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As consumer prices rise, it may be time to consider the advantages of buying Secondhand

WESTPORT, Conn. — Go ahead, visit a secondhand store: It's good for your wallet. It's good for the environment. It might even be good for your cluttered closet.

On a recent shopping spree, $88 scored three outfits, including an of-the-moment safari-inspired Max Studio wrap dress with the tags still on it, and a pair of Calvin Klein shoes with soles that have never touched the ground. It also spawned good intentions to bring to Goodwill several unworn items that hang in the closet two sizes too small.

The mission: to find clothes that represented current fashion trends, even if the clothes themselves weren't new. Since what goes around comes around in the world of fashion, you can always find old styles that look fresh even if "vintage" isn't your look.

The savings could be significant, if relative. A Gap safari-style jacket in khaki twill was $9.99 from Goodwill, a two-piece Carolina Herrera evening outfit that would normally have a four-figure price tag was $275 at Designer Label Consignment.

Such high-end fashions may be more difficult to find secondhand in the Rogue Valley, but if happen to be in Eugene or Portland, a visit to thrift stores there may yield more selection.

Joleen Higgin, a teacher from Redwood City, Calif., recently scored a full-length cashmere coat for $10 and new Salvatore Ferragamo boots for $50.

For her, it's not just a bargain, it's a pleasant shopping experience. Sifting through rack after rack of used clothing may not sound like a good time. But many secondhand stores are laid out like a typical retail store — and the merchandise can be similar, particularly if you scour wealthy areas.

"I often go as a way to wind down from work," Higgin says. "It's kind of like 'Cheers' ... They all know me, it's a friendly environment."

Laurie Perren, owner of the four Roundabout Designer Closeouts & Consignments stores in Fairfield County and neighboring Westchester County, N.Y., says that some of her top consignors do their shopping in Europe and want to be the first to wear something. That means the following year, when they clean their closet and bring the item to her, the garment actually is in line with the trends.

"High-end designers come out with things the general public isn't ready for until a year later," Perren says. "They will seem really on target the next season because everyone has accepted the trend and is ready to buy it."

On the flip side, only the most fashion-conscious people would notice the difference between this year's pinstripe Dolce & Gabbana pantsuit from last year's "except it's $450 here instead of $2,500."

Perren also receives from boutiques brand-new merchandise that didn't sell the first time around. She encourages her customers to visit traditional luxury retailers, such as Barneys New York or Bergdorf Goodman in Manhattan, and then come to Roundabout to appreciate the savings.

At the Children's Cottage in Ridgefield, a consignment store specializing in kids' items, owner Maura Sullivan says she sees a ton of unworn clothes because either the kids didn't fit into the items or the seasons never aligned with a growth spurt. She also gets a lot of dressy clothes that children need for that one big event and never again.

"I have such a big collection of navy blue blazers," she says with a laugh.

But she also sells a lot of blazers, along with communion and flower girl dresses, because parents don't want to spend big bucks on something kids will wear once. And she's seen a boost in both consignors and shoppers since the start of the green movement.

"It's recycling. ... I hear so often, 'I just couldn't get rid of it, it's almost new or never worn,'" Sullivan says. "And with the cost of living these days, why not save a little money?"

Even better, you can buy from thrift stores that benefit others — many, like Goodwill, are affiliated with charities.

Whitney Haslam, herself a consignment and eBay shopper, wants to recreate that feel-good vibe online at GetGown.com, which launches later this spring. Her Web site will allow people to buy, sell or trade secondhand clothes and accessories.

"I have a tendency to love to wear a dress four or five times, but then I want to move on to a new dress that I love," says Haslam, of Knoxville, Tenn. "You'd be more likely to buy a dress if you knew you could sell the dress."

GetGown.com also will have a wish-list feature, so users can post — in detail — what they're looking to buy. If you're on the market for a Louis Vuitton purse, there's probably someone else out there looking to get some cash for hers.

Sullivan says it's not uncommon for customers to either call before coming to see what's available or to ask her to keep her eye out for something specific — say, a pink raincoat, size 6.

But Barbara Lindsay of Palo Alto, Calif., says she has more success by just browsing.

"I mostly buy clothing, but I always look at accessories, furnishings, dishes, knickknacks, all of it," she says. "I go sporadically with my daughter because we love bargains."

Buying secondhand can be one way of fighting rising prices. Even fashionable clothing often ends up in secondhand stores as people trade up to the most current styles. - liquidlibrary.com