You probably have this friend: every time you see her, she turns up in some cool-but-unplaceable new piece that is totally of-the-moment and yet... different. You can’t get a read on it, so you have to inquire about its origin. Her answer is always frustratingly simple: “It’s vintage!” Your next question is a practical one: how can you get your hands on something similarly one-of-a-kind if there’s presumably only one of it in the world?
We have a lot of these friends — some of them are right here in our office at Refinery29 — so we didn’t have to venture far to find the answer. It turns out that a lot of them have gotten really good at finding vintage and past-season designer pieces online, thanks to vast marketplaces like Etsy and eBay, and up-and-coming, curated luxury shopping destinations like The RealReal and Vestiaire Collective. We tapped enviably stylish insiders like our global editor-in-chief and co-founder Christene Barberich, and Anna Gray, founder of vintage bazaar Object Limited, to find out how they navigate these sites — and, more importantly, what they’re looking for. Read on to find out their tips, tricks, and most-used search terms.
1. Find Your Vintage Shopping Comfort Zone
Christene Barberich gave us the best advice to get situated: “Find the site you feel the most comfortable on.” We’ve listed a lot of retailers in the upcoming slideshow, so bop among these URLs and stick with the one that’s easiest for you to navigate and, if you like, download the app to make the experience mobile friendly. There are wonderful, affordable finds on every site — trust us, we’ve seen them all.
2. Have a Search Party
“I have a list of probably 100 saved searches [on eBay],” says Christene, “both designers, like 'Phoebe Philo Celine,' and keywords that I look for, like ‘French peasant blouse’ or ‘silk dress made in Italy.’” Plug whatever your heart desires into that search bar and see what comes up — half the fun is scrolling, anyway. “If I’m in the mood to look at a lot, I’ll do a broad search — like, 'vintage deadstock,'” says Christene, “and I’ll get thousands of entries.” eBay fashion director Renee Paradise treats the search like the “save” feature on Instagram: “I use it as a place to note the things that are interesting to me when I see them.” Get creative and play around with your queries by searching not only by designer, but by decade, material, color, or print, to find the most interesting things.
3. Measure Twice, Buy Once
“Keep that measuring tape handy,” advises Dayna Isom Johnson, Etsy’s trend expert. When you’re shopping vintage and one-of-a-kind, sizing can be all over the map, but the ruler doesn’t lie. Compare your own measurements to the ones provided online, and if you don’t see them, ask. (Come to think of it, that’s a handy segue into our next tip.)
4. There’s No Such Thing As A Stupid Question
When it comes to one-of-a-kind merchandise — and vintage especially — eliminate the guesswork at the outset, as return policies can be variable, stringent, and often non-existent. Reach out to the customer service team, or, on a multi-vendor marketplace like Etsy or eBay, contact the seller directly. (Pro tip: they may be willing to knock a few bucks off the price. “Every time I buy something on Etsy,” says Anna, “I’m like, ‘Hey, can I get a discount if I buy three things?’ And they usually say yes.”)
5. Pull The Trigger
“Never pause on the purchase,” says Johnson. Wise words! One-of-a-kind pieces are just that, and getting scooped by another buyer is the type of trauma that stays with many a vintage-hunter for years. You can always resell, but you can rarely recover. “I missed out on a vintage Missoni maxi coat 10 years ago, and I still think about it,” recalls Christene.
Now, tell us: do you feel better-informed and ready to browse? Good — because we’ve rounded up some of the best finds on the platforms that our experts favor, in addition to a few other online shops and marketplaces that are worth checking out. (Note that our focus here is on sites that have bookmark-worthy vintage selections, so not every major online re-seller made the list.) We also used some of our experts’ suggestions to inform our own browsing, so get ready to ready pick up a few bonus tips in the slides ahead.
At Refinery29, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team. If you buy something we link to on our site, Refinery29 may earn commission.