Can eBay Ever Be Fashionable?

In theory, we're all about eBay rebranding itself as a hot shopping destination. In reality, it's kind of like having a stylist hanging around in the middle of a Salvation Army.

Not, mind you, that it wouldn't be kind of awesome to have a stylist hanging around in a Salvation Army. It would just be...dissonant. And maybe take some of the thrill of the hunt out of it. But basically, we'd think it was fun. And that's the feeling eBay's rebranding inspires.

If you've spent much time on eBay lately, you'll be aware that some very strange things have been going on. They've started "Fashion Vault," a sort of answer to Gilt Groupe in which one has access to designer deals. Then there's "Fashion Voice," in which "top celebrity stylists and trend experts share their eBay obsessions and personal style." The head stylist, profiled in today's Times, is the glam Annabel Tollman. (As someone who will click on anything in which women of style talk about what they're into, or inspired by, or listening to, I enjoy this feature.) The interactive sets, in which you can click on an item (say, "velvet evening bag") and be directed to pages of more of the same from eBay sellers, are kind of genius. And yet, the whole thing still feels weird.

See, when you go to eBay, it's still...eBay. There's the exuberant, rather drunken Lego-hued logo. There's the welcome-page barrage of "fireplace heaters" and electronics and Billy Basses. And when you dive in, there's still that morass of crap through which one can only wade armed with keywords and know-how and gumption. You know, eBay. Even on the designated "Fashion" pages there is no escaping. Sure, there are trend layouts and helpful videos from Tollman. But below that, we have the usual gallery of at-home eBay merch photos: pants splayed inelegantly across beds, dresses slung onto ill-fitting dummies, square-toed Naturalizer sandals.

Not to say there's anything wrong with this — eBay's always been a bit of a treasure hunt. The thing is, can it be made into a curated boutique? And for that matter, is this the way to do that? Much more helpful, in my opinion, would be a how-to guide to shopping the site: a list of keywords, bidding tricks, a selection of the best vintage vendors. Of course, that might risk blowing up our spot, but it would be genuinely helpful to those intimidated by the site's vastness. The thing is, everyone I know already shops eBay. From the Times article, it seems like Tollman's trying to destigmatize vintage for people who don't wear it now. And that might be a more uphill battle than making the swap-meet site a curated boutique. Okay, maybe not more.

Fashion on eBay, Spoken By Annabel Tollman [NY Times]