Buying used cars is as American as apple pie.

But buying used clothes?

The used clothing business in many areas is booming.

The shops work on a consignment basis. You bring in dresses, suits, slacks, blouses, whatever, and the store agrees to sell them for you.

As a rule, you split the profits 50-50. And the better-class consignment shops have the right to reject articles of clothing if they're not in tip-top condition.

Some of the chic boutiques that take in consignment clothing are finding that well-to-do clients bring in top designer outfits after just wearing them a few times.

Apparently, the clients don't want to be seen more than once or twice in the same outfit. Ah, the day-to-day problems of the rich!

Some examples gleaned from fashionable consignment boutiques in my area:

A Mary McFadden silk chiffon, hand-painted dress which originally sold for $1,500 is now selling for $325.

An Yves St. Laurent silk dress now sells for $145 that originally went for $800.

A Robert Janan two-piece dress (good for the working woman) now goes for $18 and originally sold for $130.

A lined, wrap-around hostess-skirt made in Thailand, goes for $18.

yand on down the line. The biggest customers, according to consignment boutique owners, are career woman.

Much of the stock is consigned by individuals, but quite often, stores will bring in new clothing for consignment because they're going out of business or because they're just clearing out last season's inventory.

As a rule, the new clothing goes for 50 to 60 percent off the original price. The used clothing goes for 70 to 80 percent off.

While women's secondhand consignment stores have been around for some time, you can find an occasional store that sells exclusively to men.

I found a Haspel summer unit selling for $32. The original price was $145 and it was in excellent condition. Unfortunately, it wasn't in my size.

You can usually find the consignment stores listed in the Yellow Pages under "Clothing -- Bought and Sold."

Q. My daughter has been getting a government grant to help cover college expense for the past three years. It's not enough, so we have been sending her $2,000 a year extra money.

She keeps telling us that we cannot claim her as a dependent for tax purposes because she is supposed to be "independent." She is getting the grant money based on her own financial picture, not ours.

She had to work away from home for a year to qualify for independent status and signed a document stating she didn't receive any money from home. What we'd like to know is how this independent category works for students and how much money, if any, can parents continue to contribute?

A. What your daughter is doing -- and you are going along with -- is probably illegal. To qualify for bsic grants (which do not have to be paid back), an individual or a family must be below certain income limits. Your daughter is only partially independent. She lives on her own and works, but she gets considerable money from her parents. You'd better stop sending some of the money to your daughter.

Or at least consult a tax lower or accountant to see if you can give a certain amount of money to your daughter without it being considered support.

Here are the federal rules for the independence test:

1. The student cannot have lived with parents for more than six weeks during the year prior to the date of application for the grant (usually in January), or for the year of the application.

2. The student cannot be claimed as a dependent by the parents on their income tax return.

3. The child cannot get more than $1,000 support from the family.

Many universities demand a copy of the parents' and student's income tax returns before they will consider a grant.