How to shop vintage online. (A Basic Guide)
Good vintage stock is getting very hard to find. Unfortunately, unless you live in a major city with excellent curated shops, the internet is your best bet for quality vintage items. We are too far beyond the generations when quality pieces were donated to thrift stores. All the good stuff is pretty picked already if it even hits the shelves to begin with. Ever looked at Goodwill’s online auctions? They’re pretty savvy.
So, what do you do? You troll the nets biggest auction sites for killer outfits. But before you go haywire on what ‘appears to be’ a mega deal on some rare-thang, let’s lay out some guidelines to keep you from getting burned.
1. READ THE DESCRIPTION. You will get a fairly solid picture of a garment simply by how the seller has described it. Pay attention to detail though – as a good description of a piece implies that whoever is selling it has ACTUALLY PAID ATTENTION to what they’ve got. As in, they didn’t miss those pit stains and they did see those big brown splotches on the back side and they told you they were there (with photos, duh). If a piece is coming from overseas, there may be a translation issue which is what brings us to….
2. LOOK AT PHOTOS. Look again. And again. And again. (And preferably not while drunk, as that is the worst time to shop online). The adage – what you see is what you get – is exactly true. Do not lie to yourself about those stains on that dress. Do not assume that they will wash out. Assume that they have been cooked into that fabric for more years than you’ve been alive and will never release their grip from that lace collar. Sleeves look a bit short? THEY ARE. Got a few holes that look like they might be too big? THEY WILL BE. Do both yourself and other sellers a huge favor and behave responsibly. We are vintage dealers, not magicians. Expect no surprises.
3. IGNORE TAG SIZES. Don’t even think about these. People were miniature years ago compared to what we are now in height and width. If a seller doesn’t provide actual measurements – in inches – in a listing, skip them. They’re amateur salespeople and are unlikely to back anything up when it arrives to you in ‘other than what was described’ condition.
4. CHECK THE SHIPPING PRICE BEFORE YOU BUY. Why would a T shirt cost you $24.99 to ship in your own state? Was the sale price unusually cheap? Disreputable sellers will sometimes cheapen a price and pad the shipping – this is both insulting and stupid – in an effort to maximize their profit. Look at it before you commit – trust us, we have been there.
5. DO YOU LIKE RETURNS? This is tricky. We’ve touched on unethical sales practices and here’s the part where we talk about you – have you ever:
a. Ordered something, worn it and tried to return it?
b. Made an impulse purchase and attempted to immediately cancel your order?
c. Ordered a bunch of stuff (like you’d take to a fitting room in the mall) and tried to ship it all back?
d. Ordered something and it didn’t fit/wasn’t described accurately?
If you’re guilty of a, b and/or c, shame on you (d is negotiable). The best vintage dealers have integrity and have spent a very, very long time amassing incredible knowledge about minute details like button codes, stitching colors and pocket patterns. They can date garments by their zippers and by feeling them in the dark. (Don’t believe us? Come down and we’ll show you) It is wholly wrong to treat these hard working people like fitting-room attendants at a discount store. Vintage stock doesn’t come from ‘the vintage store’ – we have to go out into the world and hunt it down like treasure. We know dealers who spend 9 months and more of their year traveling from town to town. Don’t be a nasty person by behaving like that doesn’t matter.
Here’s a summary of what you’ve just learned – Be a smart shopper with honest expectations. Understand that you’re almost always buying one-of-a-kind items that somebody actually made an effort – both financially and otherwise – to find for you. We get how cool these items are – remember, we bought them first – so man up and act like you want what we got. To close, we’re giving you the best advice you can have -the vintage cardinal rule, if you will – because the worst thing you can do to any vintage dealer is to lob a lowball offer. Ask to negotiate first – we always will.