Archive for Wednesday, February 25, 2009

How to find designer threads at a discount

February 25, 2009


For those whose taste is Chanel but whose bank account is Banana Republic, the solution is secondhand shops, according to ShopSmart, the shopping magazine published by Consumer Reports.

Anyone who hasn’t checked out some of the nicer ones is in for a surprise. The merchandise is in good condition, and prices are unbeatable on one-of-a-kind items that can help freshen up a wardrobe.

“We found armfuls of great designer goodies in like-new condition at secondhand shops from coast to coast,” said Lisa Lee Freeman, the editor in chief of ShopSmart.

But the competition is definitely heating up for the best picks as more fashionistas are becoming recessionistas and shopping at secondhand stores. Goodwill and the Salvation Army are reporting that sales are up as much as 10 percent to 20 percent this year.

So how can shoppers find the best stuff? First, here’s a lesson on the three types of stores that sell not-new clothes and accessories. “Vintage” shops generally sell top-quality “pre-worn” clothing, as well as some items that have never been worn. At “consignment” and “resale” stores, people can sell clothing for cash. The best ones require clothes to be in mint condition and dry-cleaned before they’ll accept them for sale. Prices, which tend to drop every 30 days the items stay on the racks, are 50 percent to 90 percent off retail.

Thrift shops like Salvation Army and Goodwill stores accept donations. The biggest bargains are there, but so too are the items with holes and stains. However, shoppers at those places support disaster relief, job training and placement for needy and disabled people, and other good works.

Finding the best shops

Ready to go recessionista shopping? Here are four tips from ShopSmart for finding the best secondhand shops.

• Look up shops in fancy ZIP codes. The tonier the neighborhood, the better the booty.

• Surf the Web. Search for local stores and visit great online shops like, and, which all benefit charities and carry fabulous clothing and accessories. is another great find. Also go to, the site of the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops, to find stores in the area.

• Scan eBay. Just be sure to check seller-feedback scores, which should be at least 99 percent positive, and read the fine print to find out about an item’s condition and shipping and return policies.

• Support a cause. Select a favorite cause, then support it by shopping at its thrift store. Also call local hospitals to ask about their thrift stores.

Smart shopping tips

• Check by phone. ShopSmart suggests calling periodically to find out when new goods arrive. Those who make friends with the owners can get them to call when preferred styles and sizes come in.

• Shop for evening gowns and cashmere. Wear-once-and-never-be-seen-in-again items like gowns are likely to be fantastic deals. Older cashmere sweaters tend to be thicker and better quality than new ones.

• Ask when new shipments are available. New shipments tend to be put out on Saturday mornings to lure weekend shoppers. The end of the year is also a good time, when people clean out closets and donate clothes to get a tax break. Designers and manufacturers with showrooms often donate unsold items and samples from spring lines in March and April, and from fall lines in October and November.

• When in Florida, shop for winter clothes. People move to warmer locations and discover they don’t need overcoats.

• Bargain, bargain, bargain (but not at charity shops). Prices are often negotiable.


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