May 4, 2012

One of my best tips for a successful online vintage hunt

My darling little grey tabby cat Stella (who you may remember from such posts as this and this) has many, many nicknames including (but in no way limited to) Meowers, Ms/Miss Kitteh, Stellina, Fuzzballa, and Huntress S. Thompson. This later name however is one that I lent her, having on occasion used it myself throughout my life (perpetual Hunter S. Thompson fan that I am).

When I reflect upon the amount of online tracking, prowling, and searching that I do however, it strikes me that I might as well get this title tattooed somewhere on my body, because I am a board certified vintage hunter. Always have been, always will be. I like to think that it's something in my blood.

In this regard, I know that I am by no means alone. Many of you also devote an inordinate amount of time to prowling the interwebs for vintage treasures, your etsy faves and eBay wish lists growing larger and larger with each passing evening of hunting that you embark on.

Sometimes one sets out on a quest and finds their intended item in a matter of minutes, other times we must lie in patient wait for an auction to wrap up, or an item to drop in price. Sometimes a certain piece eludes us for weeks, months or even years. Perhaps we encounter it, but in the wrong size, colour, price range, condition, or other state of falling short of hitting the mark it will take to get us to plonk down our hard earned dollars.

It can be frustrating to search for something time and time again, only to walk away empty handed. Unless perhaps you have enough money to give Bill Gates a loan, it's unlikely that you'll ever be able to find (and afford) exactly what you want each time you search for it, but that doesn't mean you need to toss in the towel either. Not by a long shot.

And so it struck me the other night that it was high time I shared one of my very favourite tips for a successful online vintage hunt with all of you: Widen your keyword search.

While some ebay and etsy listers (and other online vintage sellers) do an excellent job of keywording their listings, the same can not be said for everyone. I have lucked out and found listings before that were exactly what I was looking for, but which were so incredibly poorly titled, described, or keyworded that I'm still in a state of awe over the fact that I encountered them in the first place.

On other occasions, here I was in my cozy corner of Canada looking for an item and yielding squat in the way of results, until I turned to British/Australian terms for certain words (for example, what we call a vest the Brits commonly refer to as a waistcoat).

In both of these cases, the thing that saved the day was thinking beyond the standard keywords that might apply to whatever it is you're looking for. In doing so, keep in mind that while you might be able to write a five page description of a certain item, not everyone out there is a.) a skilled wordsmith, or b.) necessarily that knowledgeable about what it is they're selling (think for example about the title description or keywords a middle aged man with nothing beyond a general knowledge of women's wear who is trying to sell his late mother's 1950s wardrobe might use on eBay vs the same garments being listed by someone with 25 years of vintage clothes selling experience).

For nearly everything that you might be looking for, there is likely more than one way of describing it, and so a complete list of examples and their respective synonyms is obviously beyond the scope of one post.

That said, here are some common clothing search terms and their respective related words that I've used (often quite successfully) to track down a given item that I was looking for (whether it was to become a member of my closet or get used as part of a blog post).

Apron = pinafore, pinny, smock.

Backpack = bag, packsack, rucksack, sack, satchel, school bag.

Bathing suit = bathing costume, bikini, one-piece, swimming costume, swimsuit, two-piece.

Blouse = button-up shirt, secretary shirt, shirt, top.

Bobby pin = hair clip, hair grip, hair pins, grip, kirby grip, pin.

Boots = galoshes, rain boots, shoes, snow boots, wellies, Wellingtons.

Bra = brassiere, lingerie, support garment, undergarment.

Brooch = pin.

Capri pants: capris, clam diggers, crop pants, long shorts, pedal pushers.

Cardigan = button-up sweater, cardi, jumper, knit top, shirt, sweater, top, twinset.

Coat = cape, fleece, jacket, overcoat, raincoat, topcoat, topper.

Dress = frock, gown, pinafore, sundress.

Garter = belt, garter belt, suspenders.

Girdle = foundation garment, lingerie, support underwear.

Hat = beret, cap, chapeau, fedora, pillbox, topper.

Jeans = blue jeans, denims, dungarees, Levis, pants.

Jumper (style of dress) = apron dress, pinafore.

Overalls = boilersuit, coveralls, dungarees, over alls (two words).

Pants = jeans, leggings, slacks, trousers.

Pumps = court shoes, heels, high heels, shoes.

Purse = bag, handbag, pocketbook, pouch.

Rain coat = mac, Macintosh, rain jacket, slicker, spring coat, trench, trench coat.

Robe = bathrobe, bed jacket, dressing gown, housecoat.

Running shoes = gym shoes, plimsolls, sneakers, sneaks, tennis shoes, trainers, training shoes.

Sandals = beach shoes, flip-flops, strappy heels, strappy shoes, summer shoes.

Shawl = pashmina, scarf, wrap.

Shoelace = bootlace, lace, laces, shoestring.

Skirt = a-line skirt, circle skirt, full skirt, pencil skirt, poodle skirt, wrap skirt, wiggle skirt.

Sports jacket = blazer, hacking jacket, jacket, sportcoat, sports coat, sports jacket.

Stockings = hose, nylons, pantyhose, thigh highs, tights.

Stole = cape, capelet, cloak, evening wrap, fur, mantle, scarf, wrap.

Suspenders = braces.

Sweater = cardigan, jersey, jumper, pullover.

Tank top/undershirt = camisole, slipover, vest (the second two are UK words for tank top).

T-shirt = shirt, tee, tee-shirt, undershirt.

Umbrella = bumbershoot, brolly, gamp, parapluie, parasol, rainshade, sunshade.

Underwear = knickers, lingerie, panties, pants, shorts, skivvies, undergarments, underpants, undies.

Vest = waistcoat.

Vintage = antique, atomic (as in atomic era), classic, mid-century, old, old-fashioned, retro.

{If at first you don't succeed with your initial online vintage hunt, done your favourite Sherlock Holmes inspired ensemble and keep plugging away at trying a diverse range of s search terms. With a bit of creative thinking, chances are you're bound to eventually unearth that treasure you've been so eagerly seeking. Image via Sherlock Holmes Wiki.}

When prowling around online for vintage items (clothing or otherwise), it genuinely does not hurt to keep a thesaurus at the ready, and to constantly keep an eye out for unique ways in which you may see people describe certain items.

When you hit upon a successful less common term, write it down or try to file it away in your memory for future use. If it's a term you plan on using again, consider setting en eBay saved search for that/those keyword(s) so that you can be notified via email if/when other items matching that description are listed.

Think outside the box when it comes to your search terms. If you can dream up of a possible synonym for a given word, chances are someone else has had the same thought, too - and who knows, perhaps they used that term to describe the very item that's been dodging you for ages.

And lastly, when it comes to colours, the sky is the limit! What one person calls red, another might opt for tomato, cherry, strawberry, garnet, ruby, scarlet, beet, crimson, vermillion, rose, cranberry, watermelon, rust, carmine, burgundy, maroon, brick, raspberry, or wine - to name but a handful. Each of these words is a potential way that you might be able to track down that red 1940s swing dress you've been yearning to find for ages now.

A good chunk of the fun of any hunt is the very act of searching, but if it starts feeling like a chore or you routinely walk away empty handed - or if you just want to increase your odds of finding the right piece (hopefully at the right price!) - be sure to widen your search keywords. It's an approach that's served me - and my closet - really well over the years.


  1. I found some vintage men's shorts listed as "grandpa shorts" LOL.
    Thanks for the list, I will be trying some of it out!

  2. Ooh, good list-- thanks for compiling all those terms!!
    I know I've found some of my cheapest (and favorite!) finds on eBay from being painfully mislabeled. My greatest victory to date was a lot of 7 "1950s dresses" which I bought for $50 on a strong hunch from the photos... yup, all 1920s and 1930s casual/day wear, including some fabulous beach pyjamas! It really is all about patience and sifting through the rubbish :)

  3. Great list of search terms! I will be bookmarking this post for future use :)

  4. What an excellent list. It is funny how certain words can confuse us. I remember years ago reading North American novels where they talked about the women wearing pumps. To me pumps were plimsolls, canvas shoes worn in the gym. I couldn't understand why they would be wearing an elegant outfit with such silly shoes!

  5. It's true that you need to put in the right keywords to get what you're searching for and I'm bad at that. Not that I search for vintage clothes but I'm thinking of searches of any kind. It's also true that many words mean something totally different to British and American/Canadian people:) Pumps for instance - to me they mean a flat black canvas shoe with either an elastic front or laces that little girls wear for PE lessons at school:) Your purse is my handbag and your wallet is my purse - and there are many others too.

  6. This was super helpful since I too have to do most of my shopping online! Thanks hun!! xox

  7. great info and fabulous search list!!!

  8. thank you so much sweetie! i will be using this info to my advantage hahah you are the best deary :)

    biggggggg hugggggs!!!!!, hoping you are having a fantastic friday,
    TheRitzyFlapper (Alicia)

  9. Great info...I an vintage hunting addict myself, I go through this process often... I would also recommend in certain cases putting and taking apart words that go together. For example, I've seen cases where "mid century" does not pick up something titled "midcentury" because of the space... likewise with 1950 vs. 1950s, etc.

  10. my dear ... I do not know to recognize a number of sites out vintage ... not even have one ... would love to have a cardigan sweater or red or white, the 50 or 60 ... but I have no idea how to look ... but it was worth the tip, kissing, Penelope.

  11. An excellent list of keywords. Have you considered a career in libraries? *wink*

    Give Miss Kitteh a pet from me. I miss having a cat!

  12. You clever girl putting that list together....publish it I say....make a little booklet and sell online!

  13. This is an excellent, very helpful post! Just shared on facebook. Have a fab weekend, sweetie!

  14. Thank you! I'm a newbie to EBay and recently obsessed with mid century modern goods, so this will help a ton!

  15. Oh, I adore the pictures from the flickr group! Thanks for sharing darling:)

  16. This list is great! I have to copy and paste it for when I am "hunting". Wonderful work!

  17. this list will help a lot who's not english mother-tongue like me... thanks!!!