Going for seconds

Times Staff Writer

The inside of designer consignment store Decadestwo is always impressive -- racks of beaded, ornate red-carpet gowns give way to shelves of yesterday’s “It” bags from the likes of Prada, Goyard and Balenciaga. A section around the corner is lined with strappy stilettos, girly flats and artsy boots from Chanel, Tod’s and Jimmy Choo, among others. It’s difficult to imagine a better representation of just-past-season merchandise.

But recent weeks have seen an increase in the arrival of investment-worthy looks: a Chanel dress from the Fall 2008 collection (priced at more than $3,500 retail, it’s now $1,450), a new Louis Vuitton Mahina bag (down from $3,700 to $2,200) and a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes worn on the Emmy red carpet two weeks ago by a nominated actress (they were $700-plus, but are now $210).

With the economy ailing, the store’s consignors -- a mix of celebs and social stars -- are digging deeper into their walk-ins and offering up more collectible items than ever before. In fact, there’s never been a better time to shop for yesterday’s rose, and that’s true whether you’re looking for a rare find or a budget-stretching bargain.

Small boutiques are folding (Trillionaire, Twenty Two Shoes and Diabless recently called it quits in Los Angeles) and department stores are grappling with sluggish sales, but thrift, resale and vintage stores are bursting with customers and intriguing merchandise.


Retailers report that profits are through the roof. Sales at Decadestwo are up 45% from last summer, said co-owner Christos Garkinos.

Michelle Webb, co-owner of the Catwalk boutique, which sells secondhand and vintage designer fashion (some of it on consignment), said her shop had also seen an increase in sales and that the merchandise filtering in was getting “more interesting. And there’s been an increase in people calling to consign or sell their heirlooms.”

Could it be that L.A.'s affluent are finally feeling the pinch? “I think the economy is affecting everyone,” Garkinos said. But just as likely, it’s “closet guilt” -- the uneasy feeling that there is such a thing as owning too many pairs of Christian Louboutin stilettos. “We have the most well-heeled clientele in the world,” Garkinos said. “They’re taking a look in their closets and saying, ‘I don’t need all this stuff.’ ”

The great purge of L.A.'s closets has also translated into healthy sales at charitable thrift stores, including the Salvation Army and Goodwill, as well as secondhand outposts such as the Buffalo Exchange in Highland Park and Santa Monica.

“In an economy where there’s uncertainty, people tend to drift to the [Goodwill] stores,” said Mario Haug, vice president of development and community relations for Goodwill Southern California, who adds that donations and sales are up over last year’s at the organization’s 55 regional stores -- even though the summer months are historically leaner. (Sales are also up at the Salvation Army stores in Santa Monica, said a representative -- 7% to 12% from the previous year -- though donations have been lower than usual.)

There are already scores of secondhand converts in L.A. Even in shops that don’t consign or accept donations, sales are robust -- though the reasons are as varied as a Pucci print.

“People get more bang for their buck with vintage,” said Doris Raymond, owner of vintage designer store The Way We Wore, which saw a 22% spike in sales over September of last year (the L.A. store carries vintage pieces from brands such as Yves Saint Laurent, Thierry Mugler and Halston). “A classic is a classic. So people buy it and keep it. You know it’s not going to be outdated next season.”

And in certain circles there’s more cachet in wearing vintage YSL than the newest Marc Jacobs (celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe likes to boast that she wears only vintage). The thinking is that anyone can pluck a fresh look off the rack at Barneys New York, but it takes a fashion insider to track down a pristine Courreges minidress from the 1960s.

Store owners also claim there’s a growing awareness of the eco-friendliness of buying secondhand clothes. “Vintage is a green business and people are buying more green,” Raymond said. And shopping at thrift stores run by a charity -- such as Out of the Closet, Salvation Army or Goodwill -- means you’re also giving back to the community.

Just think of all the bragging rights you’ll rack up.