Seven months ago, Connie Roberts never dreamed she would buy someone else's used clothes.
But that was before she discovered a resale shop while she and her husband were out for a walk. When he sat down to catch his breath, she went into Cherie's Secret, a resale boutique in Studio City.
"It took me more than 10 minutes to realize that the clothes weren't new," Roberts said. "There were no size tags. That was the tip-off."
Roberts, a former wholesale representative for Zanelli at the California Clothing Mart in the Los Angeles garment district, knew a good bargain when she saw one.
"Now I go out looking as many as three to four times a week," she said. "It's almost an addiction."
By strict definition, vintage fashion is anything more than 50 years old. But usually such shops stretch the definition and concentrate on styles from the 1920s to the 1950s, with some early 1960s stuff thrown in.
Resale clothing stores, on the other hand, carry strictly contemporary clothes, name brands like Norma Kamali, Adolfo, Yves Saint Laurent and Anne Klein.
In both cases, merchandise is purchased from individuals, either on consignment or outright. A few stores, like Aaardvark's in Canoga Park, buy exclusively from warehouses known as rag mills, where clothing is obtained through probate sales. Thrift shops, such as Goodwill or the Salvation Army, receive clothes through donations.
"After wholesale fashion, why should I pay retail?" said Roberts.
She says that, for the most part, vintage fashion just isn't for her. She prefers contemporary pieces from a more traditional and well-organized boutique. For her, Cherie's is like home.
Betty Berkeyto, 33, is at the other end of the spectrum.
"I love to dig. I don't know what I want until I see it," said Berkeyto, who considers herself a lifetime student and will study history at California State University, Northridge in the fall. "I used to only wear black. Now I like colorful hats. Big ones like Hedda Hopper's."
She frequents LaRue's and Ragtime Cowboy, both on Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood. But it was Claudia's, a small and slightly chaotic shop just east of Laurel Canyon, where Berkeyto first discovered vintage clothing.
She was drawn into the shop because of what she describes as its funky feel. Berkeyto says the place still has a slightly off-centered quality, almost a throwback to a time seven or eight years ago when that section of Studio City wasn't so trendy.
"There used to be punks and mods and the prostitutes," said Claudia Thompson, the owner, who's been in the location 10 years.
She unwrapped a submarine sandwich and offered half to a customer.
"I guess it's for the better. Cleaned it up. But the kids don't dress as wild as they used to. Do they?" she said somewhat sadly from behind her large desk piled with clothes.
Claudia dresses like many of her customers--young and always fun. With her tan skin and stringy blond hair, she's easygoing like the sidewalk merchants in Venice. KRLA plays the old hits in the background, and sometimes she turns on the small black-and-white TV to watch the soaps. Everyone from school-aged kids to mothers and professionals seems to enjoy rummaging for the perfect treasure.
It is the owners who make resale and vintage boutiques different from Bullock's or The Broadway or Robinson's.
"When women get together, we talk. We have to stick together," Thompson said, pulling out photos of her children and grandchildren.
Owners grow to know the likes and dislikes of their regular customers.
"I've got a friend in my corner," Connie Roberts said about Cherie's. "She's someone who will call me and say 'I've got a style that would look perfect on you.' "
What follows is a sampling of resale and vintage stores around the San Fernando Valley:
Amazing Kate's, 28317 W. Agoura Road, Agoura Hills. Owner Lois Flaherty believes that thrift shopping is a "woman's sport." Her store reflects an element of fun, designed for shoppers who like to take their time looking. In other words, don't always expect a neat rack. She buys only on consignment, and clothes are marked at half price if they haven't moved in two months. If they still don't sell, Lois donates them to the Salvation Army. A Liz Claiborne shirt, oversized and brightly colored, costs about $8 here. Open 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, until 7 p.m. Thursday; (818) 991-5148.
Reruns, 11626 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. Pam Holdridge, 24, has never been conventional. She has a flair for the theatrical, and her favorite look is the late-1940s. So she and Mike Gilchrist began Reruns, which caters to other "young and eclectic" people, mostly from 14 to 35 years old. She recently opened another store at 4625 Van Nuys Blvd. in Sherman Oaks that specializes in clothing and furniture of the 1950s. Poodle skirts, which Holdridge says are very popular with her customers, cost $30 to $38. Open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, noon to 6 p.m. Sunday; (818) 506-4399.