Monday, 10 January 2011

How to buy vintage online - tips and tricks.

I have spoken to a few people recently who have told me that they are scared to buy vintage online either because they are worried that items won't fit or because they are new to vintage, so here is a little guide to help the vintage beginner take their first steps
Step 1:  Know your stuff.
 Before I really started buying vintage seriously I tried to learn as much about it as I could.  One of the best ways is to become a member of The Fedora Lounge - the best online resource for vintage information about the golden era (it mainly covers 30's - 50's with a little 20s and 60's thrown in for good measure).  I am sure there are similar sites for other decades too.

 I also bought a very useful little book - "It's Vintage Darling!"- and it is largely thanks to this compact but incredibly useful guide that I can now identify a 40's dress at 40 paces.  The lovely Retro Chick is also a fan and her page links to Amazon - so clicky here.  I just wish I hadn't written all over my copy it as it seems to be out of print and the price is high!  


There are also lots of other great books available - I personally am hankering after this little number.

I also find watching movies from my chosen era really helpful, though I suspect these cinema wardrobes are responsible for my addiction to over-the-top hats!

Spending time in vintage shops also helps, examine the clothes in person, get a feel for cut and style and fabric prints of your era.

Step 2: Sizing.
We all know sizes vary between different modern retailers so it’s no surprise that vintage clothing sizes vary even more…while it is common knowledge that Marilyn Monroe wore a size 16 in the 1950’s it isn’t often realised is that this is equivalent to a modern UK size 12.  Also many vintage clothes were handmade and thus fitted to the makers particular measurements rather than confirming to a standard “shop” size.
This can all be confusing and as such most vintage items on eBay are listed with the garment measurements rather than just the original size. 
 How to measure yourself:
You will need a tape measure a pencil, a full length mirror, a piece of paper and, if you aren’t too flexible, a  friend…
Step 1 – measure yourself and write it all down:

Bust: across the shoulder blades at the fullest part of the bust, do not hold the tape too tight or you will squash your boobage!  Not a god look when wearing a dress.
Waist: around the thinnest part of your torso – don’t suck your tummy in or breathe in, this needs to be a realistic measurement!
Hips: Around 7-8 inches below your waist at the fullest point
Sleeve and leg length – from shoulder to wrist and front inside leg to ankle

Shoulder to waist can be important too - a lot of vintage dresses are pretty shortwaisted.  (Thanks for the tip Lolita!) 

The pic below should help.
 peculiar genitalia they gave her, poor love.
Step 2 – measure your clothes and write it all down

Take similar measurements from a couple of your own garments, ones which fit you well.  

Step 3Compare!

Look at the difference between your measurements and the garment measurements, the garments will be slightly larger and the difference will give you an idea as to how much bigger than you a garment should be to give you a comfortable fit.

Step 4 – Compare again!

This time compare your measurements with those of the garment you are looking to buy – try not to be tempted by too small or too large items as few vintage sellers offer refunds for items which simply do not fit.

Step 5 - ….and repeat!

You size will change over time – so please ensure you are aware of your current measurements when buying vintage.
How I measure garments:

I measure my garments laid flat, and then double where appropriate:
bust measurement is taken from underarm to underarm;
waist measurement is taken across the garment at the narrowest part of the waist (note if the waist is elasticated I give the measurement of the waist unstretched and the measurement of the waist fully stretched );
hip measurement is taken across the garment, 7 inches below the natural waist
length measurement - depending on the type of garment this is taken from neck to hem, shoulder to hem, waist to hem etc, this is included in my listings
outside arm measurement is taken from the shoulder to the wrist;
inside arm measurement is taken from the underarm seam to the wrist;

Step 3: Dealing with sellers 

My eBay seller chums are going to spank me for this but I am very cheeky when it comes to buying online and recommend using the same approach, but carefully.  I frequently ask for extra pictures and measurements, for a discount or whether I can pay in instalments.  It doesn't always work but extra photos can be absolutely key in determining the condition of a garment. Of course if a garment is reasonably priced it can looka little cheap to ask for the price to be lowered, so please only do this when you feel a price is a little high!

Step 4 (thanks Kim Bombshell): Bidding methods

Bidding early can work against you, driving a price up much higher than an article is worth.  I always prefer to use a snipe site:  the benefits are twofold.  Firstly the site makes your bid for you, in the last secons of the auction, so you don't sit up all night in your flat in London waiting for a US auction to end (yes, I have set my alarm for 3am to bid on eBay before...).  Secondly, you put in your max price when you set up the snipe, therefore it is much easier to keep your spending in control.  I perfer ezsniper but there are loads out there - just give it a google!

Step 5:  Sometimes it is worth taking risks

Some of my best purchases have been those little 99p buys that had a blurred photo and a sparse description.  Sometimes it is worth taking a risk and the more you train your eye the better you will be at huting down those online bargains.

Please tell me your vintage shopping tips and tricks!


  1. This, lady, was an awesome post! Thank you so much for sharing! :")

  2. One of the MOST important things for is shoulder to waist measurements. I am long waisted and sadly have had to turn down some lovely numbers all because the waist comes just under my boobs in my ribs. Don't forget to measure there too!

  3. That should have said... One of the MOST important things for *ME* is

  4. Good point Lo, I'll edit. :-)

    I never think of that as I am Miss Average - average height, weight, shoe size etc etc.

  5. You forgot to mention if it is an auction, do not bid the first day, wait until the last moment or use a snipe so you don't drive the price up.

  6. Good point Kim - will add in. My brain isn't fully working today. :-)

    I did think of adding snipes and then completely forgot!

  7. "Hips: Around 7-8 inches below your waist at the fullest point"

    Would this be a measurement that is taken around your whole butt? I'm never quite sure where on my hips that measurement is for

  8. Great post! I would add that you should watch shoulder measurements, too..especially if you love 20s and 30s dresses, as they can be really narrow (same with arm hole, bicep, and cuff/wrist circumference).

  9. And if you can't behave yourself and buy a dress just because it's love at first sight then you can do like me; the last dress I bought on Etsy seemed like too large for me when I received it but with a nice belt it definitely looks good! I've got to admit it's a cheap solution but I'm bad at sewing!!;)

  10. I didn't notice the picture of where to take measurement the first time I read this, so ignore my butt question ;)

  11. I added it for you Betty. :-)

  12. Thanks for sharing!! most of my clothes come from shopping online hehehe

  13. Fab post! (*makes note to self to actually READ "It's Vintage Darling" instead of walking past it*)

  14. Thanks for sharing your advice, as you say sometimes the best buy are more luck than judgement.
    I love the book "It's Vintage Darling" and have read mine copy so often that I know from cover to cover.

  15. Great post! I wish somebody made a list like that when I started buying vintage online years ago. Its very nice to have all the hints and tips in a system, I often bid and buy on a gut feeling and a check list is smart! ;)

    And thank you for mentioning the books and Fedora Lounge, I've never heard of any of them! :)

    Miss M

  16. I agree with all of that (nice use of 'boobage' too! Glad I'm not the only person who uses the term!).

    My tip would be to put in an odd amount (e.g. £5.63) because people tend to bid up in £1 and 50p denominations.

    I am pretty short and find should-waist no issue with most vintage, but it is worth remembering that many women were more petite (or 'oompa loompa' as my husband calls me).

    And DEFFO ask for photos and info about state of repair. I'll never forget once I ordered a 'good' and 'clean' 50s dress for a Chap Olympiad- it arrived that morning BUT scrumpled, hem down, covered in cat hair and the peticoat had dubious stains. It's washed and mended now but I can't help thinking had I sounded stroppy about such things the seller would have given it a rinse and kept it out of kitteh's basket!

  17. i can't believe that Marilyn Monroe is a considered a size 16 back tehn! wow! sizings have changed alot!

  18. Just found your blog. Thanks for the tips on online vintage shopping! Pop by my blog if you want to :) xx

  19. hey there gave you a stylish blogger award :D

  20. I'll keep these tips in mind. Honestly, I get into trouble about shopping online. I always hesitate about buying stuff. Unlike if I'm shopping at the malls, I can easily choose the things that I wanted. Maybe because it is easier to judge items if they're tangible.