With all the detailed advice I've given about buying vintage clothing offline, you might assume that buying vintage pieces online is fraught with dangers - you can't try on the garment, you can't inspect it inside and out, you can't sniff it!
I suppose the honest answer is yes, it can be fraught with dangers. You are entirely reliant on the vendor to do most of that work for you. And the good ones ALWAYS do.
So the first step is to assess the vendor:
In short, do you feel that you can trust this vintage seller? If so, continue on to the next stage.
As a potential buyer, you need to do your homework about the specific item you want to buy too:
Don't let that put you off though! There are so many wonderful, trustworthy vintage vendors online, offering an unimaginable variety of garments, accessories and other items of all eras from right across the world. They have done the legwork for you - sourcing, preparing and sorting the best vintage they can find, so that you can find exactly what you want in an instant.
By exercising some judicious critical judgement you can avoid many of the pitfalls of buying "sight unseen."
Whilst it can't be denied that there are some unscrupulous and/or ill-informed sellers out there, the best vendors are in it for the long haul. They are committed to offering an impeccable service and sustaining their hard-won good reputation. You can't build up a reputable business without it.
Additional information and further reading
One good sign to look for is membership of the Vintage Fashion Guild. Members have to satisfy rigourous criteria to qualify for membership which ensures that they are reputable sellers committed to following the VFG Code of Practise. Of course, there are plenty of equally reliable vintage sellers who aren't VFG members, I'm just saying that its a good indicator that the vendor is trustworthy and reasonably well-informed!
You can also register for free on the VFG public forum, where you can pick the brains of the incredibly knowledgeable members who are happy to offer advice and information about all aspects of vintage clothing and accessories. And their label resource is great for checking on company histories and also ascertaining approximate dates from the labels of well-known companies that have been trading for a long time.
You must read this article from The Vintage Traveler blog offering more invaluable advice about buying vintage clothing online.
Mary Kincaid of Zuburbia has some further pearls of wisdom about shopping vintage online.
This article is actually intended as advice to vintage sellers, but its worth reading because it offers in detail all the things that vendors should do, with some very useful information along the way.
A Vintage Ramble provides some essential reading on additional measurements that you definitely should take into account when buying vintage gear online.
Marge of Born Too Late Vintage has some interesting thoughts about what exactly you are paying for when you buy a vintage garment online.
Next: a few tips on how to care for your vintage garments.