The latest thing in economizing during these inflationary times is to buy clothes from thrift stores. Hardly a week goes by without a newspaper or magazine article proclaiming the "discovery" of secondhand or used clothes. The trend even has a name: "cheap chic."

Middle-class families feeling the pinch of double-kigit inflation are flocking to Good Will and other thrift stores in droves, seeking to pick up brand-name bargains.

What's amusing about this "new" discovery is that while it's new to many, lots of us have been thrift-store regulars for years. Also, many of the newcomers are looking for status (designer) clothes at bargain-basement prices. nIt seems to me that trying to find a pair of Jordache jeans in Value Village (my favorite spot) or Lord and Taylor hand-me-downs in AMVETS misses the point.

For those who attend Catholic schools, where uniforms were de rigueur, there were two ways to end up: as clothes freaks or as clothing functionalists. I happen to be a functionalist. Etched in my brain are indelible benchmarks against which I measure the cost of any piece of clothing.

On occasion I'll splurge, but not often. The most expensive thing I EVER bought was my wedding gown, which cost me $85 in 1972/ I will NOT pay more than $20 for a pair of pants -- no matter what color, style, fabric, or designer. I WON'T give up more than $15 for a blouse or shirt. I don't believe in shoes that cost more than $30 a pair. Fortunately I sew well and often copy styles I like.

Fashion consultants and "Dress-for-Success" books notwithstanding, I don't think clothes are important enough to spend a lot of money on (my vices are books and records). I find that the clothes in thrift stores suit my needs (and wallet) perfectly. I outfit my 7-year-old daughter completely (except for shoes and underwear) at least three times a year, and I rarely spend more than $25 for each of those shopping sprees.

If she tears a dress or rips a pair of jeans I don't get upset. At 50 or 75 cents, who cares? I throw them out and get her another pair. When she joutgrows the clothes, I take them back and get a tax receipt. I personally like men's shirts, and I usually find several for less than $1 each.

The point is, shopping in thrift stores will save money on clothes. The question is, how important should clothes be? It's impossible to read any periodical or newspaper, or to watch television without being bombarded by clothing ads that promise to make us . . . whatever. First there was Brooke Shields in Calvin Klein jeans, and now there are Jordache jeans commericals for children. What are the values we advocate when we tell people by words, or spending habits that "clothes make the man?"

MAD magazine once did a spoof on status seekers, in which everything the people owned had the price tag attached. These days, the designer's name, label, or logo are most prominent. What has always stayed with me after reading the Mad satire was the ending line to the ditty accompanying the cartoon: ". . .'cause you're nothin' by yourself."

What about the human being behind the labels? A few years ago, I wrote this poem about a friend of mine who was a walking advertisement for designer clothes: I don't get my looks from Donald Brooks And clothes from St. Laurent aren't heaven-sent. I get along fine without Calvin Klein And without Bill Blass I still have class While clothes from Chanel may look swell Mine look right nice for half the price. Shimmering undies from John Kloss may look boss, But mine are fine, just lack the gloss. While sporting Stephen B sets some folks free I'm free enough just being me. I don't care to preen wearing Geoffrey Beene, And I don't feel poor not wearing Dior. Fashion to me means practicality And clothes don't make me.