When attorney Charity Kenyon appeared before the California Supreme Court a few
years ago, she was fashionably dressed in serious-lawyer attire. Yet from head
to toe, her courtroom ensemble _ heels, black skirt and a high-end Ralph Lauren
jacket _ was purchased from secondhand stores. Total cost: no more than $125.
Likewise, Alison Merrilees, a longtime California Capitol staffer, works in a world of designer-clad lobbyists and legislators. On a recent summer workday, she sported a stylish striped skirt and a polka-dot silk sweater. Both came from a thrift shop. Total cost: $6.
Both women are committed thrifters, a category of shoppers who buy most of their casual and workday wardrobes from "gently used" clothing stores. Their motivations are partly environmental, partly frugal, partly thrill-of-the-hunt fun.
Kenyon, who started shopping secondhand about 15 years ago, said it's a way to be both economical and "feel as though I'm contributing less to environmental impacts. It's 100 percent recycling."
Thrift-store clothing is also a way to sidestep so-called "fast fashion," the inexpensive, trendy clothes churned out cheaply in overseas factories. The recent garment factory tragedies in Bangladesh, where more than 1,200 low-paid workers were killed in fires and a building collapse, have raised awareness of the dangers of a buy-cheap, buy-more clothing culture.
"I don't like the idea of buying cheap, disposable clothes. Secondhand shopping breaks that cycle," said Merrilees, who got hooked on buying used a decade ago, initially for her kids' clothes.
Certainly, buying secondhand isn't a new concept. Consignment stores and charity-backed stores have survived for years on donated goods and loyal shoppers. Not to mention mainstays like Goodwill and Salvation Army.
And online, eBay has plenty of competitors with trendy names like Tradesy, Rehash and Threadflip.
The recent recession had a huge impact on the thrift shop industry, said Michael Gold, founder of TheThriftShopper.com, a Vero Beach, Fla.-based directory of charity-based secondhand stores. He said his listings have jumped past 11,100 in recent years.
"People are thrifting more than ever," he said. "There was a stigma that's been disappearing as thrift shops become more boutique-y."
In 2012, the "used merchandise" industry, which includes sellers of apparel, furniture, books and jewelry, racked up $13 billion in annual revenue, according to First Research, which profiles U.S. industries.
Saving money is a big appeal of thrifting. Lots of budget-conscious moms like buying used baby and children's clothes, because they're quickly outgrown.
The resale market "is blossoming thanks to value-conscious consumers," according to the national Association of Resale Professionals, which projects 7 percent annual growth in the number of consignment and secondhand stores, currently estimated at 25,000.
For many veteran thrifters, though, it's just plain fun.
"It lets me take risks, buying things I would never do if I were paying full price," said Merrilees, like her eye-popping turquoise-and-teal brocade coat that always draws compliments.
Does she ever feel self-conscious about where her designer labels come from?
At the Capitol, she sometimes has to "bite my tongue" rather than reveal she
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