Once you’ve dipped your toe into the money-sucking quicksand that is Etsy, there’s no escaping. It is, without doubt, the best place online to source vintage clothing or offbeat handmade items.
When buying vintage clothing, a few sites come to mind: there’s eBay, whose heyday for quality items was probably ten years ago – more often now flooded with spammy listings and so called “vintage” items that actually turn out to be H&M from three seasons ago – and ASOS Marketplace, which tends to be dominated by 80s & 90s threads. On Etsy, product quality is generally high and the pool of clothing is wide. 20s, mid-century, mod, it’s all there.
I’ve a bit of an Etsy veteran, having bought a lot and sold a little on the site over the years. Here are my tips for finding the best stuff.
1. Know your measurements by heart.
Like all online shops, there’s a big risk of impulsively buying something that looks great on the model, but isn’t necessarily right for your body.
Before clicking that ‘Add to cart’ button, check the item’s measurements. These should include bust, waist, hip and length specifications, and can be listed as either halved (measured by laying the item flat) or doubled. Multiply any halved measurements by 2 to get the full sizing.
Check these against your own measurements (here is a good guide on how to measure yourself correctly) and add an inch or two for a comfortable fit. You can be more generous with coats as you’ll likely be wearing chunky layers underneath.
Bear in mind different silhouettes: for 50s dresses, accurate waist measurements will be particularly important, while the right hip measurements – often forgotten when looking at dresses – are vital for 60s shifts. Stick with the kind of shapes you know suit you, as returns are rarely accepted by Etsy sellers.
2. Bookmark interesting shops, but don’t discount less popular sellers or dodgy photography.
There are many incredibly professional shops on Etsy that rival even WilliamVintage for quality. Equally, there are some that haven’t really nailed how to take attractive, well lit photos of their stock.
I’ve found great pieces from shops that displayed their stock on coat hangers, hung on the back of bathroom doors. Well-respected brands as well, which brings me to…
3. Read up on labels
Vintage shopping rewards those who do their research. It helps to have a good grasp of the silhouettes, fabrics and colours associated with different eras, which will prevent you ordering a mis-labelled 80s dress advertised as 40s, and allow you to hone in on styles you really like (e.g. “30s crepe evening dress” if you’re looking for something long and flowy).
Every so often, you’ll come across an item with a visible brand label that hasn’t been factored into the listing description or tags. I’ve discovered pieces by Emma Domb and Pauline Trigere – both very collectable labels – this way.
4. Follow your favourite shops on social media, particularly Instagram.
Many shops promote their stock on social media, often providing glimpses of upcoming pieces and sales before they hit Etsy. Instagram is particularly good as some shops run Instagram-only sales, offering steep discounts on small batches of clothing.
5. Take into account import fees and taxes before you buy.
A warning to UK buyers: you’ll be charged customs fees on any items you buy from Etsy shops located abroad. These amount to an additional 20% of your order’s value if it costs more than £15 (so basically everything really), and then the post office will whack a nice £8 handling fee on top.
Sometimes shops will be generous with their value declarations, but don’t count on it. Make sure you factor in the cost of fees if you’re buying something expensive.
6. I’m sold. Where do I go for vintage eveningwear/30s earrings/70s maxi dresses?
Did I mention my Etsy shop? Here are some of my favourite sellers, but I’m just skimming the surface.
Antique, 1920s & 30s:
1960s mod & 70s clothing: