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shopping-web1RISMEDIA, March 26, 2009-(MCT)-Julia Roberts does it. So does Penelope Cruz. And so does just about everybody else these days. They’re wearing and buying pre-owned or used clothes.As the recession slogs on, shoppers are becoming more savvy about finding deals. A recent survey conducted by Harris Interactive for eBay reveals that 75% of adults are purchasing pre-owned goods to save money and nine in 10 adults surveyed see buying used merchandise as a form of recycling.

“It is the height of chic,” says Constance White, eBay style director. “A lot of stylish people are wearing used clothes now.”

Gone are the days of negative associations with second-hand clothing, White says. These days, it’s about saving money without sacrificing style.

The survey also found that 70% of adults say buying used is more socially acceptable now than five or 10 years ago, and 43% say it’s easier to buy popular items if purchased used rather than new.

New-to-you deals abound on eBay, and gently-used clothing can be found thrift stores such as Salvation Army and Goodwill, as well as hip vintage shops and more boutique-type consignment shops.

“I tell my customers, if you can get the quality and the name brand at consignment, you should never pay retail,” says Faye Wilson, owner of Penny Pincher Consignment. Wilson’s store has been on the Charlotte, N.C., retail scene for 25 years.

Buying pre-owned items doesn’t necessarily mean you’re buying used, eBay’s White points out. Often, shoppers can find items that were given to sellers as gifts, or were impulse buys that never made it out of the package.

“You can get special things that will really personalize your wardrobe,” she says. Among her favorite used purchases is an oversized clutch that really “makes an outfit,” she says. “I don’t think I would have found it new.”

Savings can be as varied as the shopping experience. At thrift stores, prices are generally lower, but items are minimally pre-screened, which can be a boon if you love the thrill of the hunt. Finding a Chanel or Michael Kors jacket for $5 is the exception, not the rule.

At consignment and vintage shops, the inventory has been screened on a variety of variables including brand name and physical condition. Shoppers will pay a premium for the sifting service: Expect prices to be at least half off the retail price.

Business is up across the board, shop owners say, with a marked increase in shoppers and also a boost in the number of people looking to consign.

Consign by Design owner Beverly Sokol estimates she has more than 500 consignors who bring designer clothing and accessories to her store in Charlotte. Her shop, which carries labels such as Giuseppe Zanotti, Kate Spade and Rock & Republic, has been bustling, especially since she leased part of the space to Womb, a maternity consignment shop opened by Stephanie Clark in August 2008.

“The past couple of weeks, we’ve really started to see an increase on both ends,” Sokol says. “New consignors and new shoppers.”

The Junior League WearHouse in Charlotte sells consigned items from members and local businesses. Among the designer names that move through the store: Armani, Burberry, Escada, Lilly Pulitzer and St. John.

“There is no division on who wants to save money,” says WearHouse’s store manager Michele Britt. “What better way to get top-quality, high-end designer clothing at a fraction of the retail price?”

How to shop second-hand

-Give yourself time. Don’t rush.
-Shop with an open mind. Looking for a specific item can limit success.
-For clothing, shop in a three-size range: Go up and down a size to accommodate for alterations and stretching from previous wear.
-Try everything on before you leave the store. Most have a no-returns policy.
-Launder or clean every pre-owned item before first use.
-When considering designer labels, watch out for fakes, especially handbags.

©2009, The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.).
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.