Weddings

Etsy Shopping Secrets Only the Pros Know

Tips and tricks for navigating the online marketplace.

Weddings have ceased to be one-style-fits-all affairs. These days, love stories are celebrated in ways as unique as the pairings they are, and it’s the little details of the wedding day that allow couples to highlight the special passions that link them together. But while everyone wants a one-of-a-kind ring pillow or custom chalkboard welcome sign, not everyone has the creative skills to bring these ideas to life. So they turn to Etsy, the ten-year-old online craft and vintage marketplace you’re probably already checking out for those small-yet-special (and occasionally superhero-themed) details that show off their unique bond.

“My husband, Rory, loves Star Wars, so he was excited we could order a Hans Solo and Princess Leia cake topper,” says Shannon Sheridan, a Takoma Park hairstylist who tied the knot in August. “Etsy lets you get such special things.” 

With an estimated 1.5 million vendors and 32 million product listings, Etsy can also be overwhelming to shop. Here’s what to seek out, what to avoid, and how to customize your search to get exactly what you’re looking for. 

What to shop for—and what to pass up

Invitations and other paper goods are ideal opportunities to channel a couple’s personalities, but the fun of devising and commissioning an original design can come with serious sticker shock.

“Etsy is a great option for a couple on a budget, because they can get semi-custom invites at a better price,” says McLean-based wedding planner Teresa Lee of Rex & Regina. The array of choices on Etsy means you’re likely to find something that closely matches your vision—from there it’s a simple (and cost-effective) matter of requesting a few tweaks from the vendor.

Vintage decor is also easier to find thanks to Etsy. “I did a wedding shower with a high-fashion theme, and we got old bridal magazines—one was from 1913—to use as props,” says Lee. Keywords such as “milk glass” and “vintage brass” will lead you right to flower-ready sets of vases for reception tables; “vintage Paris wedding,” a very specific search, will turn up listings for old French postcards and maps to use as decorations.

Not everything on Etsy beats the merchandise at area boutiques. You’re better off with a local source for products that need to be fresh (cookies, flowers) or won’t ship well (easy-to-crush headpieces). “You don’t want to worry that things will melt or get damaged in transit,” says Lee.

Wedding gowns and bridesmaid dresses, too, can be a gamble: problems range from bad fit to fabric that looks better online than in person. “I’ve had to redo so many gowns people got on Etsy,” says Erin Orfanon of DC-based Confetti Tailoring. “You have to measure carefully and read the vendor reviews, or you could end up with a train wreck.”

Still, some brides rave about purchasing a gown through the site. At her May 2013 wedding, DC’s Anna Hindley wore a tea-length silk dress by Project Runway–winning designer Leanne Marshall. Hindley followed Marshall’s detailed instructions on measuring her body, and included with her order a request to shorten the frock to fit her petite frame.

“When the dress came in, it fit perfectly,” Hindley says. “The whole experience was easy.”

Tips on searching

Shopping Etsy is most effective when you have a specific product and look in mind. “Know your colors, theme, and general idea before you get too deep,” says Lee.

Brainstorm for adjectives that describe your aesthetic (“Gatsby” and “Art Deco,” for example, will both return variations of 1920s style), and pair each with the basic item description (“table numbers,” “favor tags”) when filling in the search bar. After you’ve found something you like in the colors of your wedding, end the search.

RELATED: The Best Etsy Shops for Wedding Stuff

More in the mood to peruse? Avoid the homepage and head straight to one of Etsy’s nuptial-specific verticals. Merchandise is grouped by wedding-relevant categories at etsy.com/browse/weddings, and Etsy’s wedding blog includes DIY ideas, trends, and stories of couples who used Etsy vendors for personalizing their big day.

If you want to browse a more select group of items, use Etsy Pages. Here you’ll find Pinterest-like collections of Etsy items curated by wedding tastemakers such as Brooklyn Bride (ultramodern items like diamond-shaped piñatas), Martha Stewart Weddings (timelessly stylish packaging options), and Chic Vintage Brides, which helpfully organizes finds by era. Independent Etsy curator Uncoverly also has a wedding category, where you can see best-of picks.

What to know when buying 

Always consider a vendor’s home base and relative shipping costs before clicking “Add to Cart.” Airmailing an order from overseas can quickly become more expensive than the product itself.

Another important factor: turnaround time. “Most wedding designers on Etsy are comfortable working in bulk and custom formats,” says Etsy’s merchandising manager Mary Andrews. But know that you’ll need to leave extra time—say, six to eight weeks before the nuptials—to be sure orders arrive on schedule.

Other tips: Ask for a digital proof of anything that will be printed on paper, and consider requesting a sample of a product before ordering in bulk.

Registering on Etsy: It can be done!

For their 2012 DC wedding, Joshua and Tucker Shelton registered for dishes at Crate & Barrel, but the bulk of their wish list came from Etsy (you can create yours at etsy.com/registry). “We wanted things that were personal and beautiful, not things that were industrially manufactured,” says Joshua. The couple received a table, a wine rack, and several other rustic wooden pieces, as well as vintage items like a 1920s cocktail shaker. “I liked that when people went to the registry, they’d see this neat little gallery,” says Joshua.

This article appears in the Winter/Spring 2016 Issue of Washingtonian Bride & Groom. Order your copy by emailing washsub@washingtonian.com. 

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