if something is vintage or not. Clues to identifying a vintage piece differ from item to item but for one of the most common categories for shoppers who buy vintage online, here are some tips to shop for vintage online when it comes to vintage clothing and what to look for.
Tips for identifying vintage clothing include reviewing the piece of clothing for stitching patterns, original tags, and overall quality. Avoid faded colors on a garment. While some vintage clothing can be reworked and then resold, items with stains, holes, or tears are not desirable on the vintage market. An item’s quality goes hand in hand with its fragility. Fabrics that are fragile like lace or chiffon and hand beadwork require an in-depth review before you purchase a piece especially when dealing with vintage clothing. In the vintage clothing market, designer brands are sought after to a greater extent that non-designer pieces. Designer brands are attractive for their design appeal and quality.
Another tip for vintage clothing shoppers who are searching online for items is about things other than fabrics and materials. For example, where a zipper is placed can help you identify the age of a garment. Zippers, buttons, patches, collars, cuffs, hooks and eyes and other accessories are indicators of age. For instance, most early 20th century clothing had button closures rather than zippers. In the 1930s, zippers were used more widely and were typically placed on the side of a garment like on the side of a skirt or pair of pants. Dresses and skirts from the 1950s to the 1980s mostly had zippers on the back of the garment.
Big buttons were common in the 1950s and 1960s. Most pre-1980s clothing manufactured in the United States was done under the direction of union factories. A piece of clothing with a ILGWU Int. or the Ladies Garment Workers’ Union label on it demonstrates an early 20th century production date and confirms the fact that the piece is union made and thus, vintage. Not that you have some tips about how to tell if a piece of vintage clothing is really vintage, let’s return to some more tips for shopping online for vintage stuff.
The Uniqueness of It All
One thing about shopping for vintage items online is that the options are many and these items are anything but boring. You’ll find unique items. Most of the time you won’t have to suffer from “Pottery Barn syndrome” when shopping for vintage stuff online. Pottery Barn syndrome is when you have purchased the same mass-produced stuff as all of your friends and everyone’s apartment looks pretty much the same.
When shopping for vintage items online, you can find all types of items. Some items will remind you of childhood like vintage toys. Other items will look just like that wood and brass coffee table or ceramic leopard that your grandmother had in her den or TV room as she called it. Other vintage items will be totally new to you and very exciting to add to your home décor or closet or collection. The unique aspect of vintage is one of the best parts of shopping online for cool, old stuff.
Get with the Computer Program
We all know that Big Brother is watching as you shop so be sure that you take advantage of all the search tools online. These tips to shop for vintage online will help you find exactly what you like in the vintage market online. Selling online? Read my guide to reselling online. The computer will remember what you made a “Favorite” as you browse. Most online vintage shopping sites like eBay and Etsy will use this information to suggest other similar items from other shops so you have a lot to choose from once you are done browsing. Use the categories on online sites when shopping for vintage stuff like Victorian jewelry, 1960s Marimekko dresses, vintage Tiffany & Company or Disneyland collectibles. Some sites offer curated options or editor’s selections or insights into what other people bought. They may even show you other items that other people were considering who also looked at your “Favorite” item.
Don’t forget to drill down and use the filter features to zero in on the specific traits of a certain vintage item that you really want. Use the search tools like price, size, style, era, etc. Do you want something from a specific designer, manufacturer, brand, era, or style? If so, add that name to your must have or wish list and search for it using the search feature. General terms are great but once you have waded through the typical stuff, narrow down the options by using filters and key search terms.
Watch videos on my YouTube channel where I offer more tips to shop for vintage online.