I'm a girl with tastes in excess of her budget, as they say. In the last two or three years, therefore, I have fallen in love with consignment shopping. A half-price claret dress from Tadashi was my first new article of clothing in nearly a year in part due to the Cottage Boutique next to the wonderful Beech Street Cafe and across from CVS on Swarthmore.
My aunt, who lives part-time in LA, told me about the Cottage about two years ago and finally I went in. In the past 18 months, I've picked up 7 or 8 pieces I wear constantly, including my most favorite and flattering pants for dance by Green Apple, a ecofriendly line of yoga clothing made of hemp. I'm not a hemp kinda gal and while I live at Whole Foods--the hot and cold bars--because I don't cook, it doesn't matter to me if something is organic or not and I'm a red meat lover who just switched to electronic cigarettes after 5 yrs of smoking.
But these purple pants are amazing--30 dollars on the sale rack--and extremely warm to boot. They take forever to dry--two cycles at hot even on a new LG dryer--because they weigh a bizarre amount but no dance pants in my life have ever been so great and I wear them even when not in class.
Wendy Plumb and her elegant, youthful mother own the store which used to carry some charming designer clothes for children but now focuses on adults and offers a great selection of bags and shoes in addition to clothes.
This summer I went in before my long dance trip to NYC and saw Catherine Zeta- Jones in a colorful, long sundress and sandals. The store was nearly empty. She has great pressence but she's very unassuming and nice. Of course that accent is fabulous and I tried not to stare at the large 18K Cartier watch with diamonds around the face. She bought two bags, including a Chanel (bags aren't my thing but they have a lot of them) and said to the woman working (not Wendy or her mother), "You know, I get more pleasure shopping at a place like this than at Barneys!"
Zeta-Jones had been at Elyse Walker for something--our newish designer store which sells Prada, Valentino, Stella McCartney, among other designers--and this was her first trip to the Cottage. As lifelong Palisadians know, we didn't used to have places like Elyse Walker. The Palisades in the 1970s and 1980s was of course an upscale Westside neighborhood but it hadn't become truly 1-2%-land (or at least the stores and restaurants weren't consistent with property values) littered with secular private elementary schools like Seven Arrows until 10 or so years ago.
Elyse Walker used to be Colvey's, a man's store my father occasionally bought sweaters. They were expensive but they lasted many decades. Once Dad went in with an old friend of his--notoriously frugal, one might say pathologically so--and his friend asked how much one of the sweater cost. When he heard the number, he said in characteristic Mel fashion, "I don't want a dozen!"
So Colvey's wasn't Macy's but it certainly wasn't Elyse Walker which now takes up three or four storefronts and seems to be doing very well in spite of the 100 dollar t-shirts and 2000 dollar shoes and bags. Needless to say, I've never bought a single item there and when I go to the (for the Palisades and Westside generally) inexpensive Cathay Palisades with parents (Joan Rivers goes there with her grandson and his parents once a week), Dad gets out the car and tells me, "You can't even afford to look at the window!"
(The owners of this casusal Chinese are wonderful so I haven't Yelped about it because aside from the flash-fried pounded shrimp appetizer and hot and sour soup, I cannot say I am a fan and do not wish to discourage others from trying it just because the food is far too salty for my tastes.)
My mother spends, I would estimate, 1/7th what I do on clothes and jewelry as a proportion of her income wouldn't shop at Elyse Walker even at 75% off. Dad's has poor vision, which is why I live with them approximately one-third of the month. He probably knows about Elyse Walker and its obscene prices because Mom surely told him about the store which used to be Colvey's and which offends her both sense of austerity and propriety.
Mom doesn't think anyone should ever spend 2000 on a dress or a bag and I don't disagree with her, really, but if someone is at a certain tax bracket and buys a dress for 2000 marked down to 1000, I don't regard this as apocalyptically awful. Instead, I think, "Well good for her; it's nice someone can do that." Mom's view has nothing to do with envy; she just finds this kind of extravagance unseemly.
Mom shops consignment also but she doesn't shop at the Cottage though with her slender but curvy build at 73, she could find some lovely blouses and blazers (the dresses are a bit too young for her and range from size 2 to 6) but the Cottage--except for the clearance rack--is still more than she is willing to pay for clothes.
To give a sense of the prices (and I've never bought a black tie or black tie-optional dress or gown, some of which are in the 300 range but were in the over-1000 range at least when new), I'll list my favorite scores.
1) Green Apple dance pants: 30.
2) Nicole Miller black, mid-calf, v-neck dress: 175.
3) Shiva Rose vintage navy floral: 195.
(I called it my WWII dress and still miss it a year after the car robbery in which the meth heads--so said the cops--did a smash and grab in Santa Barbara for the Gelson's bag, perhaps thinking it was food and not wishing to take the large carry-on bag and draw attention to themselves). Shiva Rose is the ex-wife of Dylan McDermott and a graduate of Paul Revere and Pali High, where she met the owner, a lifelong friend. She's a very famous designer and this ranked at the top of my favorite dresses in life. I was furious, particularly since the cops told me that they probably dumped it seeing it was a) a small dress and b) not in the style the girlfriend of a meth head would likely find appealing or convenient to wear with that lifestyle.
4. Green tunic (48): I love this both over jeans and a shell and as a cover-up for an upscale hotel pool or club. I never got to wear it at the Cape in August, where it rained steadily for 3 days but truly adore the color and the unusual glittery fabric.
5. Sexy, long-sleeved black top with ruffle in the front (50).
6. YSL vintage ankle straps: 125. With a consignment, like new pair of Michael Kors boots from my consignment store in Toms River, NJ, this is the most expensive pair of shoes in my life and while I blanched slightly at the price, I didn't hesistate for a moment. When am I ever going to find a pair of shoes from a bygone era by Yves San Laurent.
I have to say that if a fairy granted me one pair of designer shoes, I would choose the classic YSL pump (600), which they of course sell at Elyse Walker in every color. You can also find them (in both suede and leather usually) at Dressed Ready/Susan Pincher, a designer store on Montecito's Coast Village Road which is the Montana Avenue of Santa Barbara/Montecito. Next to my egg place Jeannine's, this store is conceivable at 75% and this fall I did buy a pair of shoes for 60 originally 240 and a sweater, handknit, for 145 down from 585.
But I regard shoes as the least important part of my fashion life, with clothes at the top and jewelry a close second. I'm also not a luggage or bag girl so don't get tempted by nice purses or wallets. These YSL shoes embody understated elegance and at 3 inches high (though not very comfortable), they are a constant source of pleasure.
7. Nicole Miller purple silk dress with plunging neckline and tight bodice with A-Line skirt below the knee : 125.
8. Persol sunglasses (blue, small frames, vintage): 59.
9. Marina at Bloomingdales beaded top: 70 down from 140 (with tags, likely in the 400s new).
10. Bread and Butter navy, casual maxi-dress: 30. This is perfect for flying.
11. Vintage, lined Anne Klein white pantsuit with pinstripes: 40.
As you can see in the pictures, the dresses are all in the size 4 range, the tops small (2/4) with one exception: the navy shmata which is a great, comfortable dress to fly in or to wear around town or your house when your stomach experiences that miserable monthly phenomenon pre-50 or s.
I was a 2 all my life till 2011--5/8 and 122 and had been even thinner in earlier years--but since then am more a 4 in tops and a 4/6 in bottoms. I still fit into some size 4 dresses but that black Nicole Miller is an 8 (on no planet could a true size 8 fit into it) and now when I shop, I find quite a few things that are two small for me. So if you're a size 10, I would think you will have limited luck except perhaps in some black tie or very fancy gowns once worn by an Westside matrons. I've bought only one pair of shoes but the selection is large and turns over regularly so even if you can't find a lot of dresses, pants, or skirts which fit you, it's more than worth a trip.
I can think of few more pleasant ways to spend a day than an hour or two at the Cottage followed by lunch at Beech Street Cafe (see my brief review last week).
My other consignment stores, including Deja Vu in NJ and Twice the Style in Newport Beach (I was there only once but it was a big haul) are both lower in price. 175 is not inexpensive but these are Nicole Miller collection dresses and one (the purple) was just 125. New, I couldn't even think of the pieces I enjoy daily now.