During the Great Depression, our grandparents lived by the adage:
Use it up,
Wear it out,
Make it do
Or do without. Now we have a new approach. It's called recycling.
Resale stores, an outgrowth of charity thrift shops, are cropping up everywhere.
According to the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops (NARTS), there are more than 15,000 of them in the country.
One fast-growing, highly visible sector of this industry is the children's consignment shop.
With clever names like Twice Upon a Time, Kids and Kaboodle, Purple Goose and Second Childhood, they are bright, cheery outlets, camped in old houses and nooks of strip malls, often in primarily residential areas.
They are patronized most often by middle-class, yuppie mothers with an eye for a bargain.
Their proprietors maintain that their goods are name brands -- designer, even -- and always in excellent condition. They just cost less than they would in a mall.
The consignment-shop game works a little like coupons. If you play it right, you can clothe your child for practically nothing because, in addition to selling used clothing at half to one-third the original price, the shops accept used clothing from consignors and, if they sell within a specified time, return a percentage to the clothing's original owner.
"I've hardly spent anything to dress my four kids," says Mary Kane, a longtime customer of Small Change in Reston.
Small Change co-owner Susann Gerstein says the consignment business picks up during times of recession and that she is observing that now. Recession or no, there is a core of faithful consignor-shoppers who become friends with the proprietors and with one another. "That's what makes this business so much fun," Gerstein says.
In fact, each shop has its cadre of supporters and, at any given moment, there seem to be several visiting with each other, exchanging kid stories, asking or giving advice. Sort of like the old guys sitting around a cracker barrel in the days of the general store.
"We are like modern-day bartenders," says Judy Brubaker of Kids and Kaboodle in Rockville.
"It really is like a support group," says Laurie Wood, co-owner of Kids Again in Alexandria.
She tells about the new customer from Manassas who was looking for a house to rent. Another shopper was planning to rent her house. "They got together and worked out the details right then," says Wood.
Most of the stores are owned and operated by women, many of whom started them because they liked to be around people.
"I wanted to do something with children," says Jean Minahan, owner of Twice Upon a Time in Falls Church. "The first thing I did was create a play area for them. If the kids get fussy while Mom's shopping, I sit on the floor and read them Judith Viorst's 'Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day'. I can't tell you how many times I've read it."
Sometimes the consigned clothes do not sell. Most customers give permission for those to be donated to charities.
Gerstein and her partner, Margaret Johnson, frequently donate to a local homeless shelter, the Northern Virginia Training Center, as well as to a project in Appalachia and another in the Soviet Union.
Organization is important in these ventures. While some shoppers come in for the coffee klatch ambiance, all are looking for bargains.
Betty Belfiore, whose Washington, D.C., shop Kids' Stuff dates back to 1975, is the mother of five grown children.
"When my children were small, I looked for bargains and thrift stores. I didn't want to pay full price for clothing. I opened the shop because I felt I knew how to do it. I could present quality clothing in a pleasant atmosphere."
She does know how to do it, attests one customer of 15 years, Mary Blair Robinson of Bethesda, the mother of six.
"Betty is so organized. It all runs so smoothly," she says. "I've never made a lot of money on consigning clothes, really just chicken feed," she adds, "but I've really saved money shopping here."
Kate Neal of Arlington is also a lifetime thrift shopper.
"My 4-year-old daughter doesn't know that you can buy clothes at Penney's or Woodies," she says. "I bring in about 100 items at a time and I pretty much know what Nadine will accept."
Nadine is Nadine Edles, owner of Second Childhood in Arlington.
"She's very particular and so organized. It really helps me as a shopper. I don't have a lot of time to shop and I know I don't have to go through a stack of pants to make sure they're in good condition. If Nadine accepted them, they will be."
Neal has not made just chicken feed. Her most recent check from Second Childhood was for $250.
"I don't stay on my kids all the time to keep clean, but I wash every day and I can sew, so if a button comes off or there's a rip, I fix it before I consign the clothes."
Some shoppers prefer consignment stores because there is more variety than in retail stores, says Edles.
"There's a customer from the Kennedy Center who picks up things here to outfit children in plays. Instead of six dresses in each size, there are 14 dresses. Of course, just one of each."
Meredith Jensen, manager of the Revolving Door in Falls Church, has a collection of adult clothing from the '50s and '60s for sale. She rented them recently to cast members of a Flint Hill Preparatory School production of "Grease."
Most shop owners will help a customer put together outfits of leotards, vests, tights, sweaters and so forth.
"We get a lot of requests for help with costumes," says Small Change's Johnson, "especially around Halloween."
Trudy Miller, who owns a resale shop in Chicago, founded NARTS five years ago. She says bargain-hunting is back in style.
"Women used to brag to their co-workers that they bought something at Neiman's or Saks. Now they like to talk about how little they paid for it. Besides," she adds, "recycling is the agenda of the '90s."
For those who would consign, there are some guidelines:
Most shops require an appointment to bring in clothing, all of which must be fashionable and in good repair.
What is accepted is priced and displayed and a contract signed for whatever percentage is the store's policy.
After a certain period (often two months), if the clothes have sold, the consignor can come in and pick up a check. If not, he or she can pick up the clothes or advise the proprietor to give them to charity.
Nadine Edles of Second Childhood has a number of suggestions for preparing clothes for consignment. Among them:
Check buttons, zippers, seams, hems, knees of pants and feet of footed pajamas, and make necessary repairs.
Pills. A fabric shaver (costs about $4) will make a pilled garment look new. Shaving is time-consuming, though, so discard a sweater that isn't worth the effort.
Wrinkles. Dampen wrinkled clothes and run them through the dryer. Take out and fold or lay flat. Cotton, linen and rayon have to be ironed.
Taking clothes to the shop. Do not stuff them into a bag. They must be folded neatly and not packed too tightly. Some stores prefer receiving them on hangers.
Button or clip fasteners on overalls and jumpers, snap the snaps on overall legs and baby sleepers.