By Elaine Viets
St. Louisan Alan Portman makes sure his daughters Yael and Merav are well dressed. Alan buys only the best brand names for his girls, but he doesn’t pay the highest prices to clothe his princesses. Alan crowned himself the king of the resale shops to have those best-dressed daughters. He also decks himself in designer labels. Merav is 7 and Yael is 11. As you can see, they’re model children.
Alan reveals some of his secrets in time for back-to-school buying.
(1) ELAINE: When did you start combing the resale shops for children’s clothes?
ALAN: We have always shopped the resale shops for the girls’ clothes. The rule in our house was the girls could not wear anything to daycare that could not be burned at the end of the day. A $2 shirt and a $3 skort? Perfect.
As you walk the racks at the resale shop, you quickly realize that you can start the college fund with the money you save by letting someone else’s grandmother pay full retail for Polo and Guess.
(2) ELAINE: Do children’s resale shops have "grandma dresses" – beautifully made clothes for the holidays?
ALAN: If you go to Macy’s or Nordstrom’s, you can buy $500 Christmas dresses for a 2 year old. Bet that child won’t wear it more than three times. Same thing for the Easter dress, though those tend to run a little cheaper. You’ll see the same dresses in the resale shop for $20 tops. It’s a little sad to see handsewn dresses made with some grandmother's love in the resale shop. Grandmas do not follow garment label regulations, so you have to wing it when you wash the dresses.
(3) ELAINE: When are the best times to get deals?
ALAN: You need to plan a little further ahead. The best deals on Christmas dresses are in February. Halloween costumes are on the rack in August for $5. Spring dresses are not as cheap, but still good deals. Always look at the winter coats. Yael wears a Columbia three-season jacket that was easily $100 new. I paid $12 in early November.
(4) ELAINE: Name some of your favorite resale shops for yourself and your girls.
ALAN: For the girls, I like the Olive location of Once Upon A Child (http://www.onceuponachild.com/), a national children’s resale chain. For myself, I like the National Council of Jewish Women’s resale shop (http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-NCJW-Resale-Shop-St-Louis/145992922085248).
Sign up for emails and on Facebook with shops near you. What’s better than $5 Levis? Twenty-five percent off a bag of $5 Levis.
(5) ELAINE: Give us an example of your bargain-hunting prowess for the girls.
ALAN: The most expensive items I bought recently were two pair of $8.50 jeans from the Children’s Place. I found an $8.50 royal blue Chaps tennis dress that looked great on Yael but she didn’t like it. Ralph Lauren, Gap and Apple Bottom can all be found for less than $10. ALAN: I bought a pair of khaki pants without much wear for $5. I’d never heard of the brand. I figured if they lasted a month, fine. I Googled the brand at home. Bill’s Khakis list for $75 a pair. I have two pair now. I bought the second pair on a half-off sale day $2.50.
Better still, since we spent over $50, we got a coupon for $25 off on our next $50 purchase. The store also has a punch card system. Purchases and sales go on the same card. So I filled a card that had credit for several boxes of clothes the girls have outgrown. With a little luck, I could spend well under $10 cash and walk out with a dozen items next month.
(6) ELAINE: Which children’s brands are the best deals?
ALAN: Disney, Sesame Street, Gap, Children’s Place, Polo and Nike. I may not look it, but I know clothing brands.
(7) ELAINE: Which are the worst deals?
ALAN: Stay away from Old Navy, Target and WalMart brands. Why pay $10 for something you can buy for $15 new? You need to know the full price to shop second hand or outlet. Outlet malls can be rip offs: "Ohhh, I can save a whole dollar over the regular store! So glad I drove to the outlet mall and spent $20 on gas."
(8) ELAINE: Kids grow like weeds. What happens when your girls outgrow those designer duds?
ALAN: They go back to the shop to be resold. Those that can’t be resold get donated to the National Council of Jewish Women’s resale shop.
(9) ELAINE: You’ve lost more than 85 pounds. What did you learn when you were losing all this weight?
ALAN: I needed new pants. A year ago, I was wearing size 44 pants. Today I wear size 38. At first I wore my own pants that I had put away because they were too tight. Then I made the mistake of buying new pants. I kept losing weight and I was changing pants sizes once a month. There was no way I could afford $100 in pants every month.
I started looking for pants at the National Council of Jewish Women’s resale shop. BARGAIN CITY! Ten dollars will cover almost any pair of pants, $5 buys most shirts. If you are the right size, you can have logoed shirts from every country club and insurance company in St. Louis. Nike, Adidas, and all of the sports teams. I have Blues, Cardinals, and Budweiser shirts for less than 20% of what they were new.
(10) ELAINE: What are some of your good finds?
I picked up a plain black T-shirt with a strange logo. It fit and was $2. I gave it a shot. It was a Three Dots brand. It looks like it was worn twice, maybe. It is soft! Cashmere soft. Maybe there is something to $50 plain T-shirts.
(11) ELAINE: What did you learn – sometimes the hard way?
ALAN: There are no returns, so make sure it fits before you buy. Check for wear, especially with work clothes. Check shirts for stains, twice. Belts don't fare well. By the time the resale shop gets them they are shot.
If you make a mistake, donate it back and take the tax deduction. The IRS is pretty liberal with the value of clothes. Google "IRS value of donated clothing " for a chart.