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Thrift stores offer cheaper thrills



Published: Wed, September 6, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



The teen set discovers secondhand clothes.

CHICAGO (AP) -- For 14-year-old Audrey Sanders, clothes shopping has little to do with the mall. She'd much rather go to secondhand stores to buy shirts, scarves, jewelry and jeans. Her shoes might be a cheap pair of flats, spray painted with jewels added on.

"I like to be different than everybody else and start new trends. And it's a lot cheaper and you get to buy more clothes," says the high school freshman from Pickerington, Ohio. She figures that she and her mom spent just over $100 on back-to-school clothes, far less than many of her classmates.

From the first days of rock 'n' roll to punk and emo, some teens have always had an alternative style. But these days it's becoming cooler to try and create your own look. Along the way, young people are finding it's cheaper to do so.

"We're trying to change it up a bit and add our own edge and a little twist," says Gabrielle Pharms, a 19-year-old thrift shopper who's a sophomore at Houston Community College in Texas. "I have yet to find anyone who has the same clothes as I do."

Got a job

A business major with an interest in fashion, Pharms is one of six young "ReDesigners" chosen this summer to be back-to-school advisers for the thrift store chain Savers, known as Value Village in some parts of North America.

"We have definitely noticed that secondhand clothing is receiving notably increased attention from the teen set," says Amanda Foley, a spokeswoman for the chain, based in Bellevue, Wash.

Even as mall-based retailers such as Abercrombie & amp; Fitch and Wet Seal posted better than expected numbers in August, those who monitor fashion trends have noticed more teens working up the courage to break the mold.

"There's only so much they're going to find from a department store, so it's sending them searching for other options," says Tina Wells, the young CEO of the New York-based Buzz Marketing Group, who works with a network teenage trend spotters all over the world.

Vintage craze

They tell her the secondhand trend is partly an outgrowth of the vintage and "retro" clothing craze. That could find a teen wearing anything from a 1930s era dress to 1980s leg warmers or looks that range from rocker chic to bohemian, to a more traditional style with cable knits and tweeds.

Many retailers and teen brands are attempting to compete by offering "vintage collections."

Customization

Wells says young people's fascination with customization also is fueling the growing interest in individualized fashion, whether they're shopping at thrift stores or high-end retail shops.

Theirs is a generation that's into "massclusivity," or exclusivity for the masses -- iPods that can be tailored for individual listeners and televisions that can be programmed with TiVo. Fashion is no different, with apparel and shoe companies -- from Nike to Juicy -- allowing customers to personalize their merchandise.

Some wonder if the intense focus on fashion and creating a one-of-a-kind look is getting a little out of control, even for teens who are shopping at secondhand shops.

"There's a lot of pressure at the younger ages -- with boys, too -- to feel fresh and new," says Eric Messinger, editor at New York Family magazine, a Manhattan-based monthly for parents. "Kids are so fashion conscious -- even at 8, 9 and 10."

While they might not see the problem, some teens concede that shopping for vintage clothes has other drawbacks.

For one, it can take a lot of time to rummage through clothes racks to find the good stuff.

"Many stores have clothes that are just plain old and cannot be salvaged or worn differently for an updated or innovative look," says Demi Tzamaras, a high school sophomore in Bethesda, Md., who calls thrift shopping a hobby. "And the idea of wearing clothing worn by unknown people does have me wondering if these secondhand outfits are clean, even after a washing."

Other teens doubt they'll ever have an interest in secondhand shopping.

"There's a few kids who try to be independent. But some people look down on those stores," says Amanda Scherner, a high school sophomore in Plainfield, Ill. "It kind of shows your social status at school."

She's among the many teens who still prefer shopping at higher-end mall stores such as Abercrombie & amp; Fitch and Hollister.

Living up to the pressure

Amanda wanted to spend $500 on school clothes, but ended up getting about $300 from her parents instead. She says it can be difficult to maintain a fashion image on her limited budget. "But I kind of like living up to the pressure. It keeps school more interesting," she says.

Audrey, the secondhand shopper in Ohio, doesn't worry about the naysayers. She says classmates used to make fun of her self-made designs -- but more recently, she's as likely to hear, "I love your outfit!"

"Now they're the ones who are wearing the clothes," she says.

After attending a freshman orientation and hearing about all the clothing students can't wear to school -- largely those that show too much skin -- Audrey's mom, Lori Sanders, says she's more than happy to take her daughter thrift store shopping.

"It's refreshing," she says. "And it's a great deal!"




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