eBay can be a wonderful source for men’s clothing at a significant discount. Rarely will you find clothes for thrift store prices (particularly when factoring in the cost of shipping), but you’ll also rarely pay retail. The keys to shopping on eBay are patience and strategy. Here are some tips.
- Search effectively. Particularly in clothing categories, searches can be very granular. There’s no need to browse suits that aren’t your size, for example. Pick you keywords careful, and refine by size and type of clothing.
- Know your brands. The best-known brands command a premium – you will rarely find a deal on Armani. Dig a little deeper, however, and you may well find a great piece by, say, the Savile row tailor Huntsman, or the now-defunct luxury clothing maker Sulka. Do research on lesser-known high-quality brands, and use them as keywords.
- Watch out for diffusion lines. Many designer brands offer many levels of clothing. Ralph Lauren’s “Purple Label” line is one of the better ready-to-wear brands in the world. Ralph Lauren’s “Lauren” line is sold at JC Penney. This is doubly true for vintage clothes – many designers followed Pierre Cardin and Christian Dior into a world of low-quality licensing in menswear in the 1960s-1990s.
- Know your retailers. For many years, high-end menswear was sold by local retailers. In some cases, it still is. A search for, say, San Francisco’s Wilkes Bashford, including the full text of the listing, can turn up treasures. Most suits and accessories featured branding from both the store and the manufacturer, and the store information will typically be included in the text of the listing.
- Know your size. I don’t just mean your shirt and coat size, waist and inseam (though that’s a good start). I mean your full measurements. How long is your coat sleeve? How wide are your shoulders? A soft measuring tape can be bought in the sewing section of your grocery or drug store. Measure clothes that fit you very well, and compare them to measurements posted for items on eBay. If there are no measurements in a listing, ask for them. Be aware of what’s alterable (shortening pants, for example) and what isn’t (like broadening a coat’s shoulders). Additionally: when buying shoes, know that all lasts (the interior shape on which the shoe is built) will not fit the same.
- Know your sellers. When I find a great piece in my size, I always check the seller’s other items. They’re often either selling pieces from their own closet, in which case they’ll all be my size (and are likely to be to my taste), or they’re selling from another source, like an outlet store, and have many items in a similar style. Both are worth your time. Similarly, if you find sellers whose items you particularly like, follow them carefully – and remember that you can search within their stores so you don’t have to waste time on items that are the wrong size.
- Save your searches. Any eBay search can be saved – this is particularly useful when searching for tough-to-find clothes. Lock in a search for, say, 42L and Tuxedo in the vintage section, and a tux will pop up every other week or so. Be patient, and you’ll find what you want. You can subscribe to your saved searches by email, but I prefer RSS. If you use Google Reader or another RSS reader, you can subscribe to an RSS feed for almost any search by clicking the small orange RSS icon at the bottom of your results.
- Don’t buy damaged goods. If you’re not sure about the condition of an item, ask. If you don’t get a straight answer, you’re not buying from a good source. Damaged goods are rarely worth buying, but a used item in good shape is just fine.
- Don’t be (too) afraid of lousy pictures. An item with lousy pictures is a calculated risk for you – it will likely get fewer bids, but it may have surprises. Again, ask – there are plenty of honest sellers who are lousy photographers. Your ideal is a picture that is ugly enough to keep n00bz from getting excited, but clear enough that you can see the condition and style of the garment.
- Use a sniper. A sniping service will automatically bid your top amount at the last moment, to avoid starting bidding wars. I’ve used the free service Gixen for several years now, and while I’m still vaguely uncomfortable about giving it my eBay login information, I’ve never had a problem. When bidding on eBay, it’s easy to get excited about the idea of winning, and forget what an item is worth to you. When you like something, decide what it’s worth to you. Put that amount into your sniper, and let it be.
- Be patient. If you lose an auction, something else will come along. If you need something imminently, create a bid group with your sniper, and it will bid on like items until you win one. The key is that you must be dispassionate. Get locked in a head-to-head battle, and you will bid too much.
With a little care, you can get some great items for a great price.