the online thrifter

An eBay Obsessive on How to Source a Secondhand Coat

A Norma Kamali “Sleeping Bag” coat, leather Jil Sander trench, and Dries van Noten silk evening jacket, sourced from eBay and Poshmark. Photo-Illustration: retailers

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I couldn’t tell you when exactly it started, but for years I’ve searched obsessively on eBay, Poshmark, and the Real Real for everything and nothing in particular. The hunt is as meditative as it is thrilling. And it tends to go in phases: There was a weeklong search for limited edition Richard Ginori butter pats that were made for Alitalia airlines (they make good trinket dishes). There was the hunt for an exact replica of the olive-green Patterson J. Kincaid trench coat that I bought at a Nordstrom Rack in Massachusetts in 2011, left on a Metro North train five years later, and had to replace. (That one was easy: eBay and Poshmark are rich markets for suburban-adjacent mid-aughts clothing.) I’ve attempted to locate a leather Agnès B. snap cardigan, without success, for years.

I’ve sold on these sites, too. There was a Dôen top I never wore, priced at $125, that sold within two minutes of my uploading it to Poshmark (Dôen, in my opinion, is essentially as reliable as Apple stock). I’m still holding a grudge against some guy in Oregon who accused me of selling counterfeit when he purchased a pair of orange Maryam Nassir Zadeh leggings that I bought at their sample sale two years ago (they weren’t).

Rarely am I searching for anything particularly valuable or exquisite. More than anything, it’s about the search — so welcome to the “The Online Thrifter,” where I’ll be chronicling my own secondhand online rabbit holes, and offering some advice about how to get what you want on these sites. This week, the search for fall and winter coats on eBay, Poshmark, and the Real Real.

Buying a fall or winter coat

A winter coat is an ideal kind of thing to shop for secondhand: You probably know your number size, you’ve touched enough coats in the world to know if you want wool or cashmere or a polyester blend, and the keywords can be fairly straightforward, whether it’s “camel belted wool overcoat” or “Margaret Howell for Barbour.” That said, sizing can vary from era — as a fellow eBay-obsessive friend said to me recently, “Never buy a secondhand coat from the ’80s.” (Unless you’re explicitly looking for big shoulder pads.) I made this mistake last fall, while hunting for a leather blazer on Poshmark, and ended up with a Gap jacket from the early-’90s with shoulder pads that made me look like an Uncut Gems–obsessed linebacker.

First, you’ll want to know what you’re looking for. It can be specific, vague, or in between. Iva Dixit, noted coat collector and audience editor at The New York Times Magazine, told me that lately she’s been on the hunt for two very specific coats. “I currently have several search alerts on various sites set up because I’m looking for a lavender Armani duster coat that I missed out on last year (don’t know when I’ll wear it but I just have my heart set on finding the same one),” says Dixit. “And a B-3 sheepskin flight jacket (I have alerts set for both vintage pieces or one by the Japanese brand Real McCoy’s which does reproductions of classic Americana wear and theirs is better than the Acne Velocite jacket that every third person in New York wears).” No matter what kind of coat you’re looking for, set search alerts. They’re especially useful when looking for a particular design, like Dixit’s lavender Armani duster or my green Patterson J. Kincaid coat. This way, when someone decides to sell that coat you regretted not buying at Century 21 two years ago, you’ll be the first to know.

Once you’ve found the coat, check the measurements. This is especially important if you’re looking for a more structured coat, like the Schneiders Salzburg coats that writer Alice Gregory told me she’s historically had saved in her eBay search. “They’re an old Austrian company that makes a lot of loden coats and boiled-wool jackets that veer a little Nazi, but they’re also the only brand I’ve ever found that makes cashmere down coats besides Loro Piana and Brunello Cucinelli, whose prices should be illegal,” she says.

Of course, for down and more oversize styles, the measurements won’t have to be quite so exact. Emilia Petrarca, fashion news writer at the Cut, told me that she’s lately been hunting for a Norma Kamali sleeping-bag coat, which she thinks will “be perfect for future outdoor dining.”

And it may sound ridiculous, but if you’re shopping for a vintage coat from a certain period, make sure that the coat is indeed an adult size. Misty White Sidell, a senior reporter at Women’s Wear Daily, was recently shopping for a 1940s-era coat with a Peter Pan collar and warned me about the vast world of doll coats in that exact cut — largely indistinguishable from the adult versions when searching “1940s Peter Pan collar coat.”

Once you’ve found a coat you’re thinking of buying, ask a bunch of other questions, too: how long the coat has been in storage (lest you receive a piece with dreaded mothball stench); if it has moth holes or wear to the wrist area of the sleeves; if the lining is intact; if the pockets are in good shape. If, like Strategist writer Liza Corsillo, you’re looking for a corduroy Varsity jacket (“It’s my white whale,” she says) you might want to ask for close-up pictures of the sleeve cuffs, which often include contrast white stripes, to make sure they’re not stained, and that the snaps down the front work.

$340

On a similar note, check the return policy before you buy a winter coat (or anything) online secondhand. The Real Real offers returns on most items, unless they’re marked final sale on the product page. Strategist senior writer Karen Adelson had luck with the Real Real’s return policy when she was on the hunt for a drapey leather Rick Owens jacket. “Since there are a few different types of leathers (lamb, calf, distressed, textured, etc.) and I wasn’t sure which one I wanted, I actually ordered three jackets, making sure they were all returnable (some items on TRR are final sale so TRIPLE CHECK that if you’re doing this), in a few different materials and sizes,” says Adelson, who waited until one of the Real Real’s regular 20-30 percent off sales to take the plunge. “The one I chose ended up being around $300 after the discount, which is still a lot of money but way less than the original price,” says Adelson, who notes that “it’s not in PERFECT condition: the fabric on the inside of the sleeves is a little bit frayed,” but that the wear adds some texture and the coat is still “hands down the coolest thing I own.”

For returns, eBay can go either way — some of the larger sellers, like Linda’s Stuff, which is based in Hatboro, Pennsylvania (quick shipping to New York!), where I’ve found all sorts of reasonably priced Maryam Nassir Zadeh and Agnès B. — will offer a 30-day return policy. Poshmark is always final sale, though it’s not uncommon to come across an item that’s been “Reposhed” — Poshmark lingo for a purchase that didn’t work out and the buyer is now reselling on the platform.

This is eBay 101: Make offers, and don’t bid too early. If the eBay seller doesn’t have the coat set up to sell by auction, and instead offers a “Buy It Now” or “Make an Offer” option, either make an offer for a lower price through the button, or contact the seller directly and ask if they’d do better on the price. (But as Dixit notes, “If the seller is open to offers don’t aggressively lowball them. That’s just tacky. These aren’t huge corporations, mostly collectors and people who love clothes, so I think a sense of fairness on the side of the customer is necessary.”) And on Poshmark, definitely make an offer. Many Poshmark sellers price high, expecting offers to come in (often an item description will include the line “Accepting reasonable offers!”) and will accept a lower price, or bargain with you until you can meet in the middle.

When it comes to bidding, keep your cool. Often, the final auction price of an item will be driven way up by overeager shoppers who want to ensure the possibility of their winning the auction. But it doesn’t matter if you bid a week in advance or ten seconds before the auction closes — either way, your bid is counted. For items I’ve really wanted, I’ve often set alerts on my phone 15 minutes before the auction is scheduled to close, and then placed bids until the last few seconds. As Dixit suggests, “Check how many bidders there are, how much time is left and mentally calculate how high the price will go and if you’re okay paying in that range, then you wait it out and bid to win the last dregs of the auction.” She once beat out 82 people to win a camel Max Mara icon.

The competition will be particularly steep for certain iconic coats — like a belted camel Max Mara, or even one of those shearling Acne coats from the 2010s. For those, it’s useful to think about the kinds of shoppers each platform draws and shop against that grain. For example, on Poshmark, where influencer-adjacent goods fly off the virtual shelves (like that Dôen top, or any kind of expensive athleisure), you’re going to be much more likely to score a deal on an elegant satin Dries van Noten evening coat (versus the Real Real, where many shoppers go looking for higher-end designers). Then there are a few equally iconic, but slightly easier-to-find coats that circulate across all of these platforms — the charcoal-gray double-breasted wool Theory coat comes to mind (Theory has made these coats for so many seasons that it makes sense plenty would circulate), or the sleek leather Jil Sander trench, which has been something I’ve been hunting for for the past few months. Another item on my list: a wool Loro Piana coat. But here’s a tip: While even a secondhand Loro Piana coat might run you into the upper hundreds or thousands, there are plenty of coats made with wool from the Loro Piana factories out there (J.Crew even did a run of these) for way, way less (just search Loro Piana cashmere coat).

Happy hunting! And if I can help you track down that 1990s North Face puffer — or anything else you’ve been hunting — email me at hilary.reid@nymag.com.

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An eBay Obsessive on How to Source a Secondhand Coat