Byline: By Matthew Call, [email protected], STAFF WRITER

Much like everything else in Newton, "used clothing" has a completely different meaning here than it would elsewhere. There are no paisley polyester shirts or velvet leisure suits. Customers can't fill a bag at a penny a pound.

In Newton, expect to shill out $600 for a Giorgio Armani suit or hand over $1,000 for a Chanel jacket - for previously worn apparel.

Selling high-end used clothing has become a signature business for the Garden City.

People sell to second-hand shops for many reasons in order to clear the way for newer fashions, recycle old stuff or simply because they're frugal and want to get something back from their investment.

"People do sell their clothing because, well, they want something new and in this way, it's less guilt," said Dottie Casler of Second Time Around in Newton Highlands.

For the buyer, variety is the spice. Secondhand clothing shops can carry items no department store in the area has, like a rare Chanel jacket or a made-in-Asia outfit.

"You have to come in every week," said Sheri, a Cambridge resident and frequenter of Finer Consignor.
One of the reasons secondhand clothing shops are thriving is their unique relationship with customers, who not only pay money to keep the shop alive but sell or donate clothes to keep stock up.

That cyclical swap has allowed consignment and used clothing shops to sidestep fashion trends, market drops and other business pitfalls that plague other retail stores.

"Customers, shoppers, donators - they're all basically the same person," said Cynthia Goff, manager of the Discovery Shop of The American Cancer Society, a nonprofit charity shop. "A lot of our customers come in, drop stuff off and then shop."

Some shops started off carrying all kinds of clothing - kids, men's and women's styles. Soon after, most learned the only demand in Newton was from women.

"When I opened, I had men's, children's - I had it all," said Casler. "But I found it difficult. Men don't dress much today. It's casual on Friday. It's pretty much always casual."

Other Newton shops, like Kiddy Litter on Washington Street, stay in business selling only kids' clothing.

"We started off with men's clothes. It just didn't fly," Goff added.

Selling only women's styles has proved successful for Gloria May, the third owner of the Second Appearance at 801 Washington St. in Newtonville. By providing unique fashions, a loyal cache of shoppers developed, May said.

"I have a very varied clientele," said May. "It's across the board."

May also offers a consignment shop trick that separates her shop from first-run retail stores. Second Appearance has an on-the-price-tag discount ratio. After 45 days on the rack, the price is slashed by 10 percent. That price is also discounted another 10 percent 15 days after that.

"I don't have room for everything," May said.

While what consignors can get for their clothes is different at the shops - consignors take home 40 percent of what the item sells for at Second Appearance versus half at the other stores - the rules of the game are pretty standard. Clothes must be in good condition and stylish enough to sell.

"No one wants to buy something that looks really used," Goff said.

The classic

Second Time Around has a lengthy history behind it, a nearly 30-year tenure at one of the most desirable locations in all of Newton - the corner of Lincoln and Walnut streets in Newton Highlands.

The granddaddy of all Newton consignment shops, the small corner store has spawned several others in Harvard Square, Newbury Street and an upcoming furniture shop in Brighton.

Owner Dottie Casler taught school for a while before giving up her career to raise her children. One day she bought some clothing racks from a closing shop and put them in the garage to serve as a second closet. Her husband protested, wanting a place to park his car.

Casler then rented out the Lincoln/Walnut space and tossed her racks in there. Soon after, with the help of friends, she created a consignment shop that still stands.

The shop is known for ultra-high end designers. Casler says she doesn't even bother with most of the typical mall fare.

"I do not take anything without a high-end label," said Casler, sitting behind a desk in the shop. "I do have some Gap, J. Crew, but I look for Chanel."

Consignors hand their clothing over to Casler and draw up a contract for the items. Consignors get half of what the item eventually sells for.

Casler had no prior clothing experience when she started beyond "I liked them and I wore them," said the Oak Hill resident.

The most popular style at Second Time is a business suit. Almost daily, a suit will be sold to a woman needing it for a job interview, Casler said. Most customers are in their 30s, with a sprinkle of teens, she added.

After three decades of pouring over used clothes predicting what will sell and what will not, Casler is eyeing retirement. She just can't pull the trigger, however.

"It's time to retire, but I can't seem to stop," she said. "I love what I do. It's always exciting to come in and see something new."

Casler's son, Jeff, runs all but the Newton shop.

Casler has built up her business so steadily she takes clothing only by appointment nowadays. She knows instinctually what's a hot item - Chanel will be gone within a day, she said - and sometimes calls customers if she gets something up their alley.


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