Fashion on a budget; Upscale consignment stores drawing shoppers.
Coach and Prada bags, practically brand-new prom dresses, sassy skirts for spring and perfectly pleated pants are coming out of closets everywhere and into upscale consignment stores.
The need to save a little cash and make a little cash in the current economy are the main reasons business in consignment and resale shops is booming, but there are other reasons that are driving more people to shop for the perfect bargain. The growing movement to recycle and conserve, the thrill of the deal, plus the opportunity to buy one-of-a-kind items at consignment shops are reasons shops are drawing new customers.
"I need to look like me," said Holly Elissa Bruno of Sterling. "Which isn't like anyone else."
This is why Ms. Bruno is a devoted fan of M.T. Pockets in Sterling center. She describes the upscale consignment shop as a "hidden gem" and shops there about once a month. Ms. Bruno also consigns her clothes on a regular basis, which means she turns them over to the shop owner for resale.
The store owner sets the terms. Consignors receive a percentage of the selling price and agree to leave their items for a period of time, usually not more than 90 days. Items that do not sell within that period may be reclaimed by the consignor, or if left in the store, may be donated.
"I love Asian clothing, for example clothes from Hong Kong or Vietnam. I found a beautiful handmade silk jacket with an intricate pattern," Ms. Bruno said, of some of her finds in M.T. Pockets.
Marilyn C. Morgan has owned the hometown and destination consignment store for 28 years.
"Marilyn has a sixth sense of what people like," Ms. Bruno said. Her shop is primarily devoted to women's clothing, hats, purses and jewelry, but also features small areas filled with clothing for men and children. Shoppers can also look for wedding dresses, prom dresses, furs and linens.
Danielle A. Ray, 32, grew up in Sterling, and knew she wanted a vintage wedding dress because she is fascinated with the 1930s and 1940s. She found her dream dress at M.T. Pockets. The antique cream-colored dress fit her like a glove when she tried it on, so she purchased it on the spot.
"I paid $75 for it," Ms. Ray said. Her sister, who was with her when she purchased the dress, went back and dug up the history of the dress. She learned the first woman to wear the glamorous dress was married for 65 years. Ms. Ray said her sister surprised her with the wedding photo from more than 65 years ago. "I just felt like the dress had good karma with it."
Ms. Morgan had another vintage gown for $150. In the fall, she had a lot of fur coats, including full-length mink coats. Last week, there was a Persian lamb coat with mink cuffs on the rack with a price tag of $100.
"And prom dresses have been flying out of here," Ms. Morgan said.
Consignment store owners point out that they are not thrift stores. Owners are picky about what they choose to take in to consign.
"Anything you pick up from my racks is going to be in next-to-new condition," said Kelli M. Pixa. She owns Second Hand Rose Boutique, 20 Pearson Blvd., in Gardner. She converted one of her friends who said they would never shop in a consignment store. "There's a lot of confusion between a thrift store and my store. I think most people would be pleasantly surprised to walk into a consignment store and find a new Gap sweater with a tag still on it at a fraction of the price."
Ms. Pixa said upscale consignment shops niche is unique items including designer clothes and accessories, boutique clothing like a shopper might find on the Cape, some vintage items, and lots of brand-new clothing and accessories from over-ambitious online or television shoppers and shopaholics.
"I think some of them have buyers regret, and we get new clothes with tags on them," Ms. Pixa said. "Right now I have a brand-new, size 7 pair of Merrell (shoes). Sometimes I get boxes of hardly-been-used Coach bags."
Ms. Pixa has also seen an influx of first-time potential consignors.
"First-timers," Ms. Pixa said. "Unbelievable amount of people coming in. I had to turn some away in the fall because I just didn't have the space."
Some consignment stores in Central Massachusetts carry children's clothes and shoes, but not all of them do. Children's Orchard stores in Westboro and Milford carry exclusively children's items. Children's Orchards are a simplified version of the traditional consignment shop. Owners pay people who bring in children's clothing, shoes, toys and equipment cash or store credit when they accept items for resale.
On a recent afternoon, Debbie Y. Intrieri, who became the owner of Children's Orchard, 18 Lyman St., Westboro, in September, sorted through bags full of high-quality, brand-new clothing and boxes of brand-new designer shoes in an effort to price the items for quick sales.
"I was told that January and February would be a little slower," Ms. Intrieri said. "Well it's February, and we're still going strong."
ART: PHOTOS; CHART
CUTLINE: (1) Marilyn C. Morgan, owner of M.T. Pockets in Sterling, has many gowns in stock (2) Children's Orchard owner Debbi Y. Intrieri and employee Tracy Ottaviano fold clothes bought by Linda M. Whitman. (3) Danielle A. Ray, 32, holds the vintage wedding gown she bought M.T. Pockets and a wedding photo of the original owner of the dress. (CHART) How to Consign Your Clothes -- A Guide for Success
PHOTOG: (PHOTOS) T&G Staff Photos/DAN GOULD