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You Paid How Much?

Half a Dozen Ways to Save on Kids' Stuff

June 05, 1997|VALERIE J. NELSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

What if you could stretch the $100 you set aside for your child's wardrobe to buy clothes with a retail value of 10 times that? That's the tantalizing scenario Mindy Glazer likes to paint in dozens of bargain-hunting classes she gives around Los Angeles (call [310] 207-4063 for a schedule) and in "Shopping Secrets of Southern California" (Helpful Publications, 1995).

Navigating a kid-centered excursion beyond the ease of a mall can be dizzying. But the pros say that knowing where to look is half the battle. With that in mind, we've outlined six ways to save money, from using catalogs as your own personal factory outlet to ferreting out bona fide outlet stores.

"There's no reason for parents to pay retail," says Sue Robinson, author of "The Smart Shopper's Guide to the Best Buys for Kids" (Macmillan, 1996). "A bargain is not a bargain if it doesn't fit right and it doesn't look good on your kids."

THE LINGO

Close-Outs: Discontinued merchandise, irregulars or best-quality leftovers. Also refers to sales of such items.

Irregulars: Almost best-quality merchandise. Something may be marked as an irregular for the tiniest of flaws, such as a mismarked label.

Overruns: Best-quality leftovers.

Past-Season: Merchandise that's been hanging around awhile; off-price merchants tend to sell clothing that appeared in department stores months earlier.

Seconds: Apparel with imperfections, some of which may be undetectable.

Off-Price Stores: They purchase manufacturers' leftovers at rock-bottom rates, then sell them at wholesale, about 50% off retail--or, after further markdowns, up to 90% off retail. Marshalls, for example, is a chain of off-price stores.

Outlets: The only true outlets are stores in or near the manufacturer, such as Patagonia in Ventura. Stores in outlet malls don't qualify since their garments may be of lesser quality than the brands offered in their traditional retail outlets.

1. CATALOGS

The best-kept secret of pricey mail-order catalogs? Many offer their unsold merchandise in company stores. And some will take phone orders for unadvertised, marked-down children's clothing. To find out if a company has a discount arm, call its 800 number and ask if it has a special mailing list or an outlet store.

"The Smart Shopper's Best Buys for Kids" lists the following companies, among others, with known warehouse shops:

* Hanna Andersson Factory Store: Current-season reductions of durable cotton play clothes and sleepwear run at least 20% off, past-season up to 40% off. (800) 222-0544.

* Storybook Heirlooms Outlet: Special-occasion and better casual wear, current and past season, goes for 40% off the hefty catalog price. Overstocks, samples and seconds are also sold. (408) 842-3880.

* Big Enough Outlet Store: Current samples and seconds of the 100% cotton clothes are half off retail; past-season prices are another 50% off that. (800) 288-7321.

* Boo! Warehouse Store: High-end clothes often seen in fashion magazines are sold at wholesale prices. Call (612) 376-0585.

* Oilily Factory Store: Past-season whimsical--and pricey--kids clothes from Holland are 35% to 50% off. Call (219) 872-3577.

2. SAMPLES

When a manufacturer is through with the sample garments it uses to woo store buyers, it often puts them up for grabs--for next to nothing. And these prototypes, some of which never make the collection's final cut, are usually better made than their mass-produced clones. Here is a sampling of places with such sales:

* California Mart, 110 E. 9th St.; (213) 630-3600: Bring along an item from your child's closet to measure against designer attire from more than 170 manufacturers who represent 300 lines. Call ahead to order a directory listing all the reps. Sales are held from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on the third Saturday and the last Friday of the month. Bring cash, your own bags and $1 for admission.

* Baby Guess?, 860 S. Los Angeles St., Los Angeles; (213) 629-5833: In addition to samples, the company sells discontinued apparel, overstocks and seconds for 30% to 50% off.

* Flap Happy, 1714 16th St., Santa Monica; (800) 234-3527: This outlet store sells signature hats and its own line of children's clothing. Samples (from its line and others), close-outs, overruns and seconds are priced at wholesale or less.

3. RESALE STORES

To spot a good deal on what polite society calls "gently used" apparel, it helps to know what it cost new. Children's clothing sells for about one-third of the original retail, says Elizabeth Mason, author of "The Rag Street Journal" (Henry Holt, 1995), a guide to thrift and consignment stores nationwide. Since "gently worn" and "children's clothes" are rarely found in the same sentence, resale venues might best be reserved for special-occasion clothes.

Haunt thrift stores in affluent neighborhoods and teach your children to think of the experience as a treasure hunt, says Mason, who also owns the Paperbag Princess, a vintage and designer resale shop in West Hollywood.

Here are a two shops to check out:

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