Lolitas on a budget tend to buy from three places - Bodyline, FanPlusFriend [hereafter F+F to save my typing hand] and taobao, either through a reseller like Clobba or by using a shopping service. I haven't really seen much comparing the pros and cons of these different "budget buys" so I thought I'd chip in my 2c about Bodyline and F+F - I haven't bought anything from taobao stores yet and as taobao is pretty much eBay making sweeping statements about it is as stupid as saying "everything lolita on eBay is crap/brilliant/a flying unicorn".
For ease of reading I've separated my thoughts under some broad subheadings and will rank each store out of ten points for each, with ten being "totally perfect" and one being "hellishly sucky". However, when reading do be aware that I'm assuming you have the sense to buy clothing from each store that is actually lolita ^__^
I had to start with the hard one, didn't I? If I had to make a broad statement about design for these two stores I'd say that Bodyline tend to cater more for the sweet lolita and focuses on printed fabrics rather than the detail of the garments for interests whereas F+F has a more classic and gothic theme overall and uses lots of different and contrasting fabrics and detailed construction. Having said that, I think both stores have lots of brilliant designs [and some totally shit ones] to choose from in a range of different styles. However, I do have to dock a few points from Bodyline for their monstrosities and from F+F for listing a bunch of things in their lolita section that aren't lolita at all.
A simple yet lovely Bodyline design that would suit sweet, classic or hime.
As a general rule, much as I have been very happy with my Bodyline purchases, as far as quality of materials and trims used, F+F takes the cake here. Bodyline occasionally uses some very crummy polyester sometimes and though most of their pieces that I've experienced have been decent cottons or cotton blends, they are only "decent". Their prints are generally fairly clear, and everything is normally thick enough not to be see-through or to sit badly, but Bodyline's fabric quality is quite run of the mill. Likewise, the laces they use are fairly middle ground; it's not all scratchy raschel lace [though some is!] but even their nicest laces are fairly basic and nothing out of the ordinary. Having said that, I should point out that I actually think some of Bodyline's laces are totally adorable [like the stuff on my Alice in Wonderland skirt] but I am speaking from a quality standpoint here, not my actual personal opinion. As far as other trims and buttons and such go, Bodyline falls into the lower end of decent; everything is serviceable but not really the nicest on most pieces.
F+F, on the other hand, tends to use fabrics that are on the nicer side of average. Not phenomenal, but definitely a step up from Bodyline's choices. They also use a wider range of textured fabrics, rather than nearly everything being cotton or polycotton, and use that range more frequently. I haven't had first hand experience with any of their original prints, but from what I've seen online their print quality seems to be about on par with Bodyline's in that it's perfectly okay. F+F's laces, trims and buttons all seem to be of slightly better quality than Bodyline's, though they aren't particularly phenomenal. However, like with fabric range, they seem to use a much wider variety of notions than Bodyline does.
Note the velveteen vest and the heavy hot air balloon fabric.
After those two hefty paragraphs on materials you'll be relieved to hear that I don't have very much to say about garment construction. Both companies produce well made clothing, about the same quality of one of the better department stores like Target. All the seams are properly finished, as are hems. I haven't encountered any errors from either company like wonky straps or uneven hems except that Bodyline doesn't always do the best job of sewing on buttons. However, as sewing a button back on is such a simple sewing task that I really think everyone should be able to do, I don't count that as a major flaw. It's definitely a flaw, but not a big one, at least to me.
This blouse is guilty of crappily sewn buttons!
Now this is definitely a very subjective point, so bear with me. Theoretically you could buy an entire lolita wardrobe for any of the major substyles from either company, so if you look at it that way they both have a very good range of products. However, F+F overall focuses more on using plain or simply patterned fabrics in good combinations whereas Bodyline places more emphasis on mostly unique and some mass produced border or all over prints. Of course, F+F does have it's own unique prints and Bodyline has a number of solid coloured pieces but if I had to oversimplify the situation that would describe their range of clothing stylistically. I can't really rate one higher than the other on range of styles; they are different, but similarly diverse.
However, I think Bodyline has to gain a few points because they offer a wider range of shoes and socks than F+F. If you were to count actual items, I think F+F has more individual pieces overall, but Bodyline's shoes range and their variety of both plain and patterned socks hands down trumps F+F's. Then again, to "however" my "however", the sheer number of lolita items that F+F stocks and the amount of colours options many of their items come in definitely gives them a wider range to choose from than Bodyline overall.
One example of F+F's diverse offerings.
This point is pretty simple. As a general rule, Bodyline's prices are cheaper than F+F's and to me the difference in quality doesn't always correlate well enough to the difference in price. I do think, however, that both companies offer very reasonably priced lolita items, because there is a lot of yardage and detail in even the simplest lolita dress.
This is currently only $20 on Bodyline.
The discussion of sizing has two main points - the range provided and the accuracy of actual garments to the stated sizing. As far a the range of sizes goes, F+F is the hands down winner because they offer custom sizing for a minimal fee on top of having a large range of set sizes. Bodyline frequently releases clothing on only one, two or three sizes, and doesn't offer custom sizing. On top of that, their sizes are inconsistent from item to item. On the accuracy of sizing, both companies are fairly good but neither are perfect. In my experience garments from both stores can generally fit a little larger than indicated, but I've also heard many stories of Bodyline running smaller than indicated. I've heard mixed reviews about how well F+F does their custom sizing, but I have no first hand experience in that department so I can't really comment in fairness.
So, in summary F+F gets a high grade because of their large range and custom sizing options, though they lose a single point for their slight inaccuracies. Bodyline, on the other hand, doesn't do so well because of their limited and inconsistent sizing range as well as the inaccuracy the listed measurements sometimes have.
This topic is actually a fairly simple one. Bodyline has two postage options - Air and EMS. Air is currently a flat rate of $10 and for me in Australia takes about three weeks to arrive whereas EMS is priced according to weight and should arrive within about a week, though take that with a grin of salt because I've never used their EMS option. F+F only offers EMS, so it can be rather pricey and it kind of sucks not to have another option. As far as packaging goes, neither company does anything noteworthy. Individual items are in plastic wrappers or boxes, which are inside plastic mailing satchel things. It's not particularly sturdy, but I've never had an item arrive with damage from either company.
That's actually closer than I thought it was going to be when I was adding up the totals...
So there you have it! F+F wins this race by a narrow margin, but depending on what your priorities are the verdict may be different for you. Neither store is perfect nor terrible and I would recommend both to any new lolita ^__^
Lastly, I shouldn't have to make this disclaimer, but I am just in case; all opinions here are my opinions, based on the pieces I own from each company, observations of stock pictures and other people's reviews. Unfortunately, I'm not omniscient. Yet...