RadioBDC Logo
| Listen Live
< Back to front page Text size +

How to buy clothes on eBay

Posted by Robin Abrahams  October 2, 2008 01:11 PM

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

It's IG NOBEL PRIZE DAY! Here's an extra-long post to keep you busy while I'm dashing around with Mr. Improbable. Moderation will be slow so thanks for your patience!

I like clothes. I like clothes a lot. For me, putting together a perfect outfit is like inventing a new recipe--reworking the classic ingredients, adding finishing touches, trying new combinations of flavors and textures and colors and cuts.

I don't, however, like to pay very much for clothes. And I also don't like shopping when I have something specific in mind. Trolling the stores is fun if you're just looking to see what's on sale, or get a sense of what colors and styles are in this season (answer: anything that looks like it came from the wardrobe department of "Mad Men"), or have a vague notion that, oh, maybe a new top would be fun to have. But if you want, say, a red cardigan, and you put that desire out into the universe, all red cardigans in spacetime will immediately be sucked into a black hole. It's like The Secret in reverse.

This is where eBay comes in. I get more than half my clothes on eBay these days, and when I tell people this, it seems that about 20% of them do, too, and 80% have never even considered this. Well, given the current state of the economy, we're all thinking of ways to save money now, aren't we?

(I made the mistake yesterday of looking at my 401K statements and do you know what happened? Exactly what happened in "Evil Dead 2" when Ash opened the Book of the Dead!


Milo's still spinning around in the backyard cackling wildly. I should go bring him down, but we've got kind of a raccoon problem in our neighborhood and I'm expecting this will have a deterrent effect. It's not like we can afford an exterminator anymore.)

My eight tips for effective eBay shopping are below the fold.

1. Only buy garments that have to fit you in one measurement. Don't buy things like jeans on eBay; you have to try jeans on. Don't buy vintage clothing on eBay, even though you can get good deals; most clothing from the 60s and earlier was highly tailored and fits either really well or not at all. T-shirts, tank tops, pullovers, cardigans, sheath dresses, skirts are all good things to buy. Skirts have to fit you around the waist and that's about it. Sweaters can be a little big or a little tight and it doesn't really matter. If you're shopping for kids' clothes, err on the side of getting something the child can grow into, like you don't already know that.

2. Shop for brands that run true to size. I know my size in Ann Taylor, Eileen Fisher, Chico's, and several other brands beloved by middle-aged college-educated women who work in offices--you know, my tribal attire. Gap clothing, on the other hand, is all over the board; I've got Gap clothes ranging from size 0 to 8. So I wouldn't shop for Gap clothes on eBay.

3. No, I can't afford most of those brands in the stores, especially Eileen Fisher. (It takes a lot of money to look that dowdy.) That's why I buy them on eBay. There's no point getting Old Navy clothes on eBay--they're cheap enough in the store, or on sale, and you don't have to pay postage. Scale up a couple of notches when you're eBaying.

4. You can shop by brand or by category. Choose which depending on how specific your desires are. If you just want a nice work skirt, "Ann Taylor skirt" with your size number will get you some nice options. If you know you want a green cardigan, search for "green cardigan." (I have a huge floppy forest green chenille that I practically live in when we travel, and it's nothing I would have found in stores.) If the seller hasn't put the measurements in the description, you can always e-mail them and ask.

5. Keep in mind that people can't spell, and try variants. Mr. Improbable once tried to buy a collapsible top hat (he wears one at the Igs) with no luck--until he accidentally spelled it "collapsable." Ta-da!

6. Colors don't translate well on computer screens. If you look fabulous in a blue-based red, but terrible in an orangey red, don't get anything red on eBay. Only go for colors where the entire color family works for you.

7. Accept that you will make some mistakes. Don't ever pay so much for something that you'll be really upset if you don't like it when it arrives. If it's not as described, neg the seller, but sometimes even the most perfectly-described items just don't look good on.

8. If you have any sort of gambling or compulsive spending habit, do not shop on eBay. Seriously. It can be just a leeeetle too much fun. Buying more stuff than you really need isn't saving money, no matter how good a deal you're getting on it.

And there you are. I find eBay terrific for getting the kind of basics that you can't find in stores when you're looking for them, designer pieces that I couldn't possibly afford retail, or even on sale, and just plain unusual things. Do you have any useful eBaying tips to share (not necessarily for clothing, but anything)?

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

4 comments so far...
  1. Hello there,
    You can also shop for NWT - new with tags - and get clothes that have never even been worn, at least according to the seller!

    And thank you for mentioning the Gap's sizing!!!! It drives me nuts! I was determined to buy a pair of jeans before my last vacation. I went to the Gap because I had a coupon for 25% off a pair of jeans. I tried on various styles in various sizes and NONE of them fit!! In one style 6 was too small and 8 was too big, in another 10 was too small. Seriously??? On the plus side, I own a couple of size 4 khakis from the Gap and have no complaints about that :o)

    Posted by RT October 2, 08 05:45 PM
  1. nice post!

    Posted by pacer521 October 2, 08 07:02 PM
  1. Hi Robin,

    We all are aware of habits and interests that others have which we don't quite understand. This sentence from your post is a little light bulb of insight on the topic of liking clothes:

    "For me, putting together a perfect outfit is like inventing a new recipe--reworking the classic ingredients, adding finishing touches, trying new combinations of flavors and textures and colors and cuts."

    So now I have the "recipe" explanation of self-presentation via clothing -- I get it!

    Well....Ha ha, I mean, I intellectually understand it . I'm sure my students will continue to keep writing on course evals things like, "dresses like its the 80s" etc.

    Posted by Traveling Psychologist October 5, 08 03:03 PM
  1. If an item is not as YOU see it described, as two people can look at the same item (or event for that matter)and have two different ideas or opinions of it. So contact the seller before leaving negitive feedback! It usually can be worked out. What a great misfortune it is that so called educated person is so quick to "pounce" on another human being or ruin someones business before working it out.

    Posted by Vintage Queen October 29, 08 07:05 PM
About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

Need Advice?

Curious if you should say "bless you" to a sneezing atheist? How to host a dinner party for carbophobes, vegans, and Atkins disciples—all at the same time? The finer points of regifting? Ask it here, or email

Ask us a question


Browse this blog

by category