Vintage shopping can be wonderful, and awful. For every perfectly-tailored gem you dig out from the back of a dusty rail, there are usually several hours of exhausting, disappointing rummaging and trying on polyester frocks that don’t stretch across your boobs.
But thankfully that doesn’t have to be the way anymore – because unlike our well-dressed retro counterparts, we have a little thing called the internet. Some devotees might feel that vintage clothes call for vintage methods, but there are so many great sites out there these days that you can skip the market stall trawl altogether.
Here are my best tips for successful vintage buying online, and some of the best places to do it…
Tip: know your terminology
‘Vintage’ is typically defined as clothes between 20 and 100 years old, while those older than 100 are ‘antique’ – and those younger than 20 are just second-hand (or 2008 Miss Selfridge being sold back to you for three times the price). Swot up on a glossary of vintage style and fabric terms to help you sort your seersucker from your ‘it’s completely sheer, sucker!’, and be on your guard for anyone selling ‘vintage-style’ pieces that will actually be brand new.
Tip: be prepared to get crafty
You don’t need a textiles GCSE to buy vintage, but a sewing kit and a can-do attitude are seriously helpful. I’ve barely bought anything that I didn’t alter slightly to fit me or suit me better, and once you know you can take up a hem, put a couple of darts in or change buttons if needed, you open up a much bigger world of potential purchases.
Tip: use your imagination
Online vintage stores are much better these days about showing garments on real-life humans, but you’ll still come up against some dodgy photography and ill-fitted dummies. Try to see past the backdrop and imagine the item on you: how will it fit? Does it compare to anything you already own? What shoes/bra/coat would you wear with it? Could you cut the whole skirt off and wear it as a bangin’ blouse? As a rule, people are lazy – so using a bit of vision could help you snag the best bargains.
Tip: be honest about your measurements
People in the olden days were tiny, because they didn’t have cronuts or laptops and everyone walked eight miles to the shops every day. Accept that fact, and now get over it. Buying a dress marked as ‘XL’ when you’re a size 12 might feel dismal, but buying a dress you can barely fit over your thigh and then looking weepily at it in the wardrobe every day feels worse. Know your bust, waits and hip measurements off by heart and don’t be tempted to risk a no-fit unless you’re sure you can take it out or sell it on.
Tip: find ‘your’ era
Being big of hip and bust, I know that the 50s, the early 70s and the 80s-pretending-to-be-50s are my friends. Those are the eras that flatter me, and I can more or less skip straight over power dressing, punk and anything with a Peter Pan collar. Unless you’re willing to deal with a lot of disappointment, it pays to discover your best eras early on and use them as starting point for any online search. The same goes for shapes, fabrics and prints that might have once graced your Mum’s sofa.
Tip: get social
Even more than normal e-retailers, vintage sellers rely on your good feedback. Buying one-offs from a stranger is an uncertain game, so leave positive ratings and detailed reviews wherever you can to reassure other shoppers – you’ll be grateful that others have done the same for you. Likewise if you’re disappointed with a purchase, complain accurately, be reasonable and give the seller a chance to refund or help rather than leaping straight to the ‘BEWARE!!!’ button.
So now you’ve been suitably prepped, where to start shopping? Here are a few favourite vintage e-retailers to ease you in:
Best for channelling your inner hippie: The Stellar Boutique
With a whole load of styling, designing and visual merchandising credentials under her belt, former Portobello market trader Stella set up her online shop to showcase one-off pieces and bring a little originality to our wardrobes. There’s modestly-priced vintage from the 40s to the 90s, all beautifully styled on real models and listed with plenty of details on sizing, fabric and fit. Stella’s self-confessed ‘hippy-luxe’ lifestyle is reflected in the site’s sumptuous Bohemia section, full of Moroccan leather and jewellery that’s all more ‘mm yeah’ than ‘gap year’.
Best for choice: Beyond Retro
Anyone who has ever hunted through Beyond Retro’s cavernous East London warehouse on a Sunday afternoon will know that the company’s biggest appeal, and also its downside, is choice. You leave either with a lighter wallet, or with a headache. Which is why their mammoth webstore is such a blessing – more than 25,000 items online means you’ll still find plenty of fantatic swag from all eras, but without having to shift off the sofa. Items are modelled on mannequins, not humans, and the selection of L or XL clothes is on the skinny side… but for sheer volume and variety, BR can’t be beat.
Best for browsing: Etsy
We can (probably) safely say that where vintage is concerned, Etsy is the new eBay. Especially good if you still like the rush of a vintage shop-rummage, Etsy’s sellers give you just the right level of efficiency vs ‘I found a hidden treasure!’ Try Rococo Vintage and Dear Golden for beautiful frocks.
Best for hip kids: ASOS Marketplace
ASOS blazes a trail in basically everything, and vintage shopping is no exception. The site was one of the first to recognise the importance of showing garments on real life people, and their stringent photography guidelines make for a much less frustrating user experience. The site is fantastic for trend-led pieces (hello, 11 pages of kimonos) and their editorial picks will point even vintage virgins in the right direction.
Best for do-gooders: Oxfam Vintage
A great alternative to sinfully marked-up sweatshirts and 90s slips, lots of charities have jumped on the vintage bandwagon in recent years with some opening great webstores too. Oxfam’s is the biggest and the best, with fairly-priced pieces dating back to the 50s and a dreamy vintage bridal selection too.
Image: Alex Liivet
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