Ask a Bay Area Expert: Consignment Shopping Tips for Seniors

August 5, 2014 5:00 AM


Anyone who is buying or selling on consignment can’t do better than to know Brenda Alessandria, one of San Francisco’s most delightful and professional designer consignment owner/experts. As a San Francisco native with a fashion and retailing career, Alessandria understands the finer aspects of our layering existence in the City by the Bay. When not found at her Designer Consigner location at 3525 Sacramento Street store near Laurel Street in Presidio Heights, Alessandria is at her second store near Union Square at 563 Sutter Street.

Brenda Alessandria shares some of her personal tips on why consignment shopping is especially well suited to mature fashionistas.

Brenda Alessandria, Owner of Designer Consigner
(photo credit: L. Alessandria)

designer c Ask a Bay Area Expert: Consignment Shopping Tips for Seniors

Designer Consigner at 563 Sutter St., San Francisco
(credit: Laurie Jo Miller Farr)

They Just Don’t Make Them Like They Used To 

“Don’t you agree?” asks Brenda Alessandria, referring to the gorgeous cut of a jacket by YSL or Armani, the swing of a hand-stitched Chanel hemline or the fine fabric superbly gathered at the bodice of a Valentino dress. Perhaps you can spot that kind of quality a mile away, but you do despair at the price tags attached to such items these days. When too many zeros follow that dollar sign, try the better designer consignment stores where someone else’s mistake is your win. Alessandria suggests visiting your favorite shop often and sharing your taste preferences so the staff can give you a heads up when that Max Mara camel hair wrap coat comes through the door in your size.

Great Fashion is Hard To Replace

When a beloved old standby bites the dust after years of service, finding its trusty replacement can be quite difficult. When you’d like to replace like for like, consignment shopping is a good place to start. A taupe Burberry raincoat with a zip-in signature checkered lining or a perfect pair of grey wool trousers that sit on the waist can be a real challenge because they just don’t make them much anymore. “We have lots of women looking for good navy leather handbags,” says Alessandria. “They’ve paired navy shoes and bags for years and prefer to continue doing so.” The proliferation of quick, inexpensive and up-to-the-minute chains like H&M are simply not going to work for mature women and our daughters tell us that matchy-matchy just isn’t on trend. (However, don’t suggest that to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II).

No Cookie-Cutter Gowns

A mature shopper’s favorite top-end consignment shop will attract like a magnet when a special occasion arises. “Some sell us their gowns, others buy them,” says Alessandria. “We do have clients who will wear a designer gown to a symphony gala or a formal charity affair just that once and then bring it to us for resale. Many of these gowns are age-appropriate, stunning and immaculate, but selling at a fraction of their original cost.” Mother-of-the-bride is another popular occasion for mature women to shop consignment. Alessandria indicates that her clients want to look great on their daughter’s or son’s big day, but many prefer to fund other wedding-related expenses from the hundreds of dollars they’ll save on that one outfit.

designer c2 Ask a Bay Area Expert: Consignment Shopping Tips for Seniors

Shopping consignment for a vacation at Designer Consigner
(credit: Laurie Jo Miller Farr)

Get More Bang For Your Buck

This mantra applies to everyone on a budget, but it seems especially noteworthy when discussing seniors. When you or your partner’s top-earning career days are in the past, it just doesn’t make any sense to splurge. Elderly parents’ well-being and college tuition for the kids, for example, are just two of the items that loom large for women of a certain age. If you don’t want a closet filled only with sweatpants and jeans, you can still look like a million bucks without spending it. Mature women going on vacation or a cruise often pop into the consignment shop to find that extra shawl or cashmere wrap that is just the thing.

Earn Cash From Your Closet

Last but not least, there could be cash in your closet. Be brutal, be brave, but be realistic. A good consignment shop isn’t looking for items that you wouldn’t wear either. However, if your jewelry box holds a neglected Chanel chain necklace or logo-encrusted earrings, or your dresser drawer contains a Hermès silk square still folded in its trademark box, or on the closet rail there hangs a vintage Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress in tip top condition, a consignment shop can sell these for you and save you the trouble of eBay navigation. Savvy seniors who received unwanted gifts or who bought classics over the years can potentially bring in those winners for cash.

Laurie Jo Miller Farr loves walkable cities. A tourism industry professional and transplanted New Yorker by way of half-a-lifetime in London, she’s writing about the best of the bay and beyond for Yahoo, USA Today, eHow, and on


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