When Janet Clarke, a successful businesswoman with a formidable retail habit, purchased a $3,000 Escada jacket in Schiaparelli pink leather last year, she did so not with the flush of excitement that certain expensive luxury purchases elicit, but with a cool, calculated eye toward the piece’s potential resale value. “I wore it once,” Clarke says on a recent winter afternoon, gesturing toward the item in question hanging on a rack—an $895 price tag dangling from one butter-soft arm—at Michael’s, a women’s consignment shop on Manhattan’s Upper East Side where Clarke is a regular. “If somebody goes for it, I’ll get about $450,” she adds, smiling proudly. “I can afford to shop anywhere, but consignment has the best bargains these days, and the stuff is so good now. I shop and I consign. It’s great to know that if you make a mistake, you won’t lose all your money.”
What the ladies who lunch have known for years—that a trim bouclé Chanel suit or an eye-popping Pucci caftan can each fetch hundreds of dollars at the neighborhood resale store, where that Yves Saint Laurent Mombasa bag you coveted a few years back can be nabbed for a quarter of its original price—has trickled down to the fashion-forward masses. Consignment shopping is not only a red-hot shopping option, but now blatantly out in the open as wealthy and cash-strapped fashionistas alike descend unabashed on resale boutiques from Aspen to L.A. with armfuls of near mint-condition clothes. They’re eager to purge closets of gently used designer duds and keen to pick up a check for later purchases. As Laura Fluhr, the longtime owner of Michael’s, puts it, “We’re not the dirty little store on the side street anymore.”
Store owners who consider themselves voyeurs—observing people’s often quirky, deeply personal shopping habits—suggest that the ever increasing prices of luxury goods, particularly in the handbag and high-heel departments, have sparked a surge in consignment shopping. Environmentalism, owners say, may also be a factor. While $110 organic cotton T-shirts help reduce fashion’s carbon footprint, so, too, can recycling preworn Prada cardigans.
According to Christos Garkinos, co-owner, with Cameron Silver, of Decadestwo, a designer consignment store on L.A.’s Melrose Avenue, the game of shopping, consignment style, has two players: those wealthy enough to buy anything yet eager for the thrill of a great find, and those desperate for a trend item but unable to afford it at full price. “Of the women with money, there are three types of consignment shoppers,” explains Garkinos. “There’s the one who will totally wear anything, who lives for the latest It thing in fashion. There’s the…folks who treat fashion as art and collect. They may overshop, but they overshop for a reason. They’re really into Marni, for instance, as a way to amass a collection. And then there are the people who will buy the same pair of shoes…in three different colors, and will never wear them. And that’s some sort of OCD going on there.” Garkinos pauses. “We tend to be a healthy outlet for some addictive personalities.”