Call for Action: Trash to Treasure Clothing

Posted on: 7:20 pm, February 4, 2013, by

Melanie and Sarah St. Marie are no strangers to second hand stores; Sweet Lorain on Cleveland’s near west side is one of their favorites.

“Take what was stylish back then and you can kind of make it your own today,” said Sarah, “That’s the fun!”

The sisters, from Elyria, know what looks good when they put it on, but they admit that they have no idea what distinguishes trash from treasure.

Redwin Lewis, on the other hand, has made a career out of knowing the difference. He bought Sweet Lorain three years ago and has turned it into a second-hand department store.

“There’s a market for old stuff?” asked FOX 8 News Call For Action Reporter Lorrie Taylor. “There is,” said Lewis, “Increasingly, increasingly.”

Lewis told Taylor some labels give themselves away.

“You’re looking for the Chanel. You’re looking for Lanvin. You’re looking for the Givenchy,” he said, listing recognizable names from the runway.

But even when a big name doesn’t announce itself, chances are the “look” of its tag will.  Lewis showed Taylor a Lanvin label with “New York -Paris” written across the bottom.  The 40-year-old dress was priced at $95, more than some dresses are selling for in stores today.  Lewis can get a higher price for Lanvin, though, because the designer’s clothing sells in high end stores for close to $1,000.

Lewis said famous names can also fool shoppers if they don’t know what they’re looking at.  Givenchy is a designer to the rich and famous but the design house also made off-the-rack dresses for the mass market.  Tags that say “Givenchy Style” indicate the dress is a more affordable “off the rack” piece.

“The label doesn’t look nearly as stoic or serious as the regular Givenchy,” he said.

Something else Lewis said will stand out to the trained eye: the quality of the fabric.

“You would look for a crepe, a wool crepe that, from the 20s, might be of interest. 20s 30s and 40s dresses are very hard to find, especially in good condition,” he said, while describing more desirable fabrics.

He also advised buying larger sizes for those who intend to re-sell their fashion finds.  People are bigger-sized today. They’re about an inch taller and thirty pounds heavier than they were back in the day.

As for what to avoid when looking for treasured clothing items: snags, stains and frayed material all diminish worth, so does general wear.  Lewis recommended staying away from any damage that can’t be repaired.

The St. Marie sisters said their newfound advice will make finding treasure amidst the trash a lot more fun going forward.

“If you knew what to look for it could add onto your experience,” said Sarah, “Yeah, you might find a treasure and not even know it. It’d be interesting to see,” agreed Melanie.