The thrill of the hunt. You spot the blouse from across the room. The perfect shade. You pull it out from under a pile of odds and ends. Price tag: $5. Not bad for a designer silk blouse even if it is secondhand.
The little rush of excitement that comes from finding such a bargain is what makes thrift shopping a joyous hobby for many. These days, however, with the price of clothes so high and the economy uncertain, it's also become a very practical way to make ends meet.
"We've had quite a few first-timers coming in," says Judy Spear, who manages the secondhand clothing shop, Vogue Revisited, which opened last spring on Roland Avenue. "They talk about how expensive clothes are today, how prices have gone up and how they have to be more careful about their money."
The newcomers are not just buying clothes, she says, "we're also seeing a lot of people come in with really good clothes [to sell] who used to just give their used clothes before to charity."
There are dozens of secondhand clothing stores in the area, with several opened in just the last year. In the Yellow Pages they can be found under such diverse headings as "consignment" "thrift" and "secondhand."
While good savings on used clothes can be found in most of
these establishments, the variety is enormous. Some emphasize current clothes; others vintage. Those that call themselves consignment stores will accept your clothes to be sold there for usually a 50/50 split of the profits.
Those called "thrift" stores generally are run by charities and accept only donations. A few stores, such as the Wise Penny, run by the Junior League, sell both consignment clothes and donations.
Leslie McIntyre, a Cockeysville mother of three, is an experienced bargain hunter who shops at every variety of secondhand stores for clothes, toys and antiques.
"I grew up thrift shopping," she explains. "It's a hobby of my mother's. My husband says I don't consider something a bargain unless it's at least 75 percent off." (One of her prize finds for herself is a handsome pair of pants with a Talbot's label that she got for $1.)
She visits secondhand stores weekly and also includes in her stops seasonal events, such as the Nearly New Thrift Shop sale held twice a year at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center, which begins Saturday.
While Ms. McIntyre donates many of her own clothes to Goodwill Industries, she says she often places her children's clothes on consignment at such stores as Tried but True in Cockeysville, "especially my son's, because there are a lot of brand new things that he's never worn."
Tried but True, in business for 10 years, is one of the area's busiest children's secondhand stores with close to 4,500 consignors regularly contributing clothes.
One such consignor, Mary Beth Hernandez, favors this particular shop because "they're very efficient and organized and they mail a check once a month." (Some stores insist that you visit the store each month to see if any of your clothes have sold).
Generally, it's easier to sell children's clothes through consignment than your own, says Ms. Hernandez. "The style of children's clothes doesn't change the same way. I've found that some stores wouldn't take my own things that were three years or older, but that's not the case with children's wear."
While the selection at Tried but True is considerable, it's not necessarily the cheapest place to buy children's clothing because the owners pride themselves on selecting only the best. "The prices aren't even in the same ballpark as Goodwill," says Ms. McIntyre.
The store does, however, offer such niceties as a return policy, something very handy for parents shopping without their children. "I don't know of many stores that do that," she adds.
Some of the best savings on used clothing can be found by
shopping sales or bargain areas in the stores. Even secondhand stores have to keep their goods moving. Many of the more discriminating stores discount clothes that have been on the floor for 90 days and indicate this by changing the color of the ticket. "You can get really great bargains this way," says Ms. McIntyre.
The Clothes Closet on Roland Avenue is currently celebrating its 32nd year in business with a 20 percent off sale. While party dresses can be found here priced as high as $100, you can also find items for as little as a dollar.
"We've had our $1 area since we opened," says owner Lorraine Stutman. "You can get dresses, slacks, blouses and skirts. Some of the things might be slightly soiled, but people fix them up and the customers love it."
Used clothing shoppers advise keeping an open mind when beginning the hunt. "I would never go into a store looking for one particular thing," says Dottie Cornell, owner of Vogue Revisited and a former nurse who fell in love with thrift shopping five years ago. (She hasn't bought any new clothes since then except underwear and hosiery.)