Get down with Ebay.

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Ebay is scary. I mean, it is a completely foreign way of buying things. It feels so nice and safe when you walk into a store, or online shop for that matter, and everything has a set price on it. You either CAN or you CANNOT buy it. Black and white. Ebay is like the grey area that makes life so complicated. Why can't they just tell you how much it costs? Because everyone knows the grey areas in life are where all the fun is hiding.

I am going to put down the things I have learned since becoming an avid ebay shopper and seller. I do not work for ebay nor am I trying to promote them for any reason. I know there is a lot to be found out there in the world of auction buying! I get a lot of the same comments about ebay shopping that I do about vintage/thrift store shopping! Mostly

"I don't know where to start"
"I can never find anything good"
"I always lose out in the last couple seconds"

Ok, that last one doesn't apply so much, but you get the picture.

So if you're really into finding things that no one else has, ebay can be invaluable. Especially when it comes to vintage. I mean, being an ebay vintage seller myself, I am still aware that there are approximately forty billion other ebay vintage sellers. That is a rough estimate. Most of my shopping on ebay is for vintage clothing and accessories so most of my guidelines are geared toward that realm. I think you'll find that the same principles apply to most everything on the site!

 For the experienced ebay shopper, the following guidelines are probably old news.

So here goes...

1. Get a Paypal accout. It is not hard and without one shopping on ebay is nearly impossible. Just do it.

2. Get an ebay account. This sounds obvious but I am covering all my bases. It is free and it allows you to keep track of everything. 

Now, as far as searching and FINDING what you want on ebay...

3. Don't be too specific. Most of the time, you go shopping on ebay the same way you go shopping in a mall. You want to find something cool, something you like, maybe you're even looking for something as narrow as a "party dress" or a "winter coat." You usually don't go shopping with extremely narrow parameters in mind like "yellow, merino-wool, three-quarter length sleeve, fabric button, boyfriend cardigan." Well, I usually don't. The thing is, people across the country (and the world) define things differently, and you cannot count on your description of something matching someone else's. You want to keep your search broad to include as many results that COULD be what you're looking for as possible. Granted, you are going to have to do some more super strenuous clicking of your mouse to go through more listings but just think of all those calories you're burning!

Here is an example of what I am talking about. If I type in vintage blue spaghetti strap party dress I get this.

Picture 1
(sorry I am so tiny!)

A whopping one applicable result. That is not going to get you anywhere. So instead focus on what kind of dress you like the best, say 1950's style, and use that as your jump off point. When I type in "vintage 1950's party dress" I get this...

Picture 2

355 results is much better, n'est pas? Now I am going to trust that this is not your first day on the internet and you can handle finding the price, the end date, the starting bid, the shipping price etc. There is an ebay for dummies book if you really can't handle that stuff. I am just here to help with the quality of your findings :)

I can honestly say that if you really are new to finding vintage on ebay the best way to start is exactly like I did several years ago. Hunker down on your couch, get a glass of wine, and type "vintage dress" or "vintage boots" or "vintage sunglasses" into the search box and see what is out there. You're going to get hundreds or thousands of results. I suggest setting your search preference to "ending soonest." That little setting can be found right above the auctions, it says "sort by." This way if you come across something ending in the next hour you can be on top of it. Clicking around is by far the best way to get used to ebay. Just don't click the "bid now" button, not yet!

4. Now that you know not to get too specific, you need to learn to narrow your search. I know, it's counter-intuitive but eventually you will get impatient looking through every single vintage dress for sale. Trust me. What you have to do next is get familiar with the terminology. There is a whole ebay vintage vernacular out there that can get kind of overwhelming. Some of the most popular include...

BOHO- Now try not to panic, I know this word gives some people the heebie jeebies and visions of 2003 all over again. Not to worry, no one is going to kidnap you and dress you up like Sienna Miller. On ebay the term BOHO is used to describe...almost anything. Mostly it is included in the title description of anything flowy, sheer, hippie-esque, oversized, ethnic prints, feathers, fringe, beading, crocheted, etc. Get the picture? It is a catchall term for a lot of items. Think Rachel Zoe caftans and animal prints, Nicole Richie sized sunglasses and massive leather bags, Topanga Canyon staples like crochet bikinis and moccassin style boots. Some of the items I found on ebay today with the term BOHO in the title include

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There is a definite lack of true definition to the term BOHO, but you may find yourself seeing it a lot and maybe even using it.

Other terms that are used in a similarly loose way include

GLAM- Implies stretch fabrics, sequins, shiny materials, sparkles, and a lot of 80's prom dresses.
PUNK- anything with studs, safety pins, plaid, zippers, holes, bright colors, lots of DIY altered tee shirts. Has little or nothing to do with actual PUNK lifestyle.
PEASANT- similar to BOHO. You're going to find hippie gear, Gunne Sax dresses, corsets, ruffles, tiered dresses, lace trim, lace up, etc. Usually means "romantic" styles.
MOD- almost as ambivalent as the term BOHO in that most people who use it don't actually know the definition. Usually it means 1960's styles, A-line cuts, mini dresses, geometric prints, primary colors, high necks, wide belts, etc.
PIN-UP or BOMBSHELL- Mostly 1950's and 1960's, polka dots, marilyn monroe halter dresses, sexy cuts, fitted waists, etc. This usually gets applied to any dress that could in any way be interpreted in a rockabilly fashion. Also really classic 50's prom dresses, day dresses, shelf bust-lines, full skirts, etc.
AVANT GARDE- means weird. weird fit, weird cut out, weird graphic, made of a weird material. Alot of oversized, hooded, and asymmetrical items. Applies mostly to 80's clothing.

Now lots of popular terms are actually helpful, if you know what they mean. The best search terms actually speak to the cut or were exclusive to a certain era...


Newcomers to the list reflect current trends and spring up like mad all at once! Right now, all of a sudden, every vintage seller is touting...


I could go on. But the point is that to find EXACTLY what you want, you need to know what it is called. It wouldn't hurt to cruise the internet for information about vintage clothing. I suggest the Vintage Fashion Guild as a beginner course. Lots of sites are very informative and you can study shapes, periods, trends, etc. This is for the serious vintage shopper. Some of us get a little intense about it.

Remember the more descriptive terms you use, the fewer results you're going to get. And one seller's BOHO is another seller's PEASANT. So be thorough above all.

5. Ebay stores. Ebay stores can be great! I have lots of favorite stores saved and I peruse them several times a week, receive email updates when new things are posted, and trust their reputations. The only problem with the big name ebay stores is their popularity makes it nearly impossible to get things at a fair price. There are a lot of fancy vintage shops in the real world AND online, where you're going to (easily) pay $100 or more for a nice vintage piece. For me, the beauty of ebay is that you can dig around and find an AMAZING piece from a no-name seller, guaranteeing that you'll get a good deal. A lot of vintage fashionistas head straight to Mama Stone Vintage. The King Kong of ebay stores, she always has THE BEST items and lots of them. But her legions of customers mean vicious bidding wars that usually end in sky high prices. If your budget allows it and you really want it, go for it. You're going to have something no one else does and that in itself is pretty invaluable. But if you're watching your cash I suggest avoiding the mega stores on ebay. Some of the best and most popular shops, besides Mama Stone, are Lullie Vintage, Maki Maki, and Indiecult.

Other popular stores to watch!

The difference between them and the smaller stores or individual sellers usually resides in consistency and the details. These shops feature high production value, which can be really intoxicating. Great models, styling, photography, and design can be magic! But when you're about to bid your rent money on something you feel like you'll die without...try picturing it alone on a hanger. Then think to yourself "Can I find something like this in a thrift store?", "Have I seen this kind of thing cheaper in other auctions?" Even type a similar description into the search box and maybe you'll find a close match from another seller. The whole point of shopping on ebay is getting what you want at the price you want to pay. The more experience you get handling and wearing vintage clothing, the better you'll get at knowing what you're looking at online. Sometimes a seller has an amazing piece for sale lying on a bedspread with crappy lighting but once you know what you're looking for, you'll spot the good stuff instantly.

Now don't rule out ebay stores all together! I mean, definitely go shopping in mine :) Honestly, though, there are great deals and vintage treasures to be found in them. Just be aware of what you're really paying for.

6. Wait until the last five minutes to bid. Seriously, wait WAIT wait WAIT! It is frustrating to be bidding on an item thats price keeps getting pushed up 8 days before the auction ends. The longer you wait to bid, the less likely you will start a bidding frenzy, and the cheaper the item will be in the end. If you cannot be there at the auctions end time, ebay has a nifty little feature called "bidding assistant" that will bid for you in small increments. It is a wonder because it ensures that you DO NOT pay more than you wanted to in a last-minute frenzy. Once I almost blew $400 on a vintage coat just because I became enraged and competitive at the end of the auction. Thank God the other bidder was loonier than I.

7. Don't bid what you cannot pay. Period.

8. Know yourself. By that I mean, know what looks good on you, know what you will wear, and know your measurements. The only way to ensure proper fit on an item is to know its measurements and your own measurements. Chest, waist, and hip measurements are essential. If you're not sure how, check out this hand dandy tutorial from Debutante Vintage. And remember that the garments measurements have to be bigger than your own to fit. If you have a 27" waist, a dress with a 27" waist WILL NOT FIT. I cannot stress how important it is to pay close attention to the measurements. If a seller is vague or has failed to include them, ask before you bid.

9. Once you have placed a bid you have entered a binding agreement. It is astoundingly rude to fail to pay once you have won an auction. Funnily enough my mom committed this crime the one and only time she attempted to purchase something on ebay. My own mother. God Bless her she was trying to get me a chocolate brown Monique Lhuillier sash for my wedding gown but in the end we acquired it elsewhere and her account was suspended. So sad.

10. Remain calm. If you lose your auction...well, you lost. That blows but chances are you'll find something just as cool next week. Don't freak out and give up.

So that's a starter kit. There are a ton of little ebay secrets and hidden treasures as well. Those just take time to figure out. But this took me forever and I am done! Someone better go get something on ebay now. I want to see results!!

Any questions? xo

8 comments:

Zelda said...

These are really great suggestions. I've learned so much from your posts. Now it's just finding the time to implement all of these great shopping tips.

Sandra said...

thanks for link and I'm glad you liked the tutorial! It is so important that you don't get caught up in the bidding frenzy on Ebay. Know what you want!

And keep in mind that many of the edgy '80s and '90s stuff is plentiful in your local thrift. Be adventurous!

imsorad said...

I can never enjoy the clothes on Maki Maki because all I can think about is feeding that poor girl.

a said...

thanks to this post i went on ebay and bought a $250 camera.. haha, i was already planning on buying it but i guess this is what made me finally decide to get it!

Aimée said...

This is such a great post for a beginning shopper in ebay vintage. I've been shopping there for the last 8 years and can say there truly is an increase in the 80s and avant garde listings. I would reveal my fav stores, but I'm too afraid others will find out how fabulous they are and outbid me on all of that good stuff.

misee said...

these are great tips!

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