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Remember the good old days when you could buy a new dress without, say, debating whether or not you could live without electricity for a month? The economy has made shopping for beautiful clothes seem like a luxury, but it doesn't have to be that way. Resourcefulness is in, and that means exploring creative and alternative ways to keep your look fresh while playing by the rules of The New Frugality.
Check out these tips for shopping while saving money — even earning it — to indulge your urge to shop without defaulting on your utilities.
Revenue in the retail industry as a whole is dying a slow, painful death, but consignment shops are alive and well. Mainstream consumers have found out what Shoestring-ers have known all along: not only can you snag designer clothes for a fraction of the price by frequenting the consignment stores, you can also sell unwanted items from your own closet and subsidize your purchases, lowering your yearly shopping tab overall.
Tracy True Dismukes is the former president of the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops and also the owner of three consignment shops in Birmingham, Alabama. Her chain of stores, Collage Designer Consignment, saw a 19% increase in gross sales in 2008, which she attributes to two main factors. "We had a better supply of high quality items and more customers buying them."
Dismukes has seen such a dramatic rise in bargain hunting that she now organizes monthly bus tours for consignment shopping in both Birmingham and Atlanta, Georgia, and recently launched a television show and website called Consignment Chic to educate consumers about the consignment shopping experience.
Some things to consider before cashing in on your castoffs:
Read the Fine Print
No two consignment stores are alike. Each store's policy and percentage stake will vary. Most look for clothing that is in great condition (without stains or tears) and clothing that is no more than two years old (unless they specialize in vintage). Stores usually accept clothing only within the current season — you won't be able to sell winter coats in the middle of June, for instance — and once an accepted item is sold, the consigner gets a cut of the revenue, but that cut varies from shop to shop. Most stores either mail payments directly to consigners or offer a store credit, the latter of which is usually a worth a little bit more than the cash itself.
It's Not Personal, It's Business
If a consignment store doesn't want a particular piece of your clothing, "there are many reasons a store might not be able to accept an item," Dismukes says. "It may just be that they are overloaded at that time with the same thing you brought in. But, if (the clothes) are not in style, damaged, or have a 'fragrance' to them, they won't be — or shouldn't be — accepted anywhere for resale."
ETSY & THE VINTAGE MARKET
Etsy.com is an online forum with a die-hard fan base that supports the purchasing and selling of handmade items. It's also a vintage clothing paradise, with shops that carry premium jewelry, dresses, shoes, and accessories from decades past.
Sarah McDougall once sold collectible books on Amazon.com, and then vintage purses and cameras on eBay, but business really took off when she set up her Etsy shop, 9th Avenue Vintage, this past November. Now McDougall scours estate sales, thrift stores, and garage sales, stocking up on quality vintage items to satisfy her shoppers.
McDougall warns that a lot of work is involved if you decide to set up a vintage shop on Etsy to earn some cash. "My shop is very time consuming with sourcing products, washing, mending seams, photographing, listing, shipping, and promoting." Inventory also takes up space, she warns — right now, in order to house all her product, she's utilizing "…most of the extra bedroom, part of the kitchen, and part of the living room."
If only you only have a few items of vintage clothing at a time, a local vintage store may buy them from you for a few dollars, or they may have system similar to a consignment store where you get a slice of the final selling price. Make sure to check each store’s policies, however — the term vintage isn’t necessarily a synonym for old clothes that you happen to find in an attic or the back of a closet. Store buyers tend to have high standards and want pieces that will move off the racks by appealing to discerning vintage consumers in their 20s and 30s.
Shopping vintage can be an exciting way for consumers to branch out and play with their fashion sense. Now is the perfect time to pick up a few eclectic wardrobe pieces and shop at stores that you may not have considered when you were flush with cash. Unlike a chain store dress with a hefty price tag, a vintage frock can be a unique — and inexpensive — means to evolve your look and add an element of whimsy to your style. "Do your research by investigating vintage clothing websites," McDougall said. "Learn about styles and fabrics used in different decades."
Tips for Evaluating Vintage Clothes, from 9th Avenue Vintage:
THE ORIGINAL ONLINE AUCTION: EBAY
It's hard to remember a time before eBay was part of our cultural vocabulary. The online auction website is known for selling, among many other things, high fashion clothing designers like Alice + Olivia, Burberry, and Diane von Furstenberg. It's also known as a vast wasteland of, well, junk. With a little bit of research, however, eBay can be an amazing resource for snatching up great deals and adding stunning pieces to your wardrobe.
Lisa Brown started by selling her own clothing on eBay, then turned to placing a friend's clothes online for a commission. Her store, What a Stylish Steal, has accelerated during the recession. "People are in the market for the cheap and chic," she explained. Clothing must be new or gently used, fashionable, and preferably from a known label in order to go up in her shop.
Starting an eBay store can be a great way to streamline your wardrobe and a means to bring in extra income. The eBay marketplace also has an extremely large audience, thereby increasing your chances of quickly unloading unwanted or unused clothing. But, eBay can also be time consuming. Brown recommends purchasing a reliable camera if you're thinking of setting up a shop. She also advises sellers to iron clothing and use a lint roller to present each item effectively, and to be detailed in the item's description by giving measurements and listing any and all fabrics and flaws.
Tips for Buying Clothes on eBay, from What a Stylish Steal:
Regardless of how you choose to buy, sell, or trade your clothes this season, there's a silver lining to this daunting economic experience: a shift in our consumer momentum. Discovering means through which we're stretching every dollar, purchasing clothes that used to belong to someone else, buying from different types of stores, and creatively mixing and matching our fashion can actually benefit us all as a whole. The results can be inventive, interesting, quirky, and extraordinary. Here’s to the future — to getting out of this big recession mess with serious style.
Story: Copyright 2009 Shoestring, LLC. Image: iStock