If Anchorage's fashion culture has a best-kept secret, it's certainly not fanny packs at the Weekend Market or our attraction to rubber footwear.
As much as we might want to keep those delicious tidbits hush-hush, the city's real retail details on the down low are the consignment stores.
They're the kind of darling boutiques we drive by most days without noticing. But once inside, you wonder how you've survived shopping without them.
The goods range from young and flirty to vintage and designer. Among them, most sizes are offered. You can shop for prom, work, vacation and pregnancy. And you can even find pieces for fashionable puppies.
If you're interested in consigning, the shops tend to share basic requirements: Consigners are usually required to sign a contract, and the store sets the price. Sales are split 50-50 between the consigner and the shop. Ninety days is standard for how long consigned clothes stay on a rack, and it's the consigner's responsibility to claim nonconsigned or unsold items.
And while the consignment specifics are similar, each store has its own personality. So here's a little before-you-go information for shopping and consigning at four spots that specialize in women's clothing.
THE CLOTHESLINE CONSIGNMENT
Location: 1441 W. Northern Lights Blvd., Suite A
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Having a Myspace page doesn't always equate to being young and hip, but in The Clothesline Consignment's case, it's right on the money. The atmosphere is friendly and casual, and the owners, Debbie Laflamme and Zulie Mason, make you feel as if you're shopping with girlfriends.
The best way to describe Clothesline is that it's like your own gigantic walk-in closet. Shoes line a staircase; rounders chock-full of clothes fill up the floor space; and belts, handbags and other accessories hang along the walls.
The store carries and consigns quality brands that don't break the bank, such as Banana Republic, J. Crew, Gap and Ralph Lauren. Sizes range from 0 to 24, and the store also specializes in maternity wear. The owners look for clothing that appears new or is simply attractive, and there's nothing there that'll make you feel as if you're shopping out of your league.
"We both try to think, 'Is this something I would wear?' " Laflamme said.
And these chicks are wise to any tricks: "If I can tell why they brought it in," Laflamme said, "like if it's a cropped T-shirt or a shrunken sweater, (we won't consign it)."
Consignment specs: Clothes can be dropped off any time the store is open and must be left for a few days. Clothing must be neat, clean and in a box or a bag. They give you a three-day window to pick up what they don't consign. If the clothes are not picked up, they will be donated to charitable organizations such as Covenant House and Southcentral Foundation Women in Recovery program. Consigners have the choice to be paid by check or store credit. If they choose store credit, they get a 10 percent discount on purchases. Once a month the store automatically sends checks to consigners who have earned $25 or more.
ENCORE INC. DESIGNER FASHION BOUTIQUE
Location: 4240 Old Seward Highway, Suite 4
Hours: Tuesday-Friday, noon-6 p.m.; Saturday, noon- 5 p.m.
Susan Dolman is kind of like the pioneer of Anchorage's consignment scene. For 28 years she's been offering resale options in our city. But don't let her longevity fool you into thinking she's old school.
"I don't do vintage," she said. "I only want really current things."
Encore's staple offering is evening wear. Racks of floor-length gowns and wedding dresses with sequins, spaghetti straps, slits and shimmer take over much of the store. A rack of coats from places such as David Greene and Nordstrom practically creates a petting zoo of soft fur.
The store's front end houses casual clothes. Blazers, coats and suits are arranged on racks; shoes are organized by size in Rubbermaid drawers; and there's even a bin of saucy leather pants.
But you have to look a little more closely to find some of Encore's best treasures, such as the Coach, Cole Haan and Dooney & Bourke purses resting around the register and Stuart Weitzman heels displayed with gowns around the store.
"I always say, 'If a woman can wear it, it's in here,' " Dolman said.
Consignment specs: Currently, Encore is only accepting evening gowns and fur pieces for consignment. If you're interested in consigning one or two items, drop by during store hours. Otherwise an appointment is suggested. Encore is interested in current fashions and designer labels. Clothes should come in looking "like you would want them to look if you were buying them," Dolman said.
OUT OF THE CLOSET!
Location: 720 D St.
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
There's no doubt about the fact that Out of the Closet! is cutting-edge chic. The store seeks out and sells brands that aren't easily available in Alaska, such as Prada, Gucci and Chanel.
But there's a quainter side of the downtown boutique that includes selections from less- expensive brands like Kenzi, Express and occasionally, in one of those "Really?" moments, you'll find worthy Old Navy pieces.
"We take name brands," owner Ellen Arvold said. "But we look for fun stuff too."
Clever names for each section like "Solemates" and "It's Getting Warmer," highlighted in brushed stainless steel, guide shoppers through premium denim, business attire, leather handbags and frilly frocks.
Right now the inventory includes local independent designs by Bella Sera and a selection of fashionable dog clothes by BJ's Bow Wow Knits. Those are inspired by the store's resident poodle, Ziggy, that you can sometimes find dressed in cable knits or punk T-shirts.
Out of the Closet consigns sizes 0 to 16 and is always looking for vintage and designer pieces. It updates its Web site regularly to let consigners know if it's in search of specifics.
"We're really picky," Arvold said. "But we get the most amazing stuff."
Consignment specs: Out of the Closet! accepts clothes Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., but suggests that you call ahead to confirm that it is taking clothes on any given day. Clothes must be cleaned, pressed and on hangers. After 60 days, consigned clothes will generally be moved to the sale rack for 30 more days, Arvold said. If the clothes don't sell and the consigner doesn't pick them up, they are sold on the $5 rack. Any clothes that are not sold or claimed will be donated to the SPCA thrift shop once a week. Consigners will receive a check or in-store credit for items that sell.
PLAIN JANE CONSIGNMENT
Location: 113 W. Northern Lights Blvd.
Hours: Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Not finding something that suits your style at Plain Jane Consignment is like admitting you don't know how to shop. Because, really, it's that easy. In fact, the boutique sells so many kinds of feminine that you'll start to wonder if it'd be more fun to forget about your own style and just reinvent yourself.
"It's like Christmas every day!" owner Melinda Faas said.
Sexy Manolo Blahniks, feisty Marc Jacobs and playful Kate Spade selections always seem to be constants in the shoe category, and you could lose a girl all together in the towering wall of handbags, totes and clutches.
From the outside, the store is cozy and emits a sweet glow. Inside the racks are packed with textures, colors and shapes. Everything from classic cashmere to comfy cotton is arranged by size and color.
Faas consigns name-brand labels, and she's always looking for items she can't live without. But she also applies a simple approach to what she sells: "Can we appreciate this piece? Do we want to see somebody wearing this walking down the street?"
Consignment specs: As long as Faas is in town you can bring clothing in during business hour. She typically posts a sign on the door or leaves a message on the store's answering machine if she's gone. Clothes need to be clean but don't have to be on hangers. Expect to leave clothing overnight, and it will be looked at by the next business day. Plain Jane gives the consigner two business days to pick up nonconsigned clothes; anything left is donated to The Salvation Army. After 90 days, the consigner has the option of picking up unsold clothes or Faas might mark down the price. Consigners will receive a check for sold apparel in the mail or they can opt for store credit.
• Preview the consignment store before you bring your items in. See what kind of styles and brands they carry and research the prices.
• When you decide to consign, call ahead to find out if the store is accepting clothes that day. On your first consignment trip, don't just bring a big Hefty bag full of clothes. Start with a few items and work on establishing a relationship with the store.
• Don't approach consignment as a way to make a lot of money. Consider it a form of recycling but with a small reward.
• Always remember that it's your responsibility to contact the store and pick up nonconsigned items or items that don't sell after the consignment period.