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You Paid How Much?

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

What if you could stretch the $100 you set aside for your child’s wardrobe to buy clothes with a retail value of 10 times that? That’s the tantalizing scenario Mindy Glazer likes to paint in dozens of bargain-hunting classes she gives around Los Angeles (call [310] 207-4063 for a schedule) and in “Shopping Secrets of Southern California” (Helpful Publications, 1995).

Navigating a kid-centered excursion beyond the ease of a mall can be dizzying. But the pros say that knowing where to look is half the battle. With that in mind, we’ve outlined six ways to save money, from using catalogs as your own personal factory outlet to ferreting out bona fide outlet stores.

“There’s no reason for parents to pay retail,” says Sue Robinson, author of “The Smart Shopper’s Guide to the Best Buys for Kids” (Macmillan, 1996). “A bargain is not a bargain if it doesn’t fit right and it doesn’t look good on your kids.”

THE LINGO

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Close-Outs: Discontinued merchandise, irregulars or best-quality leftovers. Also refers to sales of such items.

Irregulars: Almost best-quality merchandise. Something may be marked as an irregular for the tiniest of flaws, such as a mismarked label.

Overruns: Best-quality leftovers.

Past-Season: Merchandise that’s been hanging around awhile; off-price merchants tend to sell clothing that appeared in department stores months earlier.

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Seconds: Apparel with imperfections, some of which may be undetectable.

Off-Price Stores: They purchase manufacturers’ leftovers at rock-bottom rates, then sell them at wholesale, about 50% off retail--or, after further markdowns, up to 90% off retail. Marshalls, for example, is a chain of off-price stores.

Outlets: The only true outlets are stores in or near the manufacturer, such as Patagonia in Ventura. Stores in outlet malls don’t qualify since their garments may be of lesser quality than the brands offered in their traditional retail outlets.

1. CATALOGS

The best-kept secret of pricey mail-order catalogs? Many offer their unsold merchandise in company stores. And some will take phone orders for unadvertised, marked-down children’s clothing. To find out if a company has a discount arm, call its 800 number and ask if it has a special mailing list or an outlet store.

“The Smart Shopper’s Best Buys for Kids” lists the following companies, among others, with known warehouse shops:

* Hanna Andersson Factory Store: Current-season reductions of durable cotton play clothes and sleepwear run at least 20% off, past-season up to 40% off. (800) 222-0544.

* Storybook Heirlooms Outlet: Special-occasion and better casual wear, current and past season, goes for 40% off the hefty catalog price. Overstocks, samples and seconds are also sold. (408) 842-3880.

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* Big Enough Outlet Store: Current samples and seconds of the 100% cotton clothes are half off retail; past-season prices are another 50% off that. (800) 288-7321.

* Boo! Warehouse Store: High-end clothes often seen in fashion magazines are sold at wholesale prices. Call (612) 376-0585.

* Oilily Factory Store: Past-season whimsical--and pricey--kids clothes from Holland are 35% to 50% off. Call (219) 872-3577.

2. SAMPLES

When a manufacturer is through with the sample garments it uses to woo store buyers, it often puts them up for grabs--for next to nothing. And these prototypes, some of which never make the collection’s final cut, are usually better made than their mass-produced clones. Here is a sampling of places with such sales:

* California Mart, 110 E. 9th St.; (213) 630-3600: Bring along an item from your child’s closet to measure against designer attire from more than 170 manufacturers who represent 300 lines. Call ahead to order a directory listing all the reps. Sales are held from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on the third Saturday and the last Friday of the month. Bring cash, your own bags and $1 for admission.

* Baby Guess?, 860 S. Los Angeles St., Los Angeles; (213) 629-5833: In addition to samples, the company sells discontinued apparel, overstocks and seconds for 30% to 50% off.

* Flap Happy, 1714 16th St., Santa Monica; (800) 234-3527: This outlet store sells signature hats and its own line of children’s clothing. Samples (from its line and others), close-outs, overruns and seconds are priced at wholesale or less.

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3. RESALE STORES

To spot a good deal on what polite society calls “gently used” apparel, it helps to know what it cost new. Children’s clothing sells for about one-third of the original retail, says Elizabeth Mason, author of “The Rag Street Journal” (Henry Holt, 1995), a guide to thrift and consignment stores nationwide. Since “gently worn” and “children’s clothes” are rarely found in the same sentence, resale venues might best be reserved for special-occasion clothes.

Haunt thrift stores in affluent neighborhoods and teach your children to think of the experience as a treasure hunt, says Mason, who also owns the Paperbag Princess, a vintage and designer resale shop in West Hollywood.

Here are a two shops to check out:

* Childrens Hospital Thrift Shop, 4551 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles; (213) 663-1975.

* The Tree House, 1510 Pacific Ave., Venice; (310) 314-2195: A huge stash of never-worn children’s clothes from the ‘50s through the ‘70s arrived in mid-May.

4. PRIVATE LABELS

According to the May issue of Consumer Reports, Target’s private children’s label, Honors, is top notch. In product tests, its $7 knit shirt came in second only to Ralph Lauren’s $30 polo and ahead of Gap Kids $15 polo. Such house brands often are produced by quality manufacturers that expand their market by quietly supplying national chains with in-house lines. Besides appearing at such large retailers as JCPenney and Wal-Mart, private labels turn up in such off-price stores as:

* Mudpies, 27574 Sierra Highway, Canyon Country; (805) 252-4767: Along with resale clothing, this store offers overruns, samples and close-outs of new garments at 15% to 50% of their department-store prices.

* Hidden Treasures, 1029 N. Grand Ave., Covina, (818) 967-8941, and Rags to Riches, 322 N. Azusa Ave., Covina, (818) 966-7466: These two stores sell department-store returns for at least 50% off the original retail prices.

* Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising Scholarship Store, 919 S. Brand Blvd., Los Angeles; (213) 624-1200, Ext. 3240: On the outside, it looks like a Lady Footlocker. Inside, it’s a children’s store stocked with clothes donated by manufacturers and retailers that go for a song. “They have many high-quality brands you will know,” Glazer says.

5. OFF-PRICE STORES

An off-price merchant may be a mom-and-pop shop that deals directly with a manufacturer or a large retail chain, such as Marshalls or TJ Maxx. Shoppers with the patience to peruse the bigger stores will find name-brand basics, like jeans and athletic shoes, at discounts starting at about 30%. Here are some lesser-known off-price merchants:

* Eurokids, 8453 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles; (213) 653-1339: Fine children’s clothing imported from 12 countries and prices at 40% to 70% off. “No one can touch us as far as price or quality,” says E.J. Thacker, the store’s owner.

* For Kids Only, 746 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 650-4885, or 18332 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana, (818) 708-9543: Many one-of-a-kind items and stylish imports at 30% to 70% off retail. Annual parking lot sale is mid-July through mid-August.

6. OUTLET STORES

Manufacturers open an outlet on or near their premises to sell directly to the public, often at below-wholesale prices. Merchandise includes irregulars, seconds, overruns and close-outs. Some outlets allow customers seeking specific items to order via phone. Here is a sampling:

* Nathan J. Outlet, 17941 Brookshire Lane, Huntington Beach; (213) 725-1781: Cotton underwear and layette, sizes newborn to 4T, sold at about wholesale.

* Patagonia, 36 W. Santa Clara St., Ventura; (805) 648-3803: High-end outdoor sporting clothes go for at least 30% off. Order the catalog, then take a drive to the store.

* Teddie Tillett, 3238 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 581-6681: “Everybody says I have Friends at Montana Avenue and Target prices,” says owner Teddie Tillett of the clothes she makes and sells at 30% to 40% below retail. Garments, which run from infant to size 14, are best quality.

*

WARNING

Bargain shoppers, beware: Independent stores that continually advertise discounts may be inflating original retail price by practicing “mark-up cancellation.” For example, most retailers charge $20 for a $10 item. A so-called “discounter” might mark it up to $25, cancel the mark up, then “cut” the price to $20, the original suggested retail price. “Any time a store advertises 20% off all the time, that’s when your radar should go up,” says Sue Robinson, author of a children’s bargain-shopping book. And remember, “if the store is in a high-rent district, it can’t possibly give you a good bargain.”


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