Ever thought of owning a Valentino or St. John but felt guilty about spending so much money when it could go to a shelter for abused children or to emergency health services for AIDS patients?
Consider, then, the small group of secondhand boutiques that offer fashion fans a chance to look and feel good. These shops are filled with gently used designer togs, jewelry, footwear, hats and accessories at a fraction of the original cost. Sales benefit community charities and programs.
It's consumerism with a conscience.
And the second chance these clothes get--many of them elegant ball gowns, cocktail dresses and smart lunch suits--fit another favorite theme of the decade: recycling.
Because of the nature of these donations, which come mostly from local society mavens, it's tough to tell whether these once-pricey wares were ever worn, and some--still tagged with the store price ticket--never were worn.
Here's a sampling of stores where you can buy a holiday gown and spread holiday cheer.
Saddleback Memorial Medical Center Thrift Store
Friday and Saturday, and the third Friday and Saturday of every month, the Saddleback Memorial Medical Center Thrift Store in Laguna Hills transforms into the Couture Shop, spotlighting donations in mint condition with designer labels. Possible finds include items from DKNY, Anne Klein, Perry Ellis, Missoni and, for those vintage fans, Lilli Ann.
Last month, someone picked up a St. John dress for $40. A preview of this weekend's goods included a forest green Ann Taylor suit ($45) and a pink Diane Von Furstenberg wrap-around dress ($9).
Hatboxes, costume jewelry and watches are among the items that came from local estates. The monthly event brings in thousands of dollars for the medical center's programs, such as its women's clinic.
Saddleback Memorial Medical Center Thrift Store, 23740 El Toro Road, Lake Forest. (714) 586-6870. Open Monday through Saturday , 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Sunday.
With its mix of new and gently used clothes and accessories, the Stanley Market looks like many of the other boutiques in this upscale neighborhood. Take a closer look to to distinguish the difference--it's obvious by the price tags.
The 1,540-square-foot space, which donates part of its proceeds to AIDS Services Foundation of Orange County, is a "Dynasty" diva's dream. It's loaded with many couture pieces, including a series of hand-beaded gowns by Gildas brought to the store by a collector of the local designer's fete frocks. There's a strapless column dress saturated in green and turquoise sequins for $2,500, considerably less than its originally cost.
There are a number of new suits and dresses from Leon Cliyne, another local favorite, including a hot pink peplum jacket and skirt ($120). The designer will be in attendance Sunday afternoon when the store celebrates its first anniversary.
In addition to the one-of-a-kinds, there is a wide selection of party wear: a draped Giorgio beaded jacket ($175); lots of gold and silver leather, including a gold bustier ($65) and a red Albert Nipon two-piece ($175). Among the accouterments are a Judith Lieber hot pink and black snakeskin handbag ($95) and Ralph Lauren Polo and Hermes ties ($25).
Merchandise is accepted on consignment, and sales are split between store and clothes owner.
Stanley Market, 3420 E. Coast Highway, Corona del Mar. (714) 675-1287. Open Monday through Saturday , 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
A gorgeous red and black Valentino dress for $198? Pinch yourself, it's a reality at the Orangewood Boutique, which contributes 100% of its revenue to the Orangewood Children's Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps abused, abandoned and neglected children. The store, a landmark on the secondhand circuit for six years, offers an impressive selection of designer duds.
Cover up in a perfect, red leather Mondi jacket ($148.50) or a fawn mink coat ($900).
There is plenty of Irvine-based St. John here: a black knit dress covered in bright pink and gold paillettes ($250) and a navy sweater ($68.50). Find rarely worn shoes by Charles Jourdan, Bally and Bandolino, as well as hats, costume jewelry and handbags.
Walk-in donations are carefully selected for the boutique, and those rejected are sent to other thrift stores. Consignment goods are accepted by appointment.
Orangewood Boutique, 2850 E. Coast Highway, Corona del Mar. (714) 760-6640. Open Monday through Saturday , 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Sunday.
American Cancer Society Discovery Shop
Less glamorous than some, but still a source for treasures at a discount, is the American Cancer Society Discovery Shop. After more than a decade behind Ruby's, the store relocated to a larger space last summer, adding furniture to its mixed stock.
For fashions, it offers a pair of rhinestone necklaces ($25) and earrings ($7.50) with a full beaded harlequin dress or strapless Victor Costa (each $50). A black, sheared chiffon dress bears the original $295 ticket but sells here for $85. If your idea of winter fun is casual and active, find like-new ski wear ($15 to $75) and a rack of new jeans from a store that went out of business ($6.50).
American Cancer Society Discovery Shop, 2301 E. Coast Highway, Corona del Mar. (714) 673-7776. Open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Sunday.