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Her Castoffs, My Couture (or as close as I’m going to get)

Malki Lowinger

Thrift shops conjure up images of dank, musty places that sell incomplete puzzles and Grandma’s ancient mohair coat. Think again. The world of secondhand has reinvented itself, and consignment stores are happening places where savvy shoppers pick up anything from designer furs to antique record players for a fraction of their original price.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

handbagMy first stop is Resale Therapy, open “by appointment only.” Many customers prefer privacy when they shop consignment. Consignment shopping is different from rooting through the racks in thrift stores — it’s more like a shadchan system, whereby the proprietor acts as an agent for the seller; profits are then split. Consignment stores are selective, and if you’re lucky enough to own a magnificent designer-label dress or a Ferragamo pocketbook in great condition, you can take the item to a consignment store and come out with a nice sum in exchange.

Mashy of Resale Therapy started her business about two years ago, and most of her customers keep coming back for more. She shows me a great selection of evening wear, shoes, boots, accessories, and sheitels.

Yes, sheitels. It’s not something you’ll find in a Manhattan consignment shop, but in Brooklyn, a well-priced Shevi, Kiki, Noah, or Freeda that’s in excellent condition will sell in a flash. According to Mashy, “A woman brought in three wigs last week. All three are already sold.”

Mashy’s store is also haunted by designer enthusiasts, seeking a bargain, albeit on an entirely different level. Mashy explains that anyone who knows the retail value of a genuine pair of designer shoes will be thrilled to find them at a fraction of the price at the consignment shop in her basement. But, Mashy cautions, the shoes will still cost a couple of hundred dollars.

“A woman once tried on a dress here,” she tells me, “and I offered her a pair of high-heeled shoes to try with it. She loved the shoes as well as the dress and wanted to purchase both. When I told her the price of the shoes, she couldn’t believe it. So I told her to go home and do some research on the brand name, Manolo Blahnik. She did and came back a week later to pick up the shoes.”

The next day, I visit the Five Towns, where my first stop is The Emperor’s Old Clothes, on Pearsall Street. Proprietors Beth and Debi have been running their business for 11 years. “You either love it or you hate it,” Beth says about consignment shopping. “Once you’re okay with the entire concept, the value is extraordinary.”

Over the years, Beth and Debi have cultivated a following of both “sellers” and “buyers,” and often the two overlap. They also work closely with tzedakah organizations. A woman in Williamsburg, Beth tells me, collects used clothing from families in her area and brings it to Beth. “When I sell the merchandise for her, she gets a very nice check for the organization in exchange for her neighbors’ old clothes.”

Bags are especially hot sellers at consignment stores. Beth gives me a mini-tour of her shop and pauses to show me Bottega Veneta bags that are quite pricey. She also sells Chanel and Hermes. I know these are big names, but to me the bags look like, well, pocketbooks. Fortunately for Beth, other people appreciate the status these bags represent. “Some women,” she says, “would rather have a pretty designer bag than a new necklace.”

Old clothes also come with stories. Busy preparing a new shipment for display, Beth and Debi checked the pockets of a woman’s suit, where they found 1,400 dollars in cash! They called the consignor immediately. She was extremely grateful and explained that the money got misplaced while she was doing construction in her home. Lesson to be learned? “Always check pockets before giving something away.”

Every so often, Beth encounters a really interesting customer. “We once sold a Judith Lieber bag,” she said. “And the purchaser’s name happened to be Judith Lieber.”

As it turned out, Ms. Lieber in person wanted to re-purchase her own merchandise. Apparently, she was collecting samples of her dated collections for a personal museum that she was planning. In her quest for bags that she designed many years ago, she discovered Beth and Debi. Since then, they’ve developed a nice relationship with the renowned designer.



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