How to Shop for Vintage Online (on eBay and Etsy)

Contrary to popular belief, shopping online takes a lot of skill. Different platforms, and even what you’re shopping for, will require different techniques and that’s what makes the art of online shopping fun (especially with millions of items to sift through). That’s why I’m your vintage BFF and source for finding those gems!

If you follow along on Instagram, you may know that two of my favorite ways to shop vintage clothing and decor is through eBay and Etsy. Many times when I share my finds, I’m asked how I sourced it and more often than not, get asked my tips for shopping on the two platforms. Keep scrolling for my tips and techniques on what and how to buy to score the best vintage the inter-webs have to offer. 

Tips and Tricks for Shopping on eBay and Etsy

Take your time – The thing about having the luxury of looking at items online means that you’re also up against thousands of other people doing the same thing. Try not to buy things out of desperation to get them and take your time to make sure it’s what you want. Once you take the time and your dream item becomes available, you’ll know and you’ll have done the due diligence to feel confident pushing ‘add to cart.’ It’s always great to start with a list of items or trends you’re shopping and sticking to that to find that special piece.

Get specific – If you know what you’re looking for, the best thing you can do is get as specific about it as possible. I’ve included a list at the bottom of this blog of my top 20 search terms and keywords, but I encourage you to create your own to fit your personal style. There’s an option to set alerts for yourself when items come into the ether that match your search terms – use this beautiful tool to your advantage. Yes, eBay allows you to save your search and it will notify you when a new item is listed using your search terms. Also, when you find inspiration for an item or outfit, write it down and input those search words into your searches. 

Schedule shopping time into your day – Let me be the first to tell you that eBay and Etsy can be blackholes. Once you start searching for something, you will eventually end up finding something else that might be on your list and/or radar. By setting a limit of time that you can shop, you’ll be more conscious of what you look at and click on, and likely end up spending less money on some things you may not need. I say about 30-60 minutes should do that trick.

Search often – Similar to how often you thrift shop in person, the more treasures you find, the online marketplace is an even bigger ocean with thousands of pieces becoming available every minute. Hop on during a break at work or right before bed to see what may have come available. This gives you a chance to ‘sleep on it’ and/or be the first to grab something you’ve been waiting on. 

Haggle your way to a better price – The beauty of eBay is that it’s a platform made for bidding. This means that if you see a price, it doesn’t make it final and it can be negotiated. If an item has been up for sale for a long period of time, use that to your advantage, letting a seller know you’re very interested in buying and would be willing to purchase immediately for a specific price. If you’re not worried about bidding, you can also use the ‘buy it now’ feature which takes it right off the website and into your hands (after shipping and handling). On Etsy, I’ll send the seller a note and ask what the best price is they can offer for the item. 90% of the time this results in savings!

Know your sizing – I suggest learning your measurements in both CM and IN so that no matter what it’s listed as online, you’re aware of where it may fall on you. Many times, refunds aren’t possible on eBay and Etsy, so it’s good to know that what you’re buying is either close to your sizing or can be tailored to your body. It’s important to remember that vintage sizing is very different than modern sizing so you always want to buy based on measured size, not labeled size.

Use popular search terms – The following are my top 20 most used eBay search terms but you’ll want to figure out what works best for you and your search. I’m also in the middle of working on a guide with even more search terms and by category, so sign up here to be notified as soon as that becomes available.

popular search terms for shopping online

Blazer – Everyone is meant to have a great blazer in their closet. The kind that you can throw on over a t-shirt and jeans and instantly dress up the outfit while still looking effortless. That same blazer can be worn with a pair of dress pants and heels and you’ll look like a million bucks. The wonderful thing about vintage blazers is that their one-of-a-kind and likely made to last a lifetime. If something piques your interest but sizing looks like it could be a smidge off, buy it anyways. A good tailor can make a wonky blazer look like it was made for you and you only.

vintage ralph lauren blazer

Jeans – Once you get really good at knowing your measurements and size when it comes to vintage jeans, shopping them online can save you the headache of trying on a million pairs at a flea market. Again, the glory of a tailor will have you looking like your jeans are far more expensive than you paid for them. If you’re looking for vintage Levi’s, check out this guide.

Blouses and sweaters – You’ll find gorgeous cashmere sweaters and unique puff sleeve blouses all over eBay and Etsy. The key is to read through the description and make sure that the materials listed for the garment are ones that are sturdy and breathable. There’s no feeling more disappointing than ordering a sweater thinking it’s cashmere, and it being something far different once it’s in your hands. 

white off the shoulder top

T-shirts – One of my favorite things to buy, in-person and online, because they can be endlessly customized, however you prefer them. As long as they’re clean and have no huge or noticeable stains on them, the limit does not exist to the amount of tees you can have at the ready in your wardrobe.

Purses – Vintage purses, whether a high end brand or a nameless one, can be some of the best made and special bags out there. Their quality is next to none and if taken care of, can be so beautiful for years to come. I always enjoy saving up and investing in luxury bags like Chanel or Louis Vuitton, but I also love a good lucite box bag or woven purse.  Check out this guide to buying a Chanel bag.

louis vuitton cannes bag

Jewelry – Expensive jewelry or costume jewelry, eBay and Etsy have it all. Vintage brands sell quickly, so inspect an item that catches your eye and add to cart or make an offer if it’s the real deal. Handmade jewelry means that it’s more unique and won’t be found everywhere, so it also makes for a great gift to a friend or loved one. 

vintage half moon manicure (1 of 1)

Sunglasses – Everyone loves a good pair of sunglasses. Focus on what face shape you’re going for, what brand you’d like, or what materials you’re looking for – the amount of options you’ll have are limitless, so the more specific you get, the better the results. My favorite vintage brands are: Ted Lapidus (I’m wearing in the picture below), Dior, and Persol Ratti.

Belts – High end branded belts end up on eBay for next to nothing and if you’re prepared, you can score a coveted one for a price that will make your jaw drop. Similar to vintage bags, vintage belts are well made and the craftsmanship is beautiful. The only things to pay attention to are condition and sizing – objects may appear larger online than in person. I love my Moschino heart belt and Judith Leiber embellished belts!

vintage designer belt

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