The Glass Wardrobe Files – we interview Tae In Ahn of Ebay Bae

The OG of the online marketplace, the site that can push your heart rate through the roof in anticipation of a bidding war, and the only resale platform that has a parody song written about it; eBay is not just a company – it’s a culture. Anyone who loves bargain hunting, or simply shopping in general, can easily get lost on the website, sucked in by suggested links and cleverly targeted selections designed to make you gasp in desire. It’s an emotional relationship in which either you or the site is suffering.

One week away from each other and you’ve missed out on most of your watched list, but one week together, and you’ve quickly spent your monthly wages on a bundle of tangled costume jewellery, yet another kitten heel, or a LouisVuitton flip phone that doubles up as a lighter.

And so, it figures that someone has tapped into this odd alliance, to build an Instagram page of some of the most unique finds from the site. Meet eBaybae, an Instagram account that now boasts nearly 70K followers and is run by Tae In Ahn, a Collections Specialist at The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Described as the account “you never knew you needed” in the past, eBaybae navigates the platform’s wildest eccentricities, unearthing everything from Maison Margiela x Tommy Cash bread-inspired loafers to cherry-shaped toilet-brush holders to custom Gucci bulletproof vests.

What started as a solution to a graduate program assignment has become part of her online identity, subsequently building a network of fellow eBay enthusiasts flocking to her for morsels of unusual listings. Ahn, however, tends to separate herself from the page she has created, arguing that she is not the curator of eBaybae, but rather, that the page curates itself. It’s an interesting and somewhat humble stance. But for Ahn, the focus is more on the idea of “uncommitted” and “imaginative” shopping – there is no real method, just a fluid stream of inanimate objects that someone in the world will cherish, and others will chuckle at.

It’s this crux that eBaybae taps into – like a study into the unique tastes of the world. And when put on Instagram, a site that often falls prey to conformity, things feel a little less serious. Perhaps this explains why accounts that don’t create personal content but share focused fragments instead are on the rise.

Ahn takes the view, however, that the rise of these pages marks the “beginning of the end” for the future of fashion – a viewpoint she said she would not expand upon. Nevertheless, when considered against her opinion on the resale market, this argument could be part of her wider assessment that a cultural shift is happening – away from the new in fashion and toward the old. Repurposing content for Instagram is all part of the process.

wardrobe files issue 50 EBAY BAETae In Ahn. Photographer: Melanie Ahn

How did you start your page, eBaybae? What was the inspiration behind it?

My fixation with window shopping on eBay started while I was in my graduate program’s class on curating a simulated exhibition. When I couldn’t complete my exhibition checklist with existing museum objects, I looked towards eBay. I guess this initially sparked the idea of uncommitted/imaginative online shopping. This was around the time I created eBaybae to share my finds. I felt like I wanted, or needed, an outlet for my “wants” or “needs”. A feeling that has been communally echoed in the comments of my posts.

How would you describe your aesthetic?

The aesthetic for eBaybae is aspirational and camp. My personal aesthetic is more janitorial sartorial.

How do you hunt for your eBay finds?

It depends if I’m searching for myself vs. searching for eBaybae. If it’s for myself, I hunt with a purpose and the searching is a lot more straightforward and narrower, with more use of filters. If it’s for eBaybae, I sometimes hunt with a purpose and sometimes without. High to low. Sometimes I start by entering a specific keyword then browse through different categories and refine the search filter. It can be aimless sometimes. One thing can lead to another, or further inspire the next search.

Does your work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as Collections Specialist in The Costume Institute aid the process in any way?

Part of my job deals with monitoring plastics in The Costume Institute’s permanent collection and staying well informed about the degradation of plastic materials that are pervasively used in fashion. I guess this adds to my love-hate relationship with plastics, something that I find daunting yet fascinating, both professionally and personally. Because of this, I am even less inclined to buy an inflatable PVC bubble tent for the backyard, so I post it on IG instead.

ebaybae account@ebaybae

Do you ever purchase the pieces you find? If so, which items tend to become your most treasured and why?

Yes, too often than I would like to admit. Something I purchased many years ago that I have treasured more recently is a Dennis Rodman tattoo long sleeve shirt. It’s the only XL top that I own, and it happened to be the only shirt that I was able to fit into while pregnant last year. I enjoyed wearing it at home and stretching out the tribal ankh belly tattoo.

What’s your top eBay tip? I would love to peek at your saved search/seller list.

Cast a wide net and lots of scrolling if you’re up for it! I always utilise my saved searches and sellers list.

As a fellow eBay enthusiast, I’m interested to know how you strike a healthy relationship with the site?

I have questioned whether I have an unhealthy relationship with eBay many times in the past, especially when eBaybae grew in followers. I often wondered if my relationship with the site had to continue to be an unhealthy one to keep up eBaybae’s momentum. I think my eBay and IG activity, however, have naturally waxed and waned since.

How does it feel to be considered an Instagram curator? I’m curious to know how you regard your increasingly influential position in the digital sphere.

I do consider eBaybae a curated page, however, I don’t consider myself an Instagram curator. Ebaybae is just a bit of fun.

What has been the greatest take away from building your page and followers?

The funny comments. As well as people who have reached out and expressed their support and appreciation.

In your opinion, what does the rise of the Instagram curator signify for the future of fashion and culture at large?

The beginning of the end.

What do you expect for the future of the resale market?

The future looks bright. I think historically the resale market has always existed under the radar or in the shadows of the retail market. Garnering a tarnished reputation up until recently. I expect the cultural shift will continue to promote the resale market, riding on the whole sustainability wave.

What opportunities has your curation afforded you? What have been the high points?

Some high points have been getting invited to a few eBay events (pre-Covid), like Drag Bingo hosted by Willam Belli, as well as receiving Belli’s head bust as a gift from eBay VP Bradford Shellhammer.

by Lily Rimmer