Secondhand Style: Chicago's Top Consignment Stores
'Can-you-believe this?' prices
We're not sure what took us so long. Maybe it's because we suddenly went from being fashionistas to recessionistas. But resale shopping in Chicago genuinely surprised us: Prices are generally a third of retail, and plenty of pieces are new, or like new. Chicago's top consignment stores, including Selections (left), sell in-season, excellent-condition, designer-label merchandise. In one afternoon, it's easy to find clothes and accessories made by top designers at "can-you-believe-this?" prices. Want in on the action? Read on.
Look like the millionaire you're not
When Chicago hairstylist Fannie Villasenor steps out of the dressing room in the sexy, flame-stitch Missoni skirt and Prada belt, the women in the shop whistle. Fannie stops at Selections in Lincoln Park once a week -- and has been for the past seven years. "By shopping re-sale, I can afford the designers I love and look like the millionaire I'm not," she says.
Customers frequent Selections for great choices in designer clothing sizes 0 to 18, plus killer handbags, scarves and jewelry deftly displayed in this well-lit, organized boutique. All skirts, blouses and jackets are sold as separates, some starting at $25. You'll also find a strong selection of seasonal coats, casual tops and jeans.
What $150 will buy: $68 Nicole Miller little black dress; $32 Kate Spade black, peau de soie sequined mules; $50 Helen Welsh plum purple shoulder wrap.
Classy vintage style
Wicker Park's Store B (left) tops the A list for women who love the Jackie O look. Fabulous vintage cashmere sweaters, pencil skirts, peplum suits, beaded blouses, alligator handbags, Eisenberg rhinestone jewelry, winter coats with fur collars and naughty lacy lingerie await shoppers here.
Owner David Ginople says buying vintage has gotten popular because shoppers can create their own unique style for good value. "Classic vintage apparel is as close to one-of-a-kind as decades and geography permit, so the chances of seeing yourself coming and going are virtually nonexistent," David says.
From gabardine suits to kitschy decor
Store B sells pieces from the 1940s to 1960s, acquired from estate sales, auctions and private referrals. An oh-so-sophisticated wool gabardine suit starts at $165. A genuine white patent leather handbag with Lucite chain handle runs $95. A flowered, Mary Tyler Moore-style shift is perky perfect for a patio party at $75. Or you can deck out your daddy in a Jack Lord-style Hawaiian shirt or a Humphrey Bogart fedora.
Store B's vintage, kitschy home decor can spice up dinner parties with a kind of Rat Pack charm. Want examples? We found a sleek chrome martini shaker with six stemmed glasses for $85.
What $150 will buy: $65 Carol Brent cocktail dress; $35 pair of pink patent leather toe-cleavage pumps; $12 clip-on vintage button earrings; $38 patent leather clutch purse.
Store B, 1472 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago (773/772-4296)
Way to go, baby
Kids grow so fast, the money you spend on clothes doesn't go very far. The Second Child in Lincoln Park (left) has helped families stretch their dollars in style for 21 years.
At a season's start, Second Child carries up to 4,000 outfits for newborns to age 14. Neat, full racks are marked by age and sex. You won't find any Old Navy, Target or Carter's labels -- just top designers, including Oilily, Baby Lulu, Catimini, Petunia Pickle Bottom, Ralph Lauren and some Gap. The adorable baby clothes, twirly little-girl party dresses and boys' little-man blazers almost make you want to have another. Almost.
Expecting moms find designer maternity clothing, plus chic diaper bags and Baby Bjorn carriers. Strollers, high chairs, kids' room decor, toys and books round out the offerings, and owner Amy Helgren regularly monitors safety recalls and inspects all equipment. (She also donates merchandise that doesn't sell to family charity organizations.)
What $150 will buy: $20 Vera Bradley diaper bag; $20 Sweet Pea maternity top; $60 Maternity Theory jeans; $10 Ralph Lauren infant jumpsuit; $30 Big sister toddler Oilily pink ruffle dress; $6 Baby Style onesies; $1 Goodnight Moon book; $3 What to Expect the First Year book.
Classy vintage accessories and more
Other Chicago-area resale shops:
Lulu's at the Belle Kay Shop here for show-stopper black-tie, party and prom dresses. This classy vintage shop (left) also has jewelry, hats, gloves, shoes and handbags.
The Crowded Closet Inc. The shop is known for its more than 200 pairs of shoes and 250 designer handbags for sale. Designer-label, tailored, casual and special-occasion clothing hang by type, color and size, from petite to size 24.
Cynthia's Consignments Get Vera Wang bridal gowns, Chanel suits and Marc Jacobs handbags, plus designer jeans, jewelry, shoes and sunglasses.
Hand Me Downs Generations of Chicagoans have come here for 28 years in search of designer kid clothing, baby duds, bat mitzvah attire, child bedding, furniture and equipment, plus books and toys.
The Crowded Closet Inc., 824 Dempster Street, Evanston (847/475-1135)
Know before you go
Shop early The best choices of garments in your size and seasonal accessories are available early in the season. All sales are final.
Shop often Savvy resale shoppers stop into consignment stores frequently to see what's new. Some stores call loyal customers to inform them of new merchandise received from their customers' favorite consigners.
Just buy it If you love it, make it yours now. Designer merchandise sells fast -- especially accessories and handbags, because size doesn't matter. Some top consignment stores will even offer merchandise layaway with a down payment.
Look for bargains With new merchandise arriving daily, resale shops can't afford to keep items on the sales floor too long. Generally prices get slashed after 30 days, starting at 20 percent off the resale price. It never hurts to ask if you can get discounts on full-priced items, because they may be planned for markdown soon.
End-of-season sales Like their retail counterparts, resale boutiques hold clearance sales to make room for next season's merchandise.
When you're hungry
Take a break from bargain hunting at nearby restaurants.
Blind Faith Cafe (Left) This inventive vegetarian restaurant near The Crowded Closet makes tasty baked goods and great green cuisine.
Filippo's Ristorante This comfy Mediterranean bistro near Selections serves tasty salads, pastas and sandwiches.
Bongo Room Funky Wicker Park cafe near Store B dishes fist-thick breakfast burritos and pumpkin-carrot flapjacks. For lunch, try the beef-tenderloin portobello sandwich.
Argo Tea Cafe Light lunches and savory snacks in Lincoln Park include 30 teas, fruit parfaits and soups -- plus fresh croissants, scones, brownies and tarts.
Bongo Room, 1470 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago (773/489-0690)
A version of this story appeared in Midwest Living's Out & About Chicago section in January/February 2009.