A few weeks ago I shared on Instagram that I bought a Cartier watch secondhand, and I was floored by all the messages asking me where I shop secondhand and which sites I trust for higher-end purchases.
Today I’m sharing with you my go-to online sources for pre-owned finds, the sweet spots for each site, and which sites I wouldn’t bother with at all.
As a caveat, my style is pretty casual, so I don’t usually buy top-tier luxury designers like Chanel, Hermès or Louis Vuitton, and I’m generally not concerned with possibly buying fakes online.
And if I’ve found a good Cartier watch option, I’ll link it at the bottom of each section.
*Affiliate links below*
Best for designer clothing, shoes, accessories, eveningwear, furniture, and…Cartier watch straps
The Real Real is my go-to spot for secondhand designer clothes and shoes, and in every shopping roundup I do, there’s always at least one or two items I’ve bought from there. Because they carry all the brands I like, I love browsing the site and tapping the ‘Obsess’ button to save anything I find even remotely interesting, even if it’s not my size! There are actually two items on the site I’ve got on my ‘to buy’ list right now, but I’m waiting for them to go on sale a wee bit more.
If you’re shopping on Net-a-Porter and come across a new, under-the-radar designer you like, chances are you can find it on The Real Real at excellent prices. Because of the sheer volume of merchandise, I’ve found that anything you’ve ever wanted will eventually show up on The Real Real. Like my exact wedding shoes. And yes, even that Chloe dress you saw on the runway from 2010.
Besides clothes, a fun yet not-obvious category to consider is their furniture and housewares. The shipping prices for furniture will make you gulp, adding around $300-$500 to your bill, but let’s consider this Herman Miller Noguchi coffee table that’s currently on sale for $836.50.
Even with the $455 shipping and sales tax, I’d be paying around $1,200, which is still much cheaper than the all-in costs at other places. The next cheapest place I see it at is Chairish for $1,200, plus $549 in shipping, so $1,749 total. And if I wanted the table new, I’d be paying around $2,400. So if you’re a furniture enthusiast and have cash laying around, The Real Real can still be a relative deal.
As for jewelry and actual watches, The Real Real hasn’t given me enough information to inspire me to buy just yet. For example, I would look at Cartier watches, but they wouldn’t list something as basic as to whether the watch was the small or large version, or whether the strap was after-market or original. Surely their “experts” would know. However, the risk of buying a watch here is pretty low, since they generally take returns within 14 days.
New users get a $25 credit off their first order, which is pretty generous. And even if you’re not a first-time buyer, there is ALWAYS a 20% off promo code at the top of the page. This promo code, along with the reasonable prices, helps me mentally offset the shipping fees and turns already-reasonable prices into absolute steals. Although note that the promo doesn’t apply on items that are already marked down.
The selection. The Real Real carries hundreds of thousands of items! They also only accept designer brands, so there’s no fast fashion to wade through.
And because all the clothes are taken on consignment, the prices feel more objective and fair, as opposed to eBay or Poshmark where it seems like sellers just make up their own inflated prices. For example, on The Real Real, a dress I’m looking at is selling in the $200 range, which feels right. On eBay, the same dress has an asking price of $1,000, which is just straight-up ridiculous.
They also ship to over 60 countries, although costs to ship to outside of the US is a minimum of $35.
Shipping and returns are expensive even in the US, a minimum of $11.95 each way. I try to bundle multiple items to make the shipping worth it.
Their app is actually useful. Download the app to create a personalized feed of searches based on size, designer, category, price, or a combination of all of those. I found this feature particularly helpful when I was browsing wedding guest dress options.
My markdowns sweet spot is 30% off. That’s enough to still be eligible for returns.
If you’re nervous about wearing used clothing, you can filter out items that are ‘new with tags.’ There are currently over 50,000 pieces for sale that still have the tags attached.
With so much merchandise to process, The Real Real isn’t quite as detailed about describing items as smaller shops are. So if you receive an item that is more worn than described, don’t be afraid to take pictures and e-mail a complaint. I’ve never had to complain myself, but I’ve heard plenty of reports of successful partial refunds without much fuss.
Handbags, swimwear, luggage, beauty, and anything 40% off or more will be final sale. Credit card Return Protection policies will NOT cover these purchases. I learned that the hard way when I bought a Phillip Lim bag on a whim, because I naively thought I could return it.
SECONDHAND CARTIER OPTIONS
The watches I found look heavily used, but one hidden-gem category is Cartier watch straps. If you already have a watch, but want to replace the strap, this category is worth a look. The straps do sell really quickly, so save this search to your feed if you’re looking for a deal.
Best for designer handbags, jewelry and watches
Fashionphile won me over ever since I was admiring a bag on their site and saw they listed “lingering food smells” as a flaw on the interior. I imagined the previous owner using the bag to transport fried chicken, which didn’t seem like a flaw at all. But anyway, that Fashionphile would bother to disclose a food smell was a positive sign. Where The Real Real sometimes doesn’t provide enough information, Fashionphile felt honest to a fault, where you might end up pleasantly surprised by the condition of the bag you bought.
I don’t recommend buying handbags from The Real Real unless you’re 100% sure you’ll love it, but I would feel comfortable buying one from Fashionphile. Like The Real Real, their merchandise comes from consignment, but handbags are their specialty. They take a good amount of clear and relevant photos, and all the bags I’ve browsed seem to be in pretty good condition, so they seem discriminating about what they accept.
So far, I’ve bought one item from Fashionphile–not a handbag, but the Cartier watch! And since they really magnify every single flaw in the pictures, I had that pleasantly surprised reaction when the watch came–it looked way better in person.
As for customer service, before pulling the trigger I e-mailed them to ask them when the watch was originally purchased. It took them four days to answer, but the response was friendly.
And if you’re a shopper who likes to upgrade accessories every few months, Fashionphile has a Buyback Program, which, as far as I know, is unique to them and seems like a decent deal. You can buy an item, use it for 180 days, and sell it back to Fashionphile for 70% of the price you paid.
Free shipping and free returns in the US. The return policy is generous as well–you have up to 30 days.
They ship internationally (although it’s not free and they will be honest on customs forms).
No new user credit, which I kind of expect in today’s e-commerce world.
You’ll pay sales tax for purchases going to California, New York and Utah. Not Fashionphile’s fault, but an FYI that you might end up paying a little more than the listed price.
You can create sale alerts for specific items, and you can also see how many people have an item in their shopping carts.
Be careful about buying products you’re not familiar with. Fakes will always get past even the most discriminating authenticator. Don’t buy a secondhand Chloe bag unless you’ve done your research on the particular model you’re after. However, Fashionphile’s return policy is generous enough (30 days with the tags still attached) where you should be able to authenticate your item online with ample time to spare.
SECONDHAND CARTIER OPTIONS
Best for vintage cashmere sweaters, trends you don’t want to invest in, occasion wear
In a crowded market, the online auction giant isn’t what it used to be, but you can unearth some major gems if you’re willing to dig for specific items. Like, ‘Carolina Herrera pink silk maxi halter dress 4 small’ specific.
Some of my best eBay purchases have been an Acne wool sweater and a Barneys cashmere sweater for less than $40 each. And I’ve mentioned it a bunch before, but when it came to frugalizing my wedding outfits, I don’t know what I would have done without eBay!
Lately, it’s been THE place for me to find contemporary designer evening wear on the cheap.
eBay rewards the patient. If you find rock-bottom prices on in-demand merchandise, you could potentially end up re-selling what you buy for more than you paid.
eBay can feel like a giant free for all. Cluttered with lot of junky products and knock-offs, sometimes you have to go through over a dozen pages of search results to find what you’re looking for.
Start looking early (I started looking about nine months out for my wedding stuff), and “follow” your favorite searches to save time. That way when something matches your search keywords you’ll get a notification.
Get pumped when you see a ‘Best Offer’ button in a listing. I’ve been able to easily knock off $10-$15 off the asking price that way.
Always check the seller’s feedback profile. I bought a few duds in my formative eBay years, because I failed to check the seller’s feedback and missed the negative reviews.
If you’re nervous about buying something you’ve never seen in person, look for a return policy on the listing.
Be careful about buying items from overseas that don’t offer tracking. It can be a nightmare to get your money back if something goes wrong. I personally only buy things from domestic sources.
Select PayPal as your payment method; PayPal is known for favoring buyers in dispute cases.
Best for mid-market brands like the Gap, Zara, J. Crew and Madewell
I’ve bought a total of two items from Poshmark: a Uniqlo shirt and a pair of Acne jeans. Basically, items from past seasons that I specifically sought out and couldn’t find anywhere else online. I don’t browse Poshmark, because I find the seller-generated pictures and descriptions not detailed enough for my tastes.
However, recently I’ve found several BaubleBar earring options on here. But again, I’m only considering Poshmark, because I can’t find the earrings anywhere else! Basically, I’m a reluctant Poshmark user and only shop here as a last resort.
Shipping is a flat $6.79, no matter the weight or how far the package is going in the US. I like that simplicity.
Buyers also have to “accept” their purchases within a certain amount of time, so if sellers misrepresent merchandise in any way, this is the stage where you get to wave the flag.
Be ready to go through a song and dance to find out basic information about an item. Like, what size a shirt is.
It’s rare to find a good price. Prices are inflated by sellers, because there’s a huge negotiation culture with Poshmark.
Always try to make offers instead of accepting the list price. As I mentioned before, sellers inflate prices to account for this, so chances are your offer will be accepted.
Best for name-brand furniture, bicycles and small kitchen appliances
Before I even *think* about a new furniture purchase I will always check Craigslist first. I’ve had too much good luck on there not to. I wish I took pictures back then, but my old roommate and I once outfitted our entire apartment with furniture we found from Craigslist and yard sales. We were able to buy much higher-end pieces than our modest salaries would typically afford, then sell them back onto Craigslist for the same prices we paid.
With Craigslist I usually pick and choose based on what I can re-sell if I change my mind. That’s why I look for brand-name furniture items, like Crate & Barrel, CB2, West Elm or Design Within Reach.
Another good category is kitchen appliances. I picked up a Ninja juicer a few blocks from my apartment for about 40% less than a brand-new one.
Buying secondhand furniture online can be such a gamble. With Craigslist you can at least go look at something in person and back out if something’s not right.
The quality of the finds depends on where you live. If you live in a sparse area, your chances of finding gems might be limited.
E-mailing back and forth with sellers can be a huge time suck. When you first reach out about an item, try to include as much info as possible to reduce the swirl, like: which days and exactly what times you’re available for pickup.
Always re-confirm the item is still available before you head out for a pickup. It’s lame, but I’ve shown up at people’s places only to learn that they gave the item to someone else who happened to show up earlier. Basic consideration seems to go out the window with Craigslist.
Secondhand Places I Haven’t Tried, But Seem Legit
Apartment Therapy Marketplace
Furniture for the design-inclined
Apartment Therapy Marketplace is like a niche Craigslist for the popular design blog’s readers. I really like the community aspect.
Options are limited by where you live, but if you steadily dig around, you can find some great local options. For example, if you live in New York, a cowhide rug that retails for $1,395 could be had for just $150.
Tourneau has been around since 1900, so if they were shady, people would have figured that out already. They are authorized dealers of luxury watch brands like Rolex and Cartier, but they also have a pre-owned section that’s worth a look. All the pre-owned watches on their site look close to brand-new, so you won’t find amazing discounts, but if shopping for luxury online makes you nervous about fakes, Tourneau is a solid bet. And unlike other online stores, Tourneau has a strong brick-and-mortar presence, so if there’s a store nearby, you can check out some products in person.
If you have an American Express card, sometimes they have cashback deals at Tourneau, so timing your purchase could slash your costs by a few hundred dollars.
Yoogi’s Closet is similar to Fashionphile and The Real Real, but they differentiate themselves by how they present their merchandise: they state that handbags are “rejuvenated and cleaned” and jewelry is polished.
It seems like they only take items that are expected to sell for at least $450, so this is clearly geared towards the super high-end items. Merchandise is limited, but all look clean and presentable.
At first glance, it does seem like they’re strongest in the handbag category, and they have a couple solid Celine options. I’m not in the market for a bag, but if I were, I’d be checking out Yoogi’s Closet.
Secondhand Sites I’m Iffy About
Museum-worthy antiques and vintage at luxury prices
1st Dibs is fun to browse for rare and vintage items, but it’s mostly for the “money is no object” crowd. I have a vintage chair that I bought from a yard sale for $4. I looked it up on 1st Dibs and there’s one listing which prices it at $380, and another for $930. Both are the same condition as the one I have. So, you either have to get lucky and find your own unicorn pieces, or pay the asking prices.
I considered buying a true vintage Cartier watch, pre-1990s, and 1st Dibs had the very best selection. But I didn’t like how they won’t give you the names of the sellers. You can’t research them and see if they’re reputable or not. If I’m buying a 1960s watch for thousands of dollars, I’m gonna have lots of questions, you know? And even though they command high prices, the return policies are usually super strict.
Upscale clothing, shoes and handbags for Europeans
Geared more toward the European market, Vestiaire Collective is like a higher-end eBay, but with an extra layer of vetting. Sellers submit their own photos and descriptions, but don’t send their merchandise to be checked by Vestiaire Collective until there’s a buyer. Those of us in the US will pay about $30 a pop for shipping. Oh, and no returns.
As for prices, I’ve seen the same Chloe dress on The Real Real for $50 with an asking price of $399 on Vestiaire Collective.
Luxury jewelry and watches
I used to like how much fine jewelry True Facet had, especially wedding and engagement rings. For example, they had lots of pre-owned Tiffany engagement rings, which I thought were smart buys. But while they tout ‘Free shipping and free returns’ all over their site, I spot-checked a few product pages and they all say ‘Final Sale’. Soooo, can you return the stuff or not? Because who wants to buy a $3,000 ring and not be able to return it if it doesn’t fit?
Crown and Caliber
I see a lot of Watch Heads buy things from Crown and Caliber, but I e-mailed them a question about a watch I was really interested in and they never responded to me. After that disappointing first impression, I most likely won’t consider them again.
Do you shop for secondhand finds online? If so, which are your favorite sites, or which would you avoid?
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