Hello EGL! Here is a review of my first TaoBao order, via TBS. It's pretty long (and includes a good deal of venom in one section) so it is divided into sections to make reading easier. Reading it in a new tab would probably be best, the format is less compressed that way.
[Timeline and side rant]
note: my timezone is GMT +8, same as China's afaik
> 11-27-13 | 20:56pm - I contacted TaoBaoSpree via their shared email. Attached was an order form I downloaded from their site, with an additional note in the email regarding a dress from Elpress I was thinking of buying, but wasn't sure about yet.
< 11-28-13 | 11:21am - I received a cheerful email from Candy at TBS. She informed me that one of the items needed one week to make (this hat from REDMARIA) and she clarified that the Elpress dress' full price was 898 Yuan, the listed price was just the deposit. The first payment totaled HKD1454.09.
> 11-28-13 | 13:00pm - I replied telling her that I'd changed my mind about the hat and added five new items to the spreadsheet- KIRAKIRA hair accessory in black, a red hair ribbon, and kanzashi #1 and #2. From Luna, a gothic necklace.
< 11-28-13 | 13:48pm - Candy told me that with the black hair accessory, only red roses were available.
> 11-28-13 | 14:51pm - I really needed a black-only hair acc, so I replaced the item again.
< 11-28-13 | 15:19pm - Candy confirmed the changes to the spreadsheet and recalculated the total payment.
> 11-28-13 | 17:14pm - Paid via PayPal, HKD 1670.3
< 11-28-13 | 20:13pm - Candy acknowledged payment.
> 12-08-13 | 15:44pm - I emailed TBS to inquire about the status of my order.
< 12-08-13 | 18:05pm - Candy replied to my email, apologizing for not contacting me sooner. Apparently there had been a problem with my order- the Infanta JSK arrived with one button broken and another missing. She had emailed the seller, but they sent her gold buttons. Candy was waiting for silver ones.
< 12-12-13 | 19:02pm - The items arrived at the TBS warehouse! Candy sent me pictures of each item and the whole lot together, as well as details for the final payment.
> 12-13-13 | 12:46pm - Sent the final payment. I was worried about customs so I asked her to mark it down. She replied around an hour later confirming payment and discussed the markdown with me- she marked it at $40.
* 12-15-13 | Received my tracking number.
* 12-16-13 | Package left China.
* 12-18-13 | Package arrives in PHL. A few hours later it is handed over to customs.
*** warning: this section contains ~rage~ if you'd rather skip the rant, scroll to the next section of the timeline. I am posting this partly as reference for future transactions that have to do with our postal service, be it buying or selling.
At this point, it enters the black hole. I was understandably very angry over the long delay, and worried that something might have happened to it. Nothing new appeared on the tracking page. When the notice card arrived nearly a month later, I was told I was lucky as that was pretty fast(!!)
The way EMS works here is that instead of delivering things door-to-door, they will send out notice cards for you to pick up your stuff at their office. Which is more than an hour away from my house. =__= Moreover, if the package is of a certain value, you will have to pay big money- not for the tax, but as a bribe. This phenomenon is why our postal service has such a screwed up reputation- I am not exaggerating. Example 1, 2(EMS specifics), 3(newspaper article explaining 5-month snail mail) one simply has to google. DHL and FedEx have tax brokers to haggle for them over fees, but then they will pull great wtfery   on you when they come to your door- consider yourself served.
Our post also does not insure packages. Legality of the action aside, not marking down packages only makes them more attractive to thieves, and it is moot when there is no insurance to protect either side in the transaction. Items from China and the US receive particular scrutiny and many times I have had greeting cards arrive torn open because some enterprising employee was checking for money inside.
I'm not saying that the entire service is manned by thieves. But they do exist.
*** timeline continuation
* 01-09-14 | notice card arrives. It bears the dreaded stamp- 'Due for customs inspection'. (so what were they doing all that time it was sitting in their office?)
* 01-16-14 | claimed, with the help of a friend who lives nearer to the office than I do. That was the only time the tracking page was updated.
TaoBaoSpree overall had great service. I believe it was well worth the fee they charge, for their attention to detail. The damaged Infanta JSK arrived with two rows of shiny silver buttons- it was only by checking the underside of each button that I found the two which TBS had re-sewn.
In addition they included two free gifts, cute Sweet rings. They arrived a bit damaged- they'd separated from the ring base. Very easy fix with a glue gun, no harm done. However Sweet isn't really my thing so I have no use for these XD
There was also this hairpin included. I have no idea where it came from- possibly KIRAKIRA, because I ordered 3 items from them?
[[Infanta] Powers and Thrones JSK I, Navy]
Sorry for the messy table, I didn't want to lay the dress on the floor ~
+ Deep navy velvet, fully lined. Feels very luxe *_*
+ Beautiful navy lace. Stock shows silver, but TBS informed me that it would be navy for mine, and I didn't mind that at all.
+ Good quality grosgrain ribbon for the corset lacing in back. They are threaded through silver fastenings, not fabric or lace.
- The print is a little grainy - maybe this is the norm for prints on velvet, but from a distance it's not noticeable.
- There are some long loose threads on the inside.
- The hidden side zipper, though well hidden, does not go down. While I can still pull it down over my head, I have to wriggle a bit to get it off, which looks ridiculous XD
- The silver trim around the collar and hem is really scratchy- but it doesn't come in contact with my skin during regular wear, so it doesn't matter very much.
- While the buttons are very pretty, they feel very light and plastic. Also- for a pirate, I'd expect that the buttons wouldn't be quite so bright and shiny .xD
Worn photos! (+ KIRAKIRA black headband)
[[Chess Story] Le Jardin de Versailles SK - Wine]
Gorgeous deep red and gold! The fabric is a little difficult to photograph however, it turns fuchsia. I have tried to edit the photos to show the true color.
Print is very crisp. Stitching is impeccable.
As seen here, the fabric is slightly textured. It's a little rough (to cut down on the shine I guess?) but since the inside lining is very silky, it doesn't bother me. While it looks shiny in my photos, the luster is not at all the same as cheap satin or poly- it looks very elegant.
RIBBON LOOPS. A small but terribly important detail to me. I hate it when clothes get pinched in between hanger clips.
Closeup of the high waist.
Shirring. The grosgrain ribbon is really, really long o_o but I don't want to cut it.
Side seams. They actually match up- it looks good except for the feather floating in the air, which gets cut off.
Underneath the top layer, and a look at the lining.
+ Gorgeous construction- no loose threads anywhere, invisible zipper works smoothly, neat shirring panel in back. Plastic boning at the front. Bones are not rounded, but the fabric seems strong enough to last.
+ Crisp print around Versailles and the swans.
+ Great quality lace
+ Ribbon loops!
+ Lining is smooth but not cheap.
- The outer skirt is not plain cotton or silk; it's a rather rough blend, but looks very luxe without being OTT shiny like satin. Since the inner layer is smooth and comfy, this doesn't really bother me.
- The printing top and bottom parts, with the stars and feathers, is a little jaggy.
Worn photo (low quality shot- sorry, phone) those dem wrinkles o_o" I had no idea
[[KIRAKIRA] hair accessories]
Both bows arrived with bubble wrap threaded through the ribbon loops to preserve their shape. The long strings of petals were detached and placed in separate plastic bags.
The bell at the bottom makes little tinkling sounds- good thing it's not very sensitive or the constant tinkling would drive me crazy xD
The third headbow is WYSIWYG:
My only issue is that I need more red x silver items to match with this one xD; also it has only an alligator clip on the back, no pins. I still find ways to clip it onto the front of my dresses, but it's a little awkward because of the direction the clip is facing. No glue trails here, very neat and sturdy workmanship.
[Lastly, the LUNA choker]
It comes with tiny crosses hanging from the center prong; but I had asked TBS to have it detached, but included. I may use them to deco something later on.
+ Fairly sturdy- you wouldn't put much stress on a choker, but the lace is not too delicate.
- NEUTRAL: It was visible in some stock pictures, but more obvious irl: the center pendant is big. Maybe my neck is a bit smaller than the mannequin head's, as the sides of the pendant tended to stick up. It was secured in the middle with glue or some other adhesive; but I sewed it down for added security.
Whew! Hope this wall of text proves useful to someone!