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Christmas on Consignment

Wednesday, 12 Nov 2008 | 12:01 PM ET

When times get tough, women cut back on spending on themselves first. So when it comes to the holiday party — if there is one — this year, more women are rummaging through their closet, borrowing or buying secondhand instead of buying a new party dress.

Leiber 'Glisten' Evening Handbag
Source: bagborroworsteal.com
Leiber 'Glisten' Evening Handbag

While other retailers report some of the weakest sales in a decade, second-hand chain Goodwill Industries says sales are up nearly 7 percent this year.

More than half of women say they’ve bought second-hand clothes before, according to a survey by consulting firm WSL Strategic Retail, and that number is expected to rise.

Indeed, Joanne Dauber estimates that traffic is up 30 percent from last year at her consignment shop, Once & Again, in the affluent neighborhood of Madison, N.J., just minutes away from the Short Hills Mall, which has stores like Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue.

"There are a lot more new faces, a lot more traffic," Dauber said. "They’ll say, 'Oh, I didn’t know you were here.'"

And, she’s selling a lot more luxury items this year, compared to the smaller items and non-brand name items she sold last year.

"I just sold a Raymond Weil watch and a Jimmy Choo handbag. The Louis Vuittons are selling," Dauber said. "I think people are sprucing themselves up for the holidays," she said.

Emilia Vincent bought a dress for her boyfriend's company holiday party at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Thrift Shop on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

"It's a pretty formal affair ... so I wanted something sophisticated," Vincent said. "But I wasn't about to pay full price — this year especially."

She found a classic Armani sleeveless, almost floor-length dress for $250.

"It was like shopping in the closet of an Upper East Side 'society' lady!" Vincent exclaimed.

Even better, the proceeds go to a good cause, the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

Second-hand shops were already on their way to a good season when they got an unexpected endorsement from vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who said she buys her clothes from a consignment shop in Anchorage, Alaska.

Sarah Place, a financial advisor in Raleigh, NC, said if buying on consignment is good enough for the GOP VP candidate, it’s good enough for her.

"Since [Palin] mentioned that she buys many of her clothes in consignment shops, I have given it more consideration," said Place, who is looking to consignment shops for holiday attire as well as business wear. Before Palin’s endorsement of second-hand shopping, "it seemed like a taboo thought—unless one was to go in with dark shades and a low-brimmed hat," she quipped.

Speaking of endorsements, you might also see an uptick in holiday-attire rentals this year, after Jennifer Hudson's character in this summer's "Sex and the City" movie rented a Louis Vuitton handbag from Bag Borrow or Steal, now know as Avelle.

"It's like Netflix for purses," her character, Louise, explained to fashionista Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker).

So, if you don't have the $3,595 for a blinged-out Judith Leiber handbag, you can rent it for as little as $85 a week. You can also rent jewelry: $1,800 Charriol diamond earrings can be yours (temporarily) for just $50, or a $360 Swarovski Pave Collar Necklace for just $20.

"Guilty pleasure, minus the guilt" is splashed across the BagBorroworSteal.com home page, an appeal to women who may feel guilty spending on themselves this holiday season.

"This is a way for women to continue to enjoy luxury instead of cutting back and not buying anything,” said Mike Smith, CEO of Avelle.

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Questions? Comments? retaildetail@cnbc.com

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