New York Patricia Handschiegel had watched her technologically inclined boyfriend get great deals buying computer equipment on eBay but she wasn't really interested in the whole online auction thing when motherboards and memory chips were on the block.
But one day on a whim she typed "vintage clothing" into eBay's search engine and opened a Pandora's box full of treasures.
"It's like an entire, gigantic garage sale," says Handschiegel, who lives in Los Angeles.
Shopping for vintage clothing online is an alternative for a person who wants to wear the retro looks that are currently in vogue but may not be within walking distance of New York City's East village or Telegraph Avenue in Berkley, Calif. One-of-a-kind suits, pants, evening gowns and shoes can be a click away if one knows where to go.
Philip Bloch, a Hollywood stylist who counts Halle Berry as a client, writes a column on eBay that helps buyers sift through all trends and, maybe more importantly, the lingo. (Commonly used abbreviations include "DB" for double breasted and "NBW" for "Never Been Worn.")
"For something so global, eBay really has and Mom-And-Pop feel to it," says Bloch.
Lauren Redden started her Retrodress Web site after she "stuffed to the gills" two bedrooms of her home with vintage clothes she had picked up at flea markets and garage sales over the years. She wore most of it but she some garments were just irresistible deals :quot; even if they didn't fit her.
She also noticed the few vintage shops near her rural hometown of Lakeside, Calif., focused mainly on clothes from the 1960s and earlier. During her own weekend hunts, though, she was finding a lot of high-end designer clothing from the 1970s and '80s that someone must have certainly wanted.
"Designers really knew how to make clothes back then," she says. "I think that's the only way they have lasted this long."
She says that most of her clients are women in their late 20s and early 30s who are looking for something unique after they've scoured all the fashion magazines.
|Whether you choose an auction Web site or an e-tailer, and these tips from a shopper (Patricia Handschiegel of Los Angeles) and a Hollywood stylist (Phillip Bloch) might help sort through the virtual racks:¢ Sort auctions according to how soon they will expire so you can get in right away on items you may want.¢ Know your measurements. Sizes are just numbers and they vary from designer to designer. This is especially true in older garments.¢ Make sure items have photos.¢ If you're buying from an auction site such as eBay, check out the seller's rating.¢ Find out about the seller's return policy.¢ Decide how much you are willing to spend on an item and stick to it. Don't get caught up in end-of-auction madness.|
She says that most of her sales go to New York and other East Coast points where edgier styles are popular. Many of her shipments also are addressed to Canadian shoppers. "They're big on coats," she adds.
Redden says that when looking for vintage online, the best thing to do is to know your own measurements. Clothes were made smaller 20 years ago and a size 12 back then might really fit a size 6 today. The garments also might have been altered by the original owners.
But for someone looking for special vintage collectables, maybe Versace dresses or fancy hats, online shopping cuts the labor in half, says Redden.
Handschiegel, for one, was tempted by Custo Barcelona shirts.
She found that whenever she would hunt for them on eBay, tons of listings would come up, more than she could handle or make sense out of. She learned to sort the listings by the end of the auction date. That way she could bid on something right away if she liked it.
But know your limits, she says.
"People gets nuts at the end of auctions," she says. "I think it's a little bit like gambling."
Handschiegel says the online auction experience has taught her to be firm with herself about how much she is willing to pay for something. She was once in a situation where she was bidding on a designer T-shirt, which had been worn, and ended up spending $80 for it.