interview by Kate Schweishelm
Rhiannon Leifheit is the owner of liebemarlene, an online vintage shop she runs out of her home near Atlanta. In less than three years, the store – named after one of Rhiannon’s favourite movie stars, Marlene Dietrich – has become one of the most popular destinations on eBay for fashionable vintage. The store’s companion blog, liebemarlene.blogspot.com, has also cultivated its own set of fans, who flock to the site for its impeccable photo sets and Rhiannon’s charming and self-deprecating posts. Here, Rhiannon talks to WORN about the world of buying and selling vintage online.
You often talk about how you weren’t really interested in fashion growing up – what turned you around?
All during high school I was a complete bookworm and was actually against fashion! I just didn’t get it. I think that old movies turned me around… at the time I was into all the Audrey Hepburn films and movies from the 50s, so it was only natural for me to get into vintage fashion.
How did you get your start selling online? A lot of vintage sellers seem to get into it because they are already addicted to the vintage hunt anyway – was this the case for you?
Definitely – I found that I was going to thrift stores so often that I was finding lots more vintage than I needed, and sometimes was finding things that weren’t necessarily my size or style, but that were so pretty that it was hard to leave them behind. So I slowly started to sell on Etsy, and then moved on to eBay.
Not that long ago you moved to the South from the Midwest. I hear that the South is a great place to find vintage – have you found that to be true? Did your shop influence your decision to move there?
Well, I knew I wanted to move away from the Midwest, and I figured that the South would be one of the better areas in the States for finding vintage. So far, it’s been great. I found some great things when I lived in rural Illinois, but I’ve probably had better luck in the South, especially since I’ve moved to the Atlanta area, which is just filled with huge thrift stores and some really good estate sales.
What are the advantages and disadvantages to selling online?
I’m pretty much an introvert and the sort of person who works best alone, so for me, working online and doing all my shopping and mending and listing and packing all by myself is just lovely. Another huge advantage is being able to sell to people all over the world; I love it when dresses I find in tiny Southern thrift stores get to travel to more stylish places like London or Stockholm where they can be appreciated more. As far as disadvantages go, shipping can be a pain, and it’s frustrating when the postal service isn’t as reliable as you’d like it to be. And every so often you get a crabby customer, but most of mine are just wonderful, fortunately.
Has becoming a seller changed your own style at all?
Oh, it’s changed a lot, I think. Before I started selling, my style was more all over the place since I was coming home with every semi-valuable vintage piece I found, whether it fit my style or not. Since then I’ve tried to narrow my focus a little, even when it comes to the shop. I really don’t want to sell something that’s wildly different from my own personal style – it doesn’t make sense. But if a piece I find doesn’t happen to be in my size or is a bad style or colour for me it’s nice to be able to take it home and go on to sell it to someone who will do it justice.
In recent years, street style and wardrobe remix blogs have exploded in popularity – what effect do you think this has had?
It’s really wonderful, because five years ago we would have still been looking to the runways for trends, but now we can find them on street style sites and even personal fashion blogs, and a lot of these trends are for vintage pieces or clothing items that can be found in the thrift stores. I know that I probably get more inspiration from fashion blogs than runway shows now, and I’m guessing that lots of other people feel the same way. It’s just more interesting to see how real (yet fashionable) people put outfits together using vintage pieces and creativity than looking at the unattainable high fashion looks on Style.com.
Many sellers seem to start blogs to promote their stores, but yours is one of the few that can stand on its own – was that intentional? Has maintaining a blog helped your business?
Thank you – I’m so glad you think that! Actually, I started the blog a few months after starting my eBay store, mostly just as a place where I could post store updates and information. But then I started doing outfit posts and inspiration posts, and now I pretty much have a store-related post just once a week! Blogging is probably the best way to get information out there about an online store.
There were at least two major eBay sellers who got caught passing things off as vintage that clearly weren’t, most notably one who apparently sewed a YSL tag from a pair of pants into another dress. Do these events affect other online sellers like you? How do you think buyers can protect themselves?
Yeah, I was worried that those sellers would give all eBay vintage sellers a bad name. Stuff like that also made me want to start up a blog; I just wanted to distance myself from that pack. I’d say that misrepresentation of vintage probably happens in brick and mortar stores too, but it’s a lot harder to detect a scam online when you can’t see an item up close. Buyers can protect themselves by always checking feedback before buying. And if anything does go wrong, PayPal has great buyer protection programs set up.
Rhiannon’s Top 8 Tips for Buying Vintage Online
Do some fashion history research first Sometimes even the best sellers make mistakes in their listings.
Know your measurements Most sellers don’t accept returns, so be sure to check measurements of a garment before buying.
Know your style Sometimes it helps to go to a brick and mortar vintage store and try on a bunch of different styles from different decades to see what looks best on you. That way when you buy online you’ll have a better idea of how a garment will look on you.
Spend time Maybe some people are luckier than me, but it usually takes me hours of searching eBay and Etsy before I can find exactly what I’m looking for. But it’s worth it!
Broaden your search If I’m looking for something specific then it’s easiest to just type “1940s cotton dress” into the search field, but putting in just one descriptive word like “1940s” can yield a whole list of wonderfully unexpected treasures.
Don’t be afraid to alter vintage pieces I know that a lot of people are vintage purists and are against altering vintage clothing in any way, but sometimes minor alterations can do wonders for a piece that doesn’t look so promising in its listing photos.
Know how to clean your vintage pieces Last week I bought a beautiful 50s dress on eBay that came to me smelling like mothballs, but a night’s soaking in OxyClean got rid of the bad smells. There are plenty of vintage clothing cleaning tips on the internet – I really like this one from Debutante Vintage.