How to Be Stylish for Pennies

Learn how to find name brands and designer labels at a fraction of the retail price

By Amanda Greene Posted March 19, 2010 from Woman's Day April 17 2010

Consignment store shopping is having a heyday. According to NARTS: The Association of Resale Professionals, in the past year both new stock and new customers have increased dramatically. In this economy, that’s no surprise: “You can spend up to 95 percent below retail prices,” says Ann Siner, owner of Eco Chic Consignments in Phoenix. Read on for the ins and outs of how to buy and sell.

What Is Consignment Shopping?

You know those khakis that your son wore once and then outgrew? Or that dress hanging in your closet that you just don’t love? Consignment stores will buy them from you to sell to their customers at a deep discount. They’ll typically price your item at one-third of the retail value; once it sells, they’ll pay you 35 to 50 percent of that price (or a little more in store credit). So, if you bring in a $90 dress, they’ll tag it at $30, and you’ll take home around $15 after someone buys it. Resale or buy-sell-trade stores will give you cash or store credit upfront and will often take lower-priced clothing—but as with consignment, clothing must be in pristine condition. If your item doesn’t sell in 90 days, you can pick it up, or some stores will donate it to charity. (Weekend Chic: Michael Kors blazer, $30, Imitation of Chris jeans, $20, and J.Crew blouse, $19, all from Buffalo Exchange. Coach Leather bag, $35; Beacon's Closet. Abaeté for Payless flats, $14; Re/Dress NYC. Total price: $118.)

2. Buy Brands You Know and LikeThat way you’ll buy pieces that work with what you have and will fit as you expect them to. But always try on: The previous owner may have had alterations done, which could turn what appears to be a size 12 dress into a size 10.

3. Know When to ShopMondays are good, because people clean out their closets over the weekend. And shop often: Most stores roll out new merchandise constantly. Eco Chic Consignments stocks 500 new items at each of their four women’s locations every day. (Mad for Plaid: Kate Hill shirtdress, $22, Abby Z belt, $5, and Cynthia Rowley flats, $15, all Re/Dress NYC. Total price: $42)

4. If You Love It, Buy ItChances are, there’s only one. “I’ve had people come in, fall in love with something and walk away,” says Deb Malkin, owner of Re/Dress NYC, a resale clothing store for sizes 14 and up. “They’ll come back, sometimes on the same day, but it’ll be gone.” If you’re on the fence because you found a piece that’s almost perfect, don’t be afraid to take it to a tailor for alterations. It’s an easy way to turn a good find into a great one.

5. Inspect CarefullyConsignment stores make every effort to buy clothes in mint condition, but people do make mistakes. “Look for hallmarks of quality, such as weight: Well-made leather belts and handbags are heavier,” advises Kerstin Block, co-owner of Buffalo Exchange. Shoes, on the other hand, tend to show their age. Before buying, check for overly scuffed bottoms and try them on to be sure that they still feel supportive. Fabric like cotton and jersey tends to wear thin. Hold the item up to the light to inspect for worn patches or holes. Check unexpected areas for pilling, like the hips (where purses rub). (Party-ready: LOFT dress, $22, and Wallace for Madewell cardigan, $15, Second Time Around. Chinese Laundry Heelsm $12, and Franco Sarto bag, $49, Re/Dress NYC. Total price: $98.)

6. It Doesn’t Hurt to Bargain“Prices are negotiable to a certain extent,” says Sophie Newman, a manager at Second Time Around in New York City. While stores will rarely lower the price on a new arrival, pieces that have been in the store for a while, or have damage from shelf life, like sagging or hanger marks, may be fair game for a markdown.

Second Time Around
Stocked with everything from basics to designer items, these stores are impeccably organized.

(Work It: Theory Cardigan, $50, Maria Bonita Extra belt, $15, Joseph pants, $20, Laundry shirt, $15, and Tommy Hilfiger shoes, $24, all Second Time Around. Total price: $124.)

Photos by Alison Gootee.

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