How to shop vintage like a fashion pro

Whether it’s finding a rare 70s iconic piece or the vintage Levi’s of your dreams, this is how to streamline your way to finding second-hand gems…

There are few things more irritating than when you ask someone where they got the bloody amazing top/dress/coat/shoes they’re wearing and you’re met with a coy “Oh, this? It’s vintage.” 

The first frustration comes with knowing you’re probably not going to be able to find that exact piece anywhere, the second comes with kicking yourself for not being bothered to trawl charity shops to find gems like that.

Time and effort is a pretty big blocker to most of us shopping vintage, but beyond the style credentials, going second hand has big impacts on combatting the impact of fast fashion that makes it well worth it. It’s why initiatives like Oxfam’s Second Hand September encourage us to pledge to buy nothing new for 30 days to combat the reality that every week 13 million items of clothing ends up in UK landfill.

When it comes to embarking on finding the perfect pre-loved pieces for you, heading to places like eBay is a good start (eBay even has a dedicated vintage hub to help you find the best bits). 

The site has helped save the equivalent of 900 double decker buses in weight of fashion items going to landfill this year by people listing and buying on the platform. Buyers and sellers can opt to give to charity in their transactions too (including Oxfam’s Second Hand September), so you can do more good in one go.

With that in mind, Emma Grant, Head of Preloved at eBay recommends the following to help find items you’ll love.

“Be specific with your search terms – if you’re looking for a particular item, naming brands or eras that are associated with the style you’re looking to emulate will help you narrow down the search to the most relevant items. For instance, if you’re looking for the perfect vintage rain mac for autumn, try including Burberry or 70s trench in your search.

To get the most wear out of second-hand fashion and to get the best bang for your buck, look for timeless, stylish pieces that will always look ‘modern’. Coats, boots and handbags are sure-fire investment pieces.

And don’t be afraid of the tailor - the fits and cuts of vintage and pre-owned fashion can differ hugely from what we’re used to seeing on the high street, so don’t expect your usual size to fit you perfectly. You may have to size up or down to get the fit that works for you and a tailor can finesse it to make it look like it was made for you.”

Stylist Lucy Tempest-Walker’s top tip for shopping on eBay is to set alerts; “You’ll get notifications whenever something is listed that matches what you’re looking for, saving time trawling and ensuring you don’t miss out.”

So, armed with top tips, we challenged the Stylist fashion team to see what they could find on eBay and share how they would style them. Here’s how they got on…

Polly Knight, Fashion Editor

“I’m all about shopping wardrobe staples, pieces that will never go out of fashion, that’ll last you through seasons, and pieces that don’t adhere to ever changing trends instead have a long-life span in your wardrobe.

So I took Emma’s advice to shop smart and invest in classics that look modern; this super chic trench is in great condition - it has leather covered buckle detailing and Aquascutums trademark check lining that will add a touch of elegance to any outfit.

I teamed my trench find with some vintage white Levi’s that I also sourced on eBay. Shopping vintage denim is a much more sustainable way to shop denim, it’s a more circular process so it has a lower impact on the planet. 

A top tip to shopping denim online is knowing your measurements rather than your size and to check these before buying - don’t be afraid to ask the seller questions to find out the exact sizing, you want to find the perfect fit jeans.

Opt for high waisted straight legs like these - you’ll wear them for seasons to come.”

Kitty McGee, Executive Fashion Director

“The high street may be awash with vintage-inspired cotton and lace blouses but very few, if any, have the detail and quality of genuine vintage options.

This pie crust collar style by Laura Ashley is the ultimate vintage blouse and is in immaculate condition. Wear it with washed-out denim, leather sandals and a chunky cardigan for a relaxed but on-trend daytime look, and with velvet flares and chunky heels for seventies-inspired evening wear.

Emma says the nature of vintage clothing is that you’ll need to have a good scroll before that one-of-a-kind gem catches your eye and it did take me a bit of scrolling to find exactly what I was looking for. 

When looking for a blouse for example, check the measurements and consider what you want to wear that piece with. That way you can ensure you pick something the right length - perhaps shorter if you will wear it with high waisted trousers, or longer if you want to wear it without tucking it in.”

Billie Bhatia, Fashion Features Editor

“Vintage accessories hold a special quality in that they have travelled through time and trends and have come out the other side as desirable as they were brand new. 

The craftsmanship is second to none and the attention to detail is rarely replicated in modern versions. 

They key to the success of a vintage accessory is looking for a classic, and to avoid anything too fancy dress - think about how a vintage piece will fit in with your daily wardrobe - can you wear it with your favourite jeans? 

The offering of vintage accessories from shoes to sunglasses, jewellery and the all-important bag is so vast on eBay, it can feel a little overwhelming so I used specific era keywords to find what I was looking for - in this case, 90s sunglasses and 70s bag.”

Give your wardrobe a second hand spruce up by by checking out the vintage hub on eBay, which is packed with pre-loved treasures. Don’t forget you can donate to Oxfam every time you buy or sell on eBay.