Chic & Cheap

Second-hand stores offer fashionable items, wide variety and low prices.
Wednesday, July 21, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:39 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Nostalgic “turn-of-the-century mood” is back for the fall, fashion experts say. A way to keep in style and in budget is to take a second look at second-hand clothing stores. In Columbia, these stores are abundant in number and styles and can inspire both savvy and frugal buyers.

Columbia boasts six downtown second-hand stores, one Goodwill and two Salvation Army Red Shield Stores. Each of them offers its own distinct selection of vintage or modern clothes, costumes, accessories and furniture.

Vintage clothing, one of the signature marks of second-hand stores, is appreciated not only by cost-cutting shoppers. Barbra Streisand, Winona Ryder, Drew Barrymore and Sharon Stone are well-known fans and collectors of vintage clothing. Designers for the trendsetting show “Sex and the City” often got their inspiration from vintage fashion. The clothes and accessories featured on the show became vintage bestsellers themselves once they left the set.

“No matter the color or size, as long as someone wore the same shoe on ‘Sex and the City,’ customers would buy it,” says Irene Albright of Albright Inc., a New York fashion rental service, in a New York Times article. The most popular item from the show is the ballerina skirt that Sarah Jessica Parker wore in the show’s intro sequence, The New York Times reported.

Buying Vintage

Christa Weil, author of “Secondhand Chic: The Secrets of Finding Fantastic Bargains at Thrift Shops, Consignment Shops, Vintage Shops and More,” offered these tips for beginning resale shoppers:

  • Spot a great deal — If you’re new to vintage shopping, look at the price, the style level and quality of workmanship. The last two criteria should be much better than what you could get in a garment at the same price at an ordinary retail store. The key thing, though, is not to buy because it’s a great deal. Buy because you absolutely love how it looks on you.
  • Find your size — Hold an unsized garment against your body and see how it hangs relative to arms, legs, bust and waistline. But don’t ever buy a piece, even a simple tank top, without trying it on for sure. Finally, with vintage clothes, put them on gently at half speed — it’s sad to have to buy something just because you ripped it a new neckline.
  • Recognize quality garments — Great buttons, beautiful interior seams, unusual details, any detail that looks like it took some thought and effort rather than being run-of-the-mill.
  • Try not to blow a couple dollars here and there constantly buying stuff. It’s much smarter to save up for a really great piece that you’ll wear for years.
  • Sabrina Braden, owner of Maude Vintage, 810 E. Broadway, describes her store as a “premier third-hand store” because a lot of the clothes she sells come back in. Her store serves a broad range of people, she says, from families with children to college students to people looking for a holiday costume. “A lot of adults are showing more resourceful values to their children,” she says. “I like being a part of that.”

    Braden gets the clothes from people who visit the store, auctions and occasional yard sales. She says the most popular items are vintage T-shirts, ringer T-shirts with quotes from the ’70s and broach pin buttons.

    Second-hand stores can have an advantage over retailers because of their lower prices and unique assortment. For Braden, however, the fashion factor is stronger than the price considerations.

    “I think people come here because they are conscientious about recycling and reusing things. It’s just cooler to find things that are unique,” she says.

    For Stacie Allen, an employee at New Beginnings Consignment Clothing, 7 S. Tenth St., the economy and personal budget are a stronger influence on customers who come to her store.

    “You have to cut corners somewhere, and clothing is one of the easiest places to do it, although a lot of people don’t,” Allen says. The lower prices, together with the personal satisfaction from recycling, are the strongest reasons for people to visit, she says.

    Allen is a devotee to second-hand clothing herself. “I’m one of those people who can’t do the mall,” she says.

    Stores such as New Beginnings help Allen dress her son with fashionable brand names for less. “My 10-year-old son knows that if I can pick up his stuff at second-hand stores, he’s gonna get a lot more than he would if I went to the store,” she says. “He wants Abercrombie and Old Navy and Hollister and if I had to go to the mall and buy that stuff, he would get one new outfit a year.”


    Old 45 records are used to separate the sizes at Maude Vintage. (PICHI CHUANG/Missourian)

    New Beginnings offers second-hand clothes on consignment. Unlike Maude Vintage, where you can travel back in time with fashion, at New Beginnings, time is set on the present. “We try to keep as current as we can,” Allen says.

    Laura Wilson, owner of Blackberry Exchange, 16 S. Ninth St., calls her store a “resale boutique.” The store revamps vintage clothes and sells vintage (early ’50s to ’80s), contemporary clothing and its own clothing line. The variety in the stock matches the variety of customers, Wilson says. She sees high school students, families with kids and fashion eccentrics in the store.

    Wilson also emphasizes the recycling aspect of resale shopping. “The idea of taking things that you don’t need and exchanging them is the ultimate way to recycle. There’s something for everybody in the idea of used clothing. That’s the fun aspect of it,” Wilson says.

    She acknowledges the cost-cutting benefit in resale shopping but says it runs parallel to the fashion gain. Some people buy consignment clothes for the price, others buy for the individuality of the clothes, she says.The best sellers in New Beginnings are jeans and T-shirts, Wilson says. However, vintage fashion is hip again, she says, with clothes from the ’40s and the ’80s entering the mainstream.

    “There’s always a search for anything that has any sort of whimsy or nostalgia to it,” she says.

    In the case of trying to adhere to revivalist trends, second-hand stores with vintage fashion can help. “You can either go to the store and buy something that was inspired by the ’80s or you can come and buy something from the ’80s,” says Wilson.

    Similarly, Maude Vintage sells original flower pins from the ’60s for $5 a piece, while Target offers duplicates of such pins for $10-$24.

    However, the fact that the clothes are pre-owned, often works as a deterrent for some shoppers. “When you go to the mall and purchase something, probably someone else has already tried it on, probably 100 people have tried it on, and it doesn’t really deter you from purchasing it,” Wilson says.

    Allen says simply washing the clothes with soap and water is enough to keep you safe.

    Health specialists agree with store owners that pre-owned clothes don’t pose a health risk after being properly washed. Problems related to infestations from parasites are theoretically possible but “very rare and unlikely,” says David Lane, a dermatologist for University of Missouri Health Care. The most probable tenants on resale clothing would be head lice or spiders.

    “The best way to avoid these problems is to shake any second-hand clothing and then wash the clothing in hot water and dry it with high heat. This would take care of all of these problems,” Lane says.

    For Nancy MacDaniel, one of the problems with second-hand clothing isn’t safety but sizes. “You’re lucky if you can find smaller clothing in second-hand stores,” she says.

    Before her wardrobe filled up, MacDaniel used to go to second-hand stores regularly. She says she prefers them because she likes vintage clothing and that’s the only place where you can find original items from the past.

    “There’s more personality in the clothes,” she says.

    Tim Young, another fan of such stores, says he “strictly” visits them. The bargains and the fun of watching his friends browse and pick items is what brings him there, he says.

    While growing up in Poplar Bluff, Kim Peters could not find good quality pre-owned clothes or furniture to enjoy, she says. Moving to Columbia for college has exposed her to more upscale vintage stores where she finds better clothes, furniture and dishes, she says. “I get to look for something that no one else probably has,” Peters says.

    While some enjoy the resale scene in Columbia, Nick Peterson engages in it only when he wants to sell clothes, he says.

    The fact that the clothes are pre-owned makes him nervous, he said, but he also says he doesn’t have a specific reason for not shopping at vintage stores. “I never really thought of it but I should, I guess, cause it’s cheap,” Peterson says.

    Like what you see here? Become a member.

    Show Me the Errors (What's this?)

    Report corrections or additions here. Leave comments below here.

    You must be logged in to participate in the Show Me the Errors contest.


    Leave a comment

    Speak up and join the conversation! Make sure to follow the guidelines outlined below and register with our site. You must be logged in to comment. (Our full comment policy is here.)

    • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
    • Don't use language that makes personal attacks on fellow commenters or discriminates based on race, religion, gender or ethnicity.
    • Use your real first and last name when registering on the website. It will be published with every comment. (Read why we ask for that here.)
    • Don’t solicit or promote businesses.

    We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report comment" link.

    You must be logged in to comment.

    Forget your password?

    Don't have an account? Register here.