Thrifting 101, Part 14: Shopping for vintage online

Source: We Heart It

There's little I love as much as shopping for vintage in a thrift store. Whether I spend time digging through bins of clothes, shuffling hungrily through racks, or trolling estate sales for the perfect piece, the joy of uncovering a special garment is hard to beat. I truly enjoy the entire experience - chatting with little old ladies about where they found that beaded sweater in their cart; learning about new shipments from store employees; playing peek-a-boo with small children hiding in the racks. And don't even get me started on the high I get when I finally do uncover a vintage piece. A fruitful excursion sends me swooning and thanking the shopping gods for my bounty.

However, I doubt I would enjoy thrifting as much as I do if I had limited time to shop. Considering that the average time I spend in a store stretches to over an hour, feeling rushed would result in nothing but frustration. I believe there are many people who are unable to really enjoy thrifting because of time constraints. It takes real patience, and a generous amount of time, to dig out the perfect garment. In addition, thrift shopping is best accomplished during the day, specifically first thing in the morning when employees put new merchandise on the floor. Because few of us can afford to miss a day of work, we might lose out on landing the best pieces. There are also concerns of allergic reactions to dust and grime, physical discomforts due to extended periods on your feet, and the frustration of not finding what you're looking for even after spending hours hunting (which happens to me all the time, and I'm kind of an expert.)

Thanks to the internet, finding vintage pieces is possible without dealing with long lines, time constraints, and allergy attacks. With the abundance of sellers on Etsy, eBay, and through independent websites, it's possible to locate exactly what you're looking for without ever setting foot in a store. For this week's installment of Thrifting 101, I'm going to examine online shopping for vintage garments.

(Missed any previous posts in my Thrifting 101 series? Up to this point, Thrifting 101 has focused on tips for newbies and those dealing with the squick factor, advice regarding how to shop at a thrift store, thrifting for the clothing snob, recommendations for finding the best thrift and consignment stores, tips for determining what days are the best for thrifting, a post where I explained my love for thrifting, advice regarding thrift store etiquette, tips for cleaning vintage leather, a post of my favorite thrifting and vintage blogstips for identifying and cleaning thrifted jewelry, and advice for storing vintage and thrifted garments.)

Before delving into the world of online vintage shopping, it's important to know your keywords. For those new to browsing vintage online this may take a little research. If you don't know the exact vintage terms (such a eyelet high-waisted dress or boho 70's Indian batik sundress) then just use the basic generic terms: “vintage dress”. While this will result in more choices then you can possibly examine, you'll eventually be able to narrow your search down to 50's cocktail dress with shelf bust or 70's crochet mini dress with scarf hem. If you're looking for a particular color or label, using those keywords will greatly narrow your search field while shopping for vintage clothes online.

Once you've found the item you're looking for, here's a list of things to check before placing your online order for vintage clothing and accessories:
  • What is the store's return policy? If one is not clearly given, email and ask! A return policy is a must given the tricky nature of vintage clothes sizing (more on that in a bit.) Any reputable seller will graciously accept returns.  
  • What type of online payments do they accept? If the shop doesn't accept credit cards, find one that does. Credit cards are a good source of protection if you have the unfortunate experience of dealing with someone that is not playing fair. Do they accept Paypal? I prefer to pay through Paypal when purchasing online - it's safe, reliable, and 100% guaranteed against unauthorized payments from your account.
  • Check for feedback. Often, online stores will have a feedback or comments page. Reading feedback from previous customers can provide valuable information about the seller and their service.
  • How does the shop describe their stock?  Many sellers have a rating system by which they specify the condition of their merchandise. Most sellers use the following system: Mint: An item is as perfect and pristine as when it was originally made and shows no sign of wear (mint condition is rare for vintage clothing). Near mint: An item shows only the slightest signs of wear. Excellent: An item shows typical signs of wear due to occasional use. Very good: An item is considered wearable but has some surface flaws (staining or soiling, for example). Good: An item is wearable but cannot be returned to excellent condition even if repairs are made. Be certain to check with the seller for an exact description of the piece you are interested in.
  • Is the item from a smoke-free home? Cigarette smoke is one of the most difficult smells to remove, and is often truly impossible to get out (especially from leather - this is important when considering coats and accessories such as handbags.) Do not purchase vintage items from a seller who lives with a smoker, or whose items were acquired from a smoker. If the seller is at all vague about responding to your questions regarding smoke-free garments, move on.
If you've ever shopped for vintage, you know that sizes of yesteryear don't always correspond with those of modern sized pieces. Unfortunately for the online vintage shopper, this can pose somewhat of a problem.  The best way to determine whether an item will fit without trying it on is to measure yourself with an old-fashioned tape measure, and use those numbers to determine whether an item is right for your body. Here are some measurement guidelines your seller might use, based on specific garment:

Blouses, Tops, Coats, and Shirts:
  1. Arm length is measured from shoulder seam to wrist hem.
  2. Bust/chest measured from underarm, across the chest to the other underarm, then measurement is doubled.
  3. Length is measured from shoulder to hem, or straight down the back not including collar.
  4. Waist is measured across where a normal waist would fall and then doubled.
  5. Back is measured from shoulder seam across to other shoulder seam.
Skirts and Dresses:
  1. Dress length is measured from shoulder to hem.
  2. Waist is measured across where an average waist falls, then doubled.
  3. Skirt length is measured from waistband to hem.
  4. Hips are measured across where an average hip falls, then doubled.
  5. Front waist is measured from the base of the throat to the natural waist. (This helps to determine whether that cute 1950's dress is actually going to sit at your waistline or be above and short-waist you.)
  1. Inseam is measured from crotch down along inside of leg to hem.
  2. Waist is measured across natural waist then doubled.
  3. Rise is measured from the waist, down to the crotch.

Shoes are measured lengthwise across the top of the shoe from the heel to the toe, and the width is measured across the sole at the ball of the foot. 

Have you shopped online for vintage? How has the experience differed from purchasing in-store? Do you prefer to shop in-store or online? Got any favorite sellers to recommend? Do you have an online vintage shop? Leave a comment and let us know!


  1. I swear, I love you! I read your blog much more than I comment, but the more I see of you I think, "I soooooooo get her! She's alot like me!" Your dressing room post was absolutely what goes through my head and now this vintage post. What is more fun than just taking your time and digging for vintage goodies? HEAVEN!! ~Serene

  2. Awww, thank you so so much! I'm so glad I'm not the only one who gets a high off thrifting. Sometimes I think I'm weird. Or nuts. Off to read your blog now!

  3. i just ordered a "vintage" dress on got here and was totally the OPPOSITE of vintage. it was from the UK, but it had a modern tag and it was evident it wasn't really vintage. i was really mad, but i actually still love the dress, so i was only about 75% mad. that's the first time that has happened to me on either ebay or etsy, as i think i have a pretty good eye and can tell when someone is passing something off as vintage.

    so watch out for that! great tips, elissa.

  4. I love, love, love thrift stores. I have a dumb question...what is the difference between 'vintage' and just plain old? I live in a small town and don't get to any big cities with thrift stores so all I get to see is 'old, used stuff'. I just buy what I what is style????? :-)

  5. Oh I know exactly what you mean about the time factor. It's really, really hard for vintage fanatics to get out and about except for weekend flea markets and car boots. Online vintage is a saviour and there are so many bargains out there for the time-poor. What a fantastic post! xo

  6. I love buying my favorite vintage jeans online. Its really difficult to find rare jeans in great condition , only thing is sometimes online can be more expensive

    denim jeans

  7. Useful information...I love looking for vintage but have been a little intimidated to actually purchase online. Thanks for the tips!

    Aesthetic Lounge

  8. Great advise on the measuring. I love your blog! We will def have to go thrifting one day. It was so nice to meet you today. Thank you for organizing turned out awesome. I hope to see you again soon! Now following you. Kiah

  9. I have never shopped for vintage online, so this was supper interesting. O agree- the advice on measure is very good--- not something I had thought of!

  10. I just found you on IFB's Links a la Mode. Congratulations on your selection! I'm there this week too, for my post on the Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Met. These are great tips, I'm bookmarking this page since I want to start wading into the vintage pool. Probably will start with accessories. Nice to meet you and I'm following starting now!

  11. Ooh, it feels like such a risk to buy vintage online - I've only ever bought it instore - but with your tips, I may just be able to try it!

  12. Great post. Thank you! I haven't yet purchased anything vintage but I've been wanting to for a long time now. I need to check out your other posts about this as well! Great advice and very informative.


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