Secret shopping for designer clothes

| 17 Feb 2015 | 01:06


Confessions of a consignment junkie

Chanel. Christian Louboutin. Manolo Blahnik. For decades these were names I knew from magazines, but didn't own. In fact, I didn't want to. "I don't advertise," I'd sniff, adding that I had no desire to be a walking sandwich board that helped some designer hawk his or her merchandise.

About five years ago, though, I had a change of heart. Perhaps all the Manolo-madness from "Sex in the City" had finally seeped in? Or perhaps it was that suddenly I found myself surrounded by peers ? in motherhood as well as business ? carrying Louis Vuitton "Neverfull" totes or Chanel classic double-flap shoulder bags. Or maybe with my fiftieth birthday, I developed some taste. Whatever the reason, I wanted in, but felt out of luck. My son Luke was starting high school and my daughter Meg was beginning middle school. Any fantasy about walking into Saks for a pair of Jimmy Choo heels was dashed when tuition invoices arrived.

Then I discovered the world of consignment.

I went to pick Meg up from her friend's house on Madison and 79th Street. Just as I was about to approach the doorman, my cell rang: Meg wanted to stay a little longer. With an hour to kill, I considered my options. I didn't want yet another cup of coffee or to hang around J. Crew, whose stock I already knew by heart. I started to walk uptown and not even half a block into my journey I saw women with shopping bags coming out of a doorway. I looked up and there on the second floor was Michael's, The Consignment Shop for Women.

I entered the store and found myself surrounded by so many labels I thought I was in Bergdorf's. Everything was in mint condition, which dispelled my previous notions that pre-owned meant "other people's old crap." I hadn't planned on buying anything, as I was not going anywhere any time soon that required a designer look. But sometimes, something in a store just calls your name. "Lorraine," was being whispered in a French accent by a pair of Chanel loafers ? shoes I could actually wear everyday around town and, for $100, a fraction of their retail price. And they were my size!

And so began my Loco For Coco phase, shopping at resale stores like Collette on Madison and 92nd, Margotta Consignment Shop on 81st between Second and Third Avenues, and Second Chances on Lexington between 77th and 78th Streets. There are many others on the Upper East Side I simply haven't gotten to yet.

Even though consignment is often a way to afford the usually unaffordable, not everything is, dare I say, cheap. Some designer items get more valuable with age, and can cost as much, if not more, than the retail store prices.

Not to despair, though, because not everyone consigns their designer duds; some donate. Places like The Cancer Care Thrift Shop, the Society Boutique, which is the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center thrift shop, and the Arthritis Gift Shop all on Third Avenue between 81st and 84 Streets often have a nice array of Chanel, Manolo Blahnik, Lily Pulizer and the like. And let's not turn our nose up at Goodwill on Second and 88th. I dropped off a bag of non-label items and left with an AKRIS for Berdorf Goodman dress for $50.

I may be a Designer Second Hand Rose, but I'm designer just the same.

Lorraine Duffy Merkl is a NYC freelance writer and author of the novel, "Back to Work She Goes."