Cheap Chic: Consignment Stores

Consignment shops are great sources of designer fashions at a fraction of the price. Here are 14 of the best.

By: sara levine, Gretchen Cook

Consignment shops now are more upscale. At Chic to Chic, recent finds included a L.A.M.B. cocktail dress for $190. All photographs by Jennifer Smoose

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Best for fashionistas: Grace & Kelli. The boutique ambiance hints at the sticker shock here: Handbags from Ferragamo, Prada, Chanel, and Gucci can run more than $1,000, suits from Akris, Burgamo, and Diane von Furstenburg $100 to $300. But the 30- to 40-percent discount on the latest fashions lure many—and prices drop 25 percent after two months. Online store runwayclothesconsignment.com shows and sells some of the shop’s clothing.

Best for urbanites: Secondi. In the oft-updated selection of clothing, shoes, and handbags you’ll find designer labels like Fendi, Louis Vuitton, and Gucci. A great place to look for party dresses.

Best for socialites: Inga’s Once Is Not Enough. The place for such high-end finds as fur coats, Tuleh dresses, and Manolo Blahnik stilettos. The Chanel section is particularly impressive, as is the hidden back room with haute handbags. While prices may seem high, everything is in excellent shape; some items still have tags from Neiman Marcus.

Best for ladies who lunch: Encore Resale Dress Shop. This longtime favorite with socialites offers a good selection of conservative but dressy couture, evening wear, and furs. Prices are most competitive in the everyday category, and don’t miss the $1 bin where an opera-going velvet gown recently landed.

Best for career women: Fashion Exchange. A great selection of professional and casually elegant outfits. The small shop has a few upmarket designers like St. John, Christian Lacroix, and Carolina Herrera, but most racks contain midrange separates for as low as $15. Handbags and shoes run to the practical and lower-priced, with a few justifiably costly items like a beautiful Prada purse for $350.

This woven clutch with snakeskin trim was recently selling for $60 at Chic to Chic.
Best for power lunchers: The Ritz. Pricey knit suits dominate, with more than 200 by St. John on a recent visit, but the prices on those—average $300—are still one-third below retail. The shop stocks conservative designers—Chanel, Hermès (scarves and men’s ties too), Louis Vuitton—as well as a small selection of furs and casually elegant separates.

Best for wide selection: Carousel Consignments. From $15 Ann Taylor slacks to midprice evening wear to $400 Chanel suits, this is a one-stop shop for top designers and affordable brands—and the discounts are some of the best around. The friendly staff will help you pick through the selection.

Manolo Blahnik sandals sold for $120.

Best for your first job: Clothes Encounters. Lots of young Hill staffers head here. The prices are low, and the selection skews toward business attire: jackets, pantsuits, conservative dresses.

Best for a (discounted) splurge: Second Chance. This small shop doesn’t have truly cheap finds, but you may spot an Yves Saint Laurent dress or Ferragamo shoes at a discount. If the gently used designer finds are still out of range, visit during twice-yearly sales.

Best for stylish everyday wear: Current Boutique. There are some designer pieces at this shop, which stocks new and consigned items, but the emphasis is on midprice brands—think Banana Republic or Seven jeans. Fun jewelry, too.

Best for dressing up: Chic to Chic. The chandelier says it all: couture clothing mixed with great service. Power suits mingle with sexy separates. Eveningwear from Moschino, Max Studio, James Perse, and Versace offers the best choices—with bargains like a $98 Nicole Miller cocktail dress. Lots of items are new because the owner shops retail sales.

Best for European flair: New to You. French rock sets the scene for hard-to-find couture—like a Thakoon evening jacket ($369) and a Roland Mouret jacket ($520). The style is largely for young, well-heeled hipsters looking for True Religion, Seven, and Citizens of Humanity jeans at one-third below retail, but professional women can find sophisticated or sexy separates, handbags, and shoes. Don’t miss the fine jewelry, which recently included a pair of 18-karat Cartier hoops for $1,645 ($1,000 off retail).

Best for teens: Mustard Seed. Though the consignment selection can be hit-or-miss, prices are good, and there are always plenty of jeans to peruse—with patience, you’re likely to find a good pair, no matter your age. The store also sells vintage and new items.

Best vibe: Diva Boutique. Housed in a lovely three-level Old Town rowhouse, owner Cindy McCartney’s shop is as cheery as she is. She sets out candy and other goodies for shoppers as they browse the well-edited selection of designer dresses, jeans, shoes, handbags, and more.

This article appears in the August 2008 issue of Washingtonian magazine. To see more articles in this issue, click here.

 

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