I discovered Etsy back in 2011 when shopping for a bow tie collar for my then new puppy, Bow. At the time, I had no idea this (admittedly niche) search would lead me to what is now one of my greatest sources of shopping inspiration, both personally and professionally. I now look for vintage additions to my own wardrobe on Etsy constantly, and as Man Repeller’s Market Strategist, I often use it to link up stories where the clothes are not current-season items–like for Office Apropos or Ruby Redstone’s column. And then there’s always the random wild card shoot when Etsy saves the day–just last month, Harling asked me to find a tartan mid-length green kilt for a holiday story, and I did so on Etsy for $39.69.
For those who don’t use it professionally, I know Etsy can be overwhelming, and that’s why I’m sharing some of the helpful tricks I’ve stored in my 1970s sleeves. Scroll down for my carefully honed strategy.
Search With a Purpose
I used to sometimes peruse Etsy aimlessly, looking at sellers I was familiar with, and always wound up purchasing things I didn’t really need or that I didn’t wind up loving. Unlike other online retailers, Etsy isn’t a particular curation of items specially organized with taste and/or ease in mind, so it’s best to shop there when you already have something very specific you’re looking for.
To that point, choose your search terms thoughtfully. Searching for a “white shirt” is different from searching for a “white blouse,” which is different from a “womens vintage white blouse,” which is different from a “womens vintage white puff sleeve blouse,” which is still different from searching for what you really want, which is probably a “womens vintage embroidered white puff sleeve blouse.” By the way, they have really good ones.
Narrow Things Down as Much as Possible
The category boxes on the left side of the Etsy homepage are like cuticles: seemingly unimportant but ultimately vital and therefore not ideal to overlook. They let you control everything from price to color to whether the items that appear are vintage or homemade, which means you’ll find whatever it is you’re looking for much faster.
Double Check the Material
Contributing writers Ruby Redstone and Anna Gray have both pointed out that it’s important to consider material when shopping vintage, and this is particularly true on Etsy since you aren’t feeling the item in person. I once purchased a shirt that looked perfect and beautiful without reading what it was made out of, and wound up with a polyester blouse that awkwardly clung to me. Stick to natural materials like cotton, silk, or wool.
Contact the Seller With Questions
If you have any questions–about material, size, the original source of item, shipping time, etc.–you can (and should!) contact the seller. The link button to do so is usually located at the bottom right of the listing, below the shipping information. I’ve contacted sellers many times when shopping for editorials to make sure I would receive the item in time for the photoshoot. I’ve also asked denim sellers to give me a better feel for the US size of a pair of jeans if it happened to be listed in European sizing. I’ve asked to see additional photos, too. Oftentimes the seller will also send you tracking directly and sometimes (!!) a coupon code for a discount.
Be on High Alert for Potential Discounts
Speaking of discounts… Etsy has certain periods when they run amazing discounts! Sometimes they can be at random times, so I would recommend setting up an account and “favoriting” the pieces you’re interested in so you’ll receive an email whenever something goes on sale.
Set a Budget *Before* You Shop
I never spend more than $100 on Etsy. This is a hard and fast rule I repeat to myself every time I’m shopping on the site, because I know from experience that it’s possible to find amazing vintage pieces at wallet-friendly prices. I recommend setting a firm spending limit before you commence your search, lest you get tempted by a pair of Chanel wedges you really do not need (I’ve resisted those specific ones many, many times).
Judge Photos With a Grain of Salt
Etsy has a special marketplace section where photos are professional and actual businesses run all of their sales; however, a lot of the best vintage items are sold by individual sellers who take photos with their phone or a hand-held camera. Trust that a wrinkled blouse could be easily steamed smooth, or that a promising cardigan will look even more promising in non-fluorescent light–and as I said before, you can always request more photos!
Chat with me in the comments below if you want any second opinions, tips on specific items, and all that fun jazz. It would be my pleasure to help with your Etsy score. It would also be my pleasure to hear any tricks you have up your pink tulle sleeve.