I started my affair with second-hand clothing when I was in high school.
My mother put me on an increased monthly allowance when I was sixteen. From that money I had to take care of my car, cover all expenses and buy all my clothes. This was intended to teach me financial responsibility. I also worked during the summers, but I was enough of a princess that my parents thought I should focus on studies during the school year and so I received a family scholarship.
My mother also taught me her shopping technique, which I use to this day: First go to the nicest stores, the boutiques, the designer shops, the Needless Mark-ups. Window shop to your heart’s content. Try everything on, even if it costs thousands of dollars. Find out what you really want. Then go to the discount stores and see if you can find something like it. Amazingly, I almost always could. Then, if there was something fancy and pricey you just HAD to HAVE — like Michelle’s much-dreamed-of Manolo Blahnik shoes — then you can splurge. One expensive accessory can make a whole outfit shine.
I went one step better and discovered the Goodwill stores. The Salvation Army stores. The vintage clothing stores. All of these bear fruit for the diligent shopper. The key again is to look for the basics, for the timeless pieces that form the foundation of your wardrobe. Then if you have to have, say the purple poet’s shirt with the 70s collar, pleated sleeves and over-sized cuffs (yes, I really had one!), then that can be a funky addition. While the Goodwill’s and Salvation Army’s require fortitude to find the jewel in the pile of kitty litter, the vintage stores require bravery and imagination.
Then I discovered consignment.
Sure, we all have been in consignment stores, where people either sell their clothing to the shop or have the shop sell it for them, less a percentage for the store. Some are better than others. I’m sharing my secret tips here:
1) Fnd the consignment stores the rich women patronize. The best consignment store I’ve ever been to was in West Palm Beach. They had GORGEOUS designer shoes with unscuffed labels on the soles. There was a Vera Wang gown that had been worn once. Many of the Glitterati Fashionistas wear something once and never again — who in that crowd wants to be seen in the same outfit twice? Whenever you’re on vacation, go to the ritzy part of town. You might not be able to afford to stay there, but you can sure as heck wander the streets. Find the consignment store. Plan to spend a few hours.
2) Know your seasons. In Colorado, the best strategy is to hit the ski town consignment stores at the end of the ski season. All those rich women with winter ski homes ditch clothes when they close up the vacation homes for the summer. After all, those are last season’s clothes now.
3) Visit the consignment stores near college campuses right after graduation. The college girls move out of the dorms and sorority houses; they have way more stuff than when they moved in: something has to go. Often it’s the fun and flirty stuff that mom won’t approve of — and will wonder how they could afford it. These are great places to find the trendy stuf. And for less than $10, you won’t care if it’s out of style in a few months.
4) Give back. Take your stuff to the local store and build up an account. Build up a friendship. My local gals know me and call me up when something from one of my favorite designers comes in. Nothing like having a mole where it counts!
5) Be proud of your second-hand clothes. This last week I had two readings and signings for an anthology I’m in: Going GreenTrue Tales from Gleaners, Scavengers, and Dumpster Divers. (Shameless Self-Promotion Alert!) In honor of our theme of unusual ways to recycle I wore all second-hand clothing to both events. People were frankly shocked that my very nice outfits were new only to me. It’s a good lesson. There are many ways to reuse. You can both save money and feel good about your contribution to the environment.
And look really cute, too. What more can you ask?