When people lose their jobs or their homes, buying the season's trendiest fashions becomes trivial. Still, people need clothes.
The fashionable woman who once filled her closet with the latest designer pieces may now be combing the racks at discount, thrift and consignment shops.
Dalton Elder Mook of Chattanooga is a dedicated consignment customer. "I [find] some wonderful things there," she said.
Shrewd shoppers take advantage of the opportunity resale stores offer to save money, according to the Association of Resale Professionals.
"The resale market is blossoming thanks to value-conscious consumers," the trade association reported in a news release. "We are progressing from a disposable society to a recycling society."
Diana East, owner of Jenny's Closet, a consignment shop on Hixson Pike, said many people who sell their clothes at consignment stores really need the money, which is driving up prices.
"People are hurting financially," she said. "They're bringing their clothes to a consignment shop to sell but going to the thrift stores to shop. They're pricing their items too high for me to sell, and people can't afford them."
Also, charitable thrift stores are getting more donations than ever before, experts say.
"Because of the economy, more and more people are shopping at these charitable thrift stores," East said. "They've become like a big business. Some consignment shops can't compete. The thrift stores price to sell, but we can't. Our clients set their prices. It makes it hard for us to compete, and because of that, many consignment shops today have a big failure rate."
Five years ago, the average customer spent $30 at Jenny's Closet, East said. "Today, it's less than $20."
Keeping prices affordable to people in need is the backbone of the Northside Neighborhood House Thrift Stores, said Rachel Gammon, Northside Neighborhood House executive director. Many of today's customers are people effected by the down economy, she said.
"We're seeing more and more people who are being thrifty," Gammon said. "And we also see many customers who shop here to help support what we're doing. The income from our thrift stores provides more than 50 percent of the Northside Neighborhood House funding."
For more than 85 years, Northside Neighborhood House has been a service organization providing assistance to needy Chattanoogans.
"We keep our prices low because people are having to make money go farther, especially people with children," she said. "We have a lot of single parents with professional jobs who shop here because they want to make sure they have nice clothes."
Gammon said she buys clothes for herself at the organization's thrift stores in North Chattanooga and on Signal Mountain Boulevard.
"We are very fortunate to have many designer brands come in, and sometimes with tags on," she said. "We also have a few shoe shops in town that donate their drastically reduced items that haven't sold."
Additionally, there has been a huge increase in furniture and household items for sale, Gammon said.
"Because of the economy, many people have had to relocate. We've seen clients who've lost their homes and have had to put things in storage. Then, because they couldn't pay the storage fees, they lost their furnishings.
"Eventually, they've had to replace their furnishings and we've been able to meet that need," she said. "It's supply and demand."
Gammon said that providing clothing and furnishings at an affordable price allows people in need to "free up their money for food and rent."
"Our mission is to serve neighbors in need, so we keep our prices fair," she said. "We work with agencies, such as Chattanooga Endeavors and Room in the Inn, who send their clients to us to buy outfits to wear to job interviews. They can get a nice outfit here for $7 or $8."
Brainerd resident Maddie Kertay, a local craft artist and seamstress, said she loves shopping at thrift stores.
"(I) usually remake what I buy so it is more 'me,' " she said. "Clothing is a cash-only expense in my world and that of my children."
Kertay said she has noticed some thrift store prices having "gone through the roof."
"At times I can find jeans for less at T.J. Maxx," she said.
Lee Golden of North Chattanooga said she recently purchased four sweaters for $40 at Unclaimed Baggage in Scottsboro, Ala.
"They are amazing," Golden said. "Everyone packs their best stuff when they travel, so everything is really nice. I wouldn't necessarily say that it's the economy forcing me to shop that way, it just seems to make financial sense no matter what."
Hedi Lee-Hesse of Lookout Mountain is a dedicated sale shopper. "If they don't have it at Target, Sears or consignment or 50 percent off, I probably don't have it either," she said.
Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...