Consignment shops offer the highest style for kids at the lowest prices around PRETTY THRIFTY

March 31, 1994|By Meredith Schlow | Meredith Schlow,Special to The Sun

An article in March 31 editions on consignment shops was accompanied by a list that contained incomplete information. The list implied that it included all area consignment shops specializing in children's clothing. In fact, it was a sampling of area stores offering children's consignments.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Ahh, spring! A mother's fancy yearns to peel away layers of sweaters, snow coats and sloppy boots and say hello to the children underneath. Aren't they gorgeous? Time to put them into pretty clothes to show off their fresh and sunny dispositions.

Mothers want their darlings to look picture-perfect for special occasions, but they may not be ready to chew up the whole budget for one cute Florence Eiseman number. That's what grandmothers and doting aunts are for.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

For many mothers, the days of routinely paying full price for those dressy spring clothes are over. All the savvy moms and dads are waving bye-bye to fancy children's departments and boutiques and opening their arms and purse strings at children's consignment shops.

They're finding Sylvia Whyte dresses -- not $60 but $24.95. Oshkosh B'Gosh overalls at more than half off for $4.95. Mousefeathers dresses don't cost $80 at consignment -- try $35 to $40.

If you turn up your nose at the idea of your child in used clothing, you don't know what you're missing. The better consignment shops for kidsoffer clean, quality clothing and are bursting at the seams with the spring outfits right now -- for at least 50 percent less than what you'll pay shopping retail.

Because children outgrow their clothes faster than they can ruin them, distinguishing the new from the used isn't always easy. Those dressy dresses and handsome suits are often barely worn.

Well-made hand-me-downs may make it through three children, and when your kids are little is the time to dress 'em up, moms. They won't let you have your way with their wardrobes for long. Also, children's designs don't suffer the extreme fluctuations of adult fashion, so kiddie couture stays in style for years.

Any stigma attached to dressing children in secondhand clothing has all but disappeared, says Cecilia Russo, owner of Country Charms on Belair Road and vice president of the Maryland Consignment Co-op. On the contrary, many parents take pride in spending less to dress up their kids.

"I'm not embarrassed to say it saves money," says Kelly Chesser, mother of three and consignment shopper for her two daughters, Kathryn, 3, and Noelle, 22 months.

"To me, it's kind of smart shopping . . . and it's fun. I almost get a little gluttonous." And more clothes for her kids mean fewer laundry cycles for their mom, she says.

Nearly half of Maryland's 200-plus consignment shops carry some children's clothing, with places such as The Circle Shop, Country Britches, Kids Galore and More, and Tried But True among Baltimore-area stores that specialize in children. Even parents who can afford to shop anywhere are taking advantage of consignment prices.

"Retail has made a 90-degree turn, and it's very obvious if you look around and see all the discount stores," says Victoria Thanner, owner of Kids Galore and More on York Road in Stoneleigh.

"Everybody wants quality at a low price. It doesn't matter how much money a person may or may not have. The '80s way of spending is dead," she says.

"We've got people who shop here who could well afford to shop anyplace," agrees Judy Conoscenti, one of the owners of Tried but True in Cockeysville.

"We're real picky about the clothes we take," says Jane Vandora, owner of the Children's Emporium in Wyndhurst Station near The College of Notre Dame. That means no spots, stains or laundry burnout.

"Even if you go to a department store and buy a dress on sale for $30 or $40, I would sell it in here for between $12 and $15, and it's perfect," says Ms. Russo. "Some people think of consignment and they think of thrift. And we're not thrift."

The difference, she says, is that thrift shops run by service organizations accept any donated clothing. At consignment, clothes are screened by the owners and sorted by size and season. That's not to say that thrift shops don't yield bargains, it just takes more effort to sort through.

However, the bargains at some consignment shops will make you think thrift. T-shirts at some shops can cost as little as $1. A tiny Yale sweat shirt was $2.50.

Because many shops have a no-return policy, it's important to choose items carefully.

Parents who shop consignment are fiercely loyal to the stores they patronize and stop by frequently.

"She has a gorgeous wardrobe," Karla Porter says of her 2-year-old daughter, "but I am not going to spend $80 every time I buy her a dress when I can get it consignment for $12."

Selling points to consider

Buying consignment is only half the picture. Selling children's clothes through consignment shops is another way to stretch the clothes budget. Here are some tips:

* Call ahead to make sure you don't need an appointment.

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