Lila Farney, of Sams Valley, began bargain hunting in 1998. "There was a store called 'Savers' in Lubbock, Texas," she remembers. "They had the best '70s clothes, and my friends and I all liked to dress funky."
Now a professional in a busy medical office and a mother of one, her style has evolved. But she still shops second-hand stores when she wants a good deal on clothing. She once bought "three pairs of dress shoes, three pairs of dress pants, six business-casual tops, two casual shirts and one pair of casual pants," for under $60. And, she says, "most of them still had the tags from the department store."
So how, exactly, does a frugal fashionista build an attractive second-hand wardrobe?
Ivy Olvera, owner of Your Sister's Closet in Medford, recommends starting with the basics. First choose a few classic items: pants and skirts in neutral colors and a coordinating jacket. Then add tops in fun colors or patterns.
"Give yourself plenty of time to look," says Olvera. "Each piece in a second-hand store is unique; it's not like shopping at the mall."
It's also important to try before you buy because it's unlikely you'll be able to return an item that doesn't fit. Different designers size things differently. You may wear a six from one brand and a four from another.
Lee Ann Leonard Fusco, who owns Encore Boutique in Medford, says you can change the entire look of an outfit with a few carefully chosen accessories. One trick she recommends: choosing a "signature" piece.
"My step-daughter always wears wonderful necklaces. They pull together her whole outfit and make her look polished." If necklaces aren't your thing, try building a collection of funky scarves or unusual belts. You'll make your basic wardrobe look much fresher.
Leonard Fusco also recommends choosing the highest quality items you can find. "They last longer and fit better," she says. Consignment shops like Your Sister's Closet and Encore Boutique do much of the work themselves, accepting only high-quality items in like-new condition. There are treasures to be found, though, even in donation-only shops like Goodwill. A good starting point is to look for name brands.
"Some cheaper brands are good quality, too," she admits. "But name-brand clothes tend to be more consistent." Look for items without stains, holes or pilling. Stitching should be even, buttons should be secure and zippers should work.
Check out the clearance rack or ask about sales. Olvera was able to pull together several complete outfits for less than $6 by choosing clearance-only items, and Leonard Fusco has a one-dollar rack which included several very trendy items during a recent visit.
If you're still not sure where to start, Olvera and Leonard Fusco both agree: "Ask for help." Olvera keeps a "wish list" and calls customers when coveted pieces come in. She also allows shoppers to buy outfits straight off the mannequin. Leonard Fusco has customers who have been returning to her shop for more than a decade because she is familiar with their likes and dislikes.
Whether you're trying to stretch your clothing dollars or just trying to stand out from the crowd, buying second hand is a good alternative to shopping in department stores. You can expect to save 50 to 70 percent off retail — plus it's socially responsible. It eliminates waste and supports small businesses.
Who ever knew shopping could be so good for you?