Shopping for vintage clothing online can be as confusing as trying to find a needle in a haystack.
Sure, typing “vintage clothing” into Google returns plentiful results to choose from including great online vintage retailers like Nelda’s Vintage, Rusty Zipper and vintage-inspired clothing stores like Modcloth and Unique Vintage.
But when it comes to knowing where to buy vintage online, not every vintage lovin’ gal wants to just go by word of Google. Another way to buy vintage online is through vintage marketplaces, where independent sellers list their pieces for sale by auction or to buy at set prices.
Not every online vintage marketplace is created equal. So to provide you with the information you need to get the best vintage you want, keep reading after the jump to learn the advantages and disadvantages of shopping vintage online from the top 5 online vintage marketplaces to be found on the web now: Ebay, Etsy, Ruby Lane, Art Fire and Style.ly.
Knowing where to buy vintage online can seem daunting with so many websites to shop from, so I broke down the top 5 online vintage marketplaces to give you a clearer picture for deciphering how best to take advantage of each.
Plus, below each vintage marketplace’s homepage picture I’ve added a screenshot illustrating how many visitors the website averages monthly. You’ll notice that Ebay has millions of visitors every month while sites like Ruby Lane and Artfire attract roughly 500,000 visitors.
While each site has their pros and cons, these vintage marketplaces share the common ground of providing vintage lovers like you with the opportunity to shop vintage clothing online from the comfort of your own computers. And what’s any better than that?!
Which of the online vintage marketplaces described below do you prefer using to shop vintage and why?
WHERE TO BUY VINTAGE ONLINE: EBAY.COM
THE BASICS: Ebay.com is an online auction place for all types of new and secondhand goods, including vintage clothing.
Search “vintage clothing” in the search bar to receive general results of what you can buy now or search for more specific pieces using descriptive search terms like “boho vintage maxi dress” or “1940s fashion.”
PROS: The number one advantage to shopping Ebay is the large volume of selection. Typing in “women’s vintage clothing” to the search bar yields more than 100,000 results!
Plus, you have the opportunity to add favorite pieces to your “watch list” so that Ebay can alert you when the bidding window for that item is coming to an end.
The best pro for buyers when shopping Ebay is their buyer protection service, an Ebay-guarantee that you’ll receive the item you paid for or be reimbursed in full by the seller.
CONS: Despite having all the bells and whistles you’d ever want in an online vintage marketplace, Ebay has a clunky design that can be confusing for the average web surfer to navigate.
The site allows sellers to create their own personally-designed pages per item. Sometimes the sellers create very long pages that require you to scroll down at length for all the information.
Also, remembering just where to find things on Ebay can be time-consuming. I’ve spent 5 minutes staring at my screen trying to figure out how to contact the seller with a question!
Unlike every other top online vintage clothing marketplace, Ebay is the only one where bidding occurs and where on certain vintage clothing items, you can compete with other bidders to “win” that item by your highest bid OR choose to “buy it now” at a price set by the seller.
Clicking “buy it now” on an item during its bidding window guarantees that you win the item because you’ve agreed to pay the seller’s buy it now price.
The seller usually sets the “buy it now” reasonably high. The American Archive vintage dress shown above has a current bid of $51, but the buy it now price is $198.
The option of bidding vs. buy it now allows the buyer to securely buy the vintage piece if worried they won’t win the bid. But if the buyer isn’t worried about winning, they can potentially grab a great deal on a vintage piece if there are a low number of bidders at the item’s close of sale.
Grabbing the dress shown above for $51, for example, isn’t too bad of a deal! I’ve heard stories of bidders winning vintage at unheard of prices with the right stroke of bidding luck.
WHERE TO BUY VINTAGE ONLINE: ETSY.COM
THE BASICS: Next to Ebay, Etsy is the second biggest online vintage marketplace, attracting an average of 8 million people to its site monthly.
Etsy is a great site to shop for vintage in a more streamlined and aesthetically pleasing experience than Ebay. Many vintage lovers argue that they can find vintage pieces for less on Etsy, because there is no bidding on the site and therefore all prices are determined by the seller and not by the results of a bidding war instead.
Additionally, Etsy has a handmade goods section that complements a vintage lover’s homespun personality. You can buy handmade earrings to match your new vintage dress all in one place!
PROS: In addition to affordability and aesthetics, shopping Etsy allows you to connect with a vintage seller in a more personal way.
Once you click on a vintage item you like, you are taken to that item’s page which also introduces you to other items available in that seller’s shop.
So while the item you initially clicked on may not end up in your shopping cart, the page’s design presents you with other vintage options available in that seller’s store you may be inspired to click through. It’s easy to shop an entire seller’s store this way.
CONS: To buy an item on Etsy, you absolutely must have a Paypal account. This is another step to the buying process which may complicate matters regarding payment, shipping and fees.
Make sure that you have registered successfully for and understand how best to use Paypal before purchasing through Etsy.
I love spending an hour or so shopping on Etsy because the site allows you to focus your search by also inspiring how you might search, too.
Here’s how the inspiration part works: When you begin to type “dresses” into the search bar at the top of the page (see picture above), you’ll notice that Etsy suggests complementary search terms much like Google does with its search bar.
So I can type in anything from “dress” to “pants” to “sequins” to “cats” to see what Etsy suggests based on popular searches and what’s available on the site now. Etsy’s almost acting like a personal shopper for me!
Additionally, after you search for an item you are given a tool on the left hand side of your page (see picture above) where you can plug in a specific item location, price range or shipping destination.
The advantage to this tool is rather than sorting your search results from “least expensive” to “expensive,” you can plug in a price range (say $50 t0 $100) for a specific window amount. If you’d like to purchase an item locally, you can potentially arrange for pick-up of the item from the seller so that you can avoid shipping fees.
WHERE TO BUY VINTAGE ONLINE: RUBYLANE.COM
THE BASICS: Rubylane.com sells vintage clothing alongside antiques, books, arts, jewelry, pottery and an array of other collectible items a vintage lover may also desire.
Ruby Lane’s homepage allows you to search for or browse items in one of these specific categories. The site also does a great job of showcasing featured items and shops so that top quality items have a chance to be seen by your eyes.
PROS: One of the greatest pros of Ruby Lane is the quality of vintage pieces. When shopping any online vintage marketplace, it’s important to recognize the quality of the piece and to know whether the “price is right” for it.
Because sellers are subjective to their own pricing, you may sometimes see a piece priced unreasonably high OR if you’re lucky, too low!
For the most part, Ruby Lane has attracted a community of vintage sellers who pride themselves on the best vintage pieces. You’ll notice that while there are fewer deals to come by on Ruby Lane, you have more options to buy designer and top label vintage pieces versus just run-of-the-mill department store finds.
CONS: Because the Ruby Lane is a more high-end vintage focused website, there are approximately 13,000 vintage pieces to choose from compared to 100,000+ results for bigger sites Etsy & Ebay.
Ruby Lane will actually suggest other vintage items to you related to the item you are currently viewing on the page.
If you are looking at a formal vintage dress in the price range of $300 you’ll be shown other formal dresses in a similar price range below the listing (see image above).
If that specific listing doesn’t fulfill your fashion needs, you can click through to any of Ruby Lane’s suggestions for similar options without having to return to the search results.
This unique feature is another personal shopping feature I love about online vintage marketplaces that a vintage store website doesn’t typically provide, simply because they don’t carry enough inventory to do so.
WHERE TO BUY VINTAGE ONLINE: ARTFIRE.COM
Art Fire also lists handmade goods and DIY supplies like Etsy, as well as unique categories “media,” “commercial” and “design.”
PROS/CONS: The pro-con perspective of shopping Art Fire is that the site’s vintage category isn’t just devoted to clothing, but also vintage furniture, home goods, books, dolls, general memorabilia and just about anything that qualities as vintage because it’s technically 20 years or older.
The pro side of this is that alongside clothing, you can also shop for a vintage Coca-Cola sign for decorating purposes or vintage china for an upcoming dinner party. Unlike the other marketplaces, you truly can buy the “360-degree vintage lifestyle” in one place.
The con side of this is that because of the site’s 360 degree focus on providing buyers with just about everything they’d ever want vintage, that you may feel overwhelmed with so many options and decide to shop somewhere less stimulating.
Thankfully Art Fire does have a drop down menu categorizing the various ways to shop vintage on the site. When first tackling Art Fire, shop with a goal in mind so that you avoid getting sidetracked!
While the site may be filled with lots and lots of vintage “stuff” and not just clothing, it’s also filled with plenty of discounts through coupons, buy-one-get-one-free deals, free shipping and free gift opportunities!
The left side of your search page will show these deal & sale categories to search in. If you’re on a tight budget or want more for less, focus your search here for results that keep your bank account happy.
The picture above displays search results for the free shipping category, which is always a huge perk to receive when shopping online!
WHERE TO BUY VINTAGE ONLINE: STYLE.LY
THE BASICS: Style.ly is a new site that brings a uniquely social shopping experience to the world of buying vintage online.
Founded in August 2011, Style.ly is the sister site to Yardsellr. Unlike Yardsellr – where you can buy just about everything (like at a real yardsale)– Style.ly focuses on fashion alone, where visitors buy either modern secondhand or vintage secondhand pieces.
PROS: Style.ly is a great site for buying vintage clothing for a handful of reasons, alongside some very interesting features differentiating it from other online vintage marketplaces.
First, Style.ly is so new that many of the vintage pieces listed are inexpensively priced. I’ve discovered vintage clothing listed for nearly half the amount it would cost on other online vintage sites. For example, the sequin top shown in the photo below is priced at a cheap $22.50! I’d expect a piece like this to go for at least $40.
On top of finding great deals, Style.ly’s site design is clean, crisp and creative. It’s clean because there aren’t too many bells and whistles clogging up the page and taking your attention away from finding great vintage clothing. It’s crisp because text is large and general coloring is neutral and therefore easy on the eyes. Lastly, it’s creative because you can search by “type of clothing genre” versus “type of clothing style.”
The difference between genre and style? While a style may be “vintage dress,” a genre would be “vintage boho” or “vintage glam.” These genres are labeled as “coteries” on the site, which means “unified interests.”
CONS: The only con to using Style.ly at this very moment is the selection of vintage clothing. The average amount of visitors to site is nearing 100,000, which is a fraction of what competitors Ebay and Etsy attract and about one-fifth the amount of site traffic garnered by Ruby Lane & Art Fire.
The site is growing and has definitely grown fast since it’s founding in August 2011. I predict that with each passing month, vintage lovers will find a greater selection of pieces available to buy at affordable prices on Style.ly.
I love Style.ly for the most unique feature of all online vintage marketplaces listed in this very article.
Through various actions taken on the site (signing up, commenting on items, recommending to friends, buying/selling items, etc.) you can gain “style points” that accumulate to sweet discounts applicable to vintage clothing you want to buy from the site!
In other words, Style.ly rewards shoppers/buyers/vintage lovers alike for almost everything they do on the site. Each time you sell a piece, you receive points. Each time you comment on a point, you receive points. Each time you buy a piece, you get points! The incentive to shop is strong, which keeps buyers and sellers alike stylishly satisfied.
With opportunity to save money on already inexpensively priced vintage clothing, there’s no reason why vintage lovers shouldn’t be shopping for vintage online a site like Style.ly!