Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
March 5, 2021

Recreating meaning: a guide to eBay and pandemic window shopping

By LILY PINE | February 21, 2021

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COURTESY OF LILY PINE One of Pine's favorite purchases from eBay is this dress.

There came a point during quarantine where I found myself on eBay for at least four hours every night. I scrolled through pages and pages of search terms like “Penny Lane Almost Famous jacket brown,” “1960s lace nightgown full-length pink floral” and “patterned wicker basket big picnic.” There was something comforting about navigating the website’s interface, which at first seems designed to make finding and purchasing listings impossible, that provided me a feeling of comfort and ease.

The joy in eBay scrolling is not necessarily just the bargains available on the website. However, the discounts are not to be discredited — I am almost certain the main demographic of eBay sellers are grandmas who just do not know how much a Y2K baby tee can go for these days. 

Unlike Depop and other similar reselling platforms, eBay is not curated by any real sort of algorithm. There is no feed when you log onto the website. What you search for is what you get, so you have to really start figuring out search terms to find what you want. It feels great for once to be online and not feel as if every part of the website is trying to spoon-feed you content that will keep you coming back for more. The eBay site is perfect for curing those days where you simply no longer wish to be perceived by the algorithm. 

Here are some of my favorite search terms: “novelty lampshade,” “vintage lot love letters,” “vintage Edwardian,” “‘90s does ‘70s,” “novelty vintage lighter,” “art deco mirror,” “junk drawer collectibles,” “distressed vintage top,” “rare vintage rug,” “vintage tourist shirt” and “vero cuoio boots.”

While I do enjoy purchasing from eBay (two of my favorite finds are a Hysteric Glamour striped top and a ‘70s mini dress that makes me look like I’m straight out of the Little Women movie), for me it mainly fills the void of window shopping that the pandemic has taken away. I miss spending hours in a store, going through racks of clothing and feeling the fabric between my fingers, as I hunt for even one item. I miss trying on things I had no intention of buying, and while eBay cannot replicate this for me, it’s as close as I can get.

I love seeing what random stuff is listed on the website. Thousand-dollar Chanel dresses, Jean Paul Gaultier tops, the ugliest lampshades anyone has ever seen, ornate Regency-style mirrors, giant postcard collections from places I will never visit, collectible vintage fountain pens that cost more than a pair of shoes: ultimately, all things that once meant something to someone else.

It is getting harder and harder for me to come to terms with all of the lost time we’ve had in the pandemic, but I find that spending time looking at items that have been loved and will still be loved gives me a rare and earnest feeling of joy, or at the very least, comfort. I like to know that trinkets I love could one day end up in the college home of a 22-year-old decades from now. I like to know that on the rare occasion I do end up purchasing something after a long night of scrolling, I am continuing the life of something that was maybe special to someone once — it allows me to feel closer to strangers than I have been able to feel in almost a year. Thank god for eBay. 

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