“It’s vintage!” is the answer to just about half of the “Where did you get that?” inquiries I receive. I always feel a little bad about it, since there’s an implied “and that means you can’t have it.” But the truth is, you can! Just maybe not the exact piece I’m wearing. Shopping for vintage is a little trickier than perusing current fashion, but it’s well worth the extra digging. While I always prefer shopping in person (especially hunting through thrift stores and flea markets for hidden gems), I do a lot of searches online — and that’s how I’ve found some of my favorite pieces. Since it can seem a little daunting to the vintage newbie, I put together 7 useful tips for online vintage shopping to help you find some unique, one of a kind items to add to your closet.
- Be specific with your search terms, but not too specific. If you search for “vintage dress” on Etsy, you’ll get 494,575 (as of right now) results. That’s a little overwhelming! When you add “mini” to your search terms, it drops to 32,379. Still too much. But make it “vintage trapeze mini dress” and it is narrowed down to 149. Much more manageable, don’t you think? With online vintage shopping, I like to search by era, style and/or silhouette, then narrow it down further by color, price, or location (mostly just to avoid international shipping). Shopping for vintage online is a lot like going to a thrift store. Have a general idea of what you’re looking for, so as not to be overwhelmed by the vast options, but don’t go into it with too narrow of a focus or you’ll miss out on some great finds. I usually like to start with a more specific search, and then I go a little broader to see if I missed anything, or switch up the keywords to find the buried treasures.
- Always check the measurements. Remember that vintage sizing is different from modern sizing. You know all those pinterest posts about Marilyn Monroe being a size 12-16? Well, not by modern standards. I’m a modern size 6, but I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t be able to get my big toe through a vintage size 6. With online vintage shopping, there is no fitting room, and most sellers will not accept returns or exchanges for fit issues. Always check the measurements against your own – and make sure to check the length, too. To get your own measurements, grab a measuring tape and measure the circumference of your bust (largest part), waist (smallest part of your torso), and hips (widest part).
- When in doubt, ask for more details. Most of my online vintage shopping consists of loose fitting silhouettes, so there’s a little more room for error. But since I have larger arms, if the sleeve looks like it might be somewhat fitted, I ask for the arm circumference. Lots of vintage dresses are tiny in the arms, whether circumference or length. And if the fiber content isn’t listed (sometimes there are no tags and they may not know), I ask for a best guess. I’ve ordered a dress that looked like it was a heavier cotton and when it arrived, it was polyester double knit, which I try to avoid. My fault, because I didn’t ask! Lesson learned.
- Bookmark your favorite sellers and follow them on social, so you get the scoop on new updates and promo codes. Many sellers gear their inventory toward certain eras or styles, so when you find one thing you like, you’ll often find more from the same source. And build a relationship with them – let them know what you’re looking for, and you might get first dibs (I know from experience).
- Have the source come to you. I’ve found many a treasure on the vintage marketplace app Whurl, whether by searching the marketplace or requesting specific items. That’s the best part about the app: you can post an inspiration photo and description of what you’re looking for, and vintage sellers can show you similar items they have for sale. In fact, I got this very dress on Whurl! Spoiler alert: my request is almost always 60s trapeze mini dresses, but my Etsy searches are all over the place (Edwardian blouses, Laura Ashley dresses, 70s maxis, anything with bell sleeves, paintings that look like Miku).
- Check back often. This is the same advice I gave to Kim when she said she was overwhelmed by the amount of inventory on asos. If you keep up with the new stock, you don’t have to go through page after page after page.
- Love it? Don’t wait too long. Remember that there is only one in stock! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve added something to my cart, decided to wait a day and think it over, and came back to find that it was already purchased by something else. Consider your purchases carefully — as I said, most sellers don’t accept returns — but if you really, really love something and the price is right, get it!
If you like the style of my dress, here are some great alternatives in similar silhouettes:
Click on the image directly to shop!
From the top left: 60s Floral Cotton Tent Dress, Chantilly Lace Overlay Trapeze 60’s Midi Dress, 60s Accordian Pleated Sheer White Chiffon Dress, Candy Pink Mini Dress, 60s Pink Trapeze Dress, 60s Navy Polka Dot Dress, Vintage 1960s Lavender Tent Dress, Vintage 1960s Mini Dress, Vintage 1960s Chocolate Brown Trapeze Dress, Vintage 60s Mod Polka Dot Silk Sheer Tent Mini Dress Bow Back Shift Black White, Vintage 80s Dress Yellow Linen Trapeze Dress, Pleated MINI Mod Madness Yellow Polka Dot Tent Dress