Growing up and watching my mom painstakingly photograph and pack each item—always with some pastel tissue paper—and answer the questions of buyers using her pointer fingers to type, I realized that eBay is a singular oddity in the world of resale. It has allowed people like my mom to survive in a world where jobs like hers are more and more dominated by the digital commerce space. In the case of clothing, it is far from The RealReal, which is sterile and anonymous with pieces of designer clothes hanging off of headless mannequins, like entering a really nice curated consignment shop. And it doesn’t feel as youthful as the all-hail, colorful Gen-Z vintage space of Depop, either, which is like a really nice curated thrift shop. The site is instead its own bizarre universe. You have to search, you have to unearth, and you have to misspell designer names to find treasure. It makes digital shopping fun and exciting. I’ve set alarms for all hours of the night to bid on an item to win, and to lose. It’s like sifting through a Willy Wonka warehouse of stuff.
Part of its timeless fun is that eBay also requires a little oomph from its sellers. There’s personal style involved. My mom has to get a manicure every two weeks—always French—not out of pleasure but because she needs to display her jewelry. (I told her that she should look into getting that as a tax write-off.) “If I have ugly hands, it makes the pieces look bad,” she says. The same goes for other eBay sellers. I screenshot perfectly red lacquered nails flipping up the tags of Dolce & Gabbana sweaters and Versace pants to show the viewer that the item is indeed real. Sometimes, a seller will wear freakish medical gloves, poking, prodding, and showing off interiors like a gynecologist or a serial killer. This sort of quirk also translates into the language of eBay. My mom writes her descriptions with every first letter capitalized: “An Art Nouveau Mach Scene Depicts A Moonstone Flower Bouquet Of Tall Reeds With Bee Insects Feasting On Cream White Pearl Berries.” It’s like Virginia Woolf waxing poetic on an auction site about a brooch, and in no other universe of the English language does that fly. But that’s the draw of eBay. It has a personality.
My generation has caught onto the old-fashioned funk of eBay, and there are Instagram accounts dedicated to chronicling the oddball world of the site. One is the Instagram account @furcoatsonebay, which displays a bevy of women—some from the neck down, some with blurred faces, some with their faces cut out—posing in mink, sable, and rabbit coats. Sometimes, they pose in a parking lot, or on a porch, and often, it’s easy to tell where the fur-laden seller is from: It’s always a Russian if they are popping a hip in front of a white lace, semi-sheer curtain. One of the most beloved Instagram accounts is @ebaybae by Tae In Ahn. It boasts more than 69,000 followers, and is known for posting both the luxurious and not so luxurious oddities found on eBay. Most recently, Ahn posted a case of vintage embalming powders, a custom Gucci monogrammed bulletproof vest, and beaded tissue-box covers. Ahn had joined eBay in 2003, but only started posting in 2017. Its idiosyncrasies are what also attracts Ahn as a user. “I love the individual staging photos, or when they have a cat or dog in the house photobombing,” she says. “But I also love the photoshopped and cropped decisions.”