By Flora Tsapovsky
Fashion lovers are divided into two groups: The secondhand lovers, and the ones who shy away from ‘someone else’s clothes.’ The latter usually go for well-known chains and predictable designer attire, but if you belong to the first group—well, things can get pretty confusing. Where do you shop in order to score? First, there are endless Goodwills, the go-to for cheap, gently used clothes. These can be hit or miss, and especially good Goodwill branches are usually kept in secret by those in the know. Then, there are vintage stores—think records hanging on the wall, a corset-clad salesgirl, lots of tulle and polyester. And last but not least, there are consignment stores, ranging from ‘luxury consignment’ to just your average consignment spot, to established chains like Buffalo Exchange and Crossroads.
Pricier than Goodwill and on the contemporary side of things, they often look like unassuming boutiques and may cost you the embarrassment of accidentally mistaking the clothes for new. Unlike cash-and-carry Goodwill, consignment stores can be places where deals are made; many offer store credit or cash for quality clothes you’ll bring in. The selection gets better as real estate prices in the neighborhood escalate, and given the price of real estate in certain Northern California counties, you can rest assured that the consignment market here is pretty much unbeatable.
I love secondhand, mainly for thrills and giggles, but also for the added value—always expect the unexpected, and if you don’t dwell on the previous life of a skirt or a blouse, you can end up with a very expensive find, having paid a very modest price. Consignment stores, especially in wealthy towns, are delightful treasure chests, and can offer an excellent taste map to the area’s demographic, history and style sensibilities. Equipped with this sentiment and a sharp eye, I set out to find the best stores in Marin, Sonoma and Napa counties. It wasn’t easy, but I imagine that those awesome dresses and handbags that readers will score thanks to this quest will be totally worth it.
Larkspur: What Poppy Wants
A true Marin County gem, this magical shop is a circus tent and a boudoir rolled into one. Owner Laura McGibben gathered an enviable collection of ’50s and ’60s gowns, elegant hats, vintage jewelry and designer finds, including Yamamoto and Elie Tahari, for a fraction of the original price. On a random visit, a lady was spotted shopping for a beach wedding-appropriate dress, and the options were plentiful. Alternatively, there’s a great selection of cowboy boots that McGibben brings from trips to her home state of Montana.1106
Magnolia Ave., Larkspur; 415/925-1145; whatpoppywants.com.
Mill Valley: Diamonds in the Rough
“You know how, when you visit a business and the owner is there, you get better service? Well, we’re here all the time,” says Sybil Mayfield, the owner of Diamonds. Mayfield and her husband Zach purchased the store
and rebranded it in 2006. The humble location, next to a thrift store, is a fashion magnet. On a random visit, a Chanel suit and a McQueen dress were witnessed, as well as Sam Edelman shoes, designer bags and moderately priced, hand-picked basics and accessories that passed Mayfield’s careful selection. “Our style is very modern,” she says. “I call it contemporary classics.”
448 Miller Ave., Mill Valley; 415/388-7773.
Point Reyes: Bloom Boutique
Point Reyes has cute atmosphere to spare, and Bloom, a two-year-old boutique, fits in perfectly. What singles Bloom out is the crisp, modern feel and the vacation vibes, with Cuban music in the background and smiling owner Diane Phillips behind the counter. “The name of my store, Bloom, was inspired by this beautiful poem by Anais Nin: ‘And then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was greater than the risk it took to Bloom,’” says Phillips, who collects clothes from women from Bolinas to Inverness, and often travels to Santa Barbara, where her son goes to school, to bring in chic finds. Due to its coastal location, Bloom has a good selection of coats and boots, as well as elegant dresses and stylish shoes for every occasion.
60 4th St., Point Reyes Station; 415/663-8277.
San Anselmo: Georgi and Willow
Truth be told, this is the smarter, more chic and upscale venture by mighty Goodwill—and an interesting social experiment in consumer behavior and branding. While holding onto its nonprofit premise, the corner store is bigger, brighter and better looking than your average Goodwill. Accordingly, the selection is priced at a $20 average and carefully curated with everything from H&M to Trina Turk. Three racks of almost-designer dresses, an excellent shoe selection, enough sweaters and coats to dress a stylish, all-women book club and—gasp—a well-stocked men’s section, make this inviting store a worthy destination for stylish couples and budding fashionistas on a budget. A side note: The styles tend to cater to the younger crowd, as in sheer paneling, bold prints and sky-high heels.
649 San Anselmo Ave., San Anselmo; 415/721-7917; georgiandwillow.org.
Corte Madera: Swan Dive
A local institution of sorts, the cleverly named store promises—and delivers—high-quality designer consignment with Givenchy bags and Burberry trenches on the regular. While owner Jeannie Perry is a well-loved community member, clients rave about store manager Gabrielle Manchester, who functions as a stylist and a friend. “Ultimately, it’s a neighborhood store and we have regulars,” Manchester says. “In consignment, you really do rely on the community for the merchandise, since you can’t go and just buy a collection.” Unlike many consignment stores, Swan Dive maintains active Facebook and Instagram accounts, which inform eager customers about new arrivals.
One First St., Corte Madera; 415/927-3033; swandivestyle.com.
Santa Rosa: Paper Dolls Consignment
Tucked away in a remote strip mall, Paper Dolls is a tasteful gem and the best consignment store in Santa Rosa by a long shot. Owners Debbie and Laurel McCormick, a mother-and-daughter duo, don’t settle for staples like Talbots and Target. Instead, you can find an occasional esoteric European label, cool shoes by small indie brands and smart jewelry guaranteed to attract compliments. The modern vibe is completed by a website, where the owners gush over new arrivals.
748 Montecito Center, Santa Rosa; 707/539-2727; paperdollsconsignment.com.
Every store worth shopping at is hidden in a strip mall (see: Paper Dolls Consignment). Favorites, a Healdsburg staple off of the main street, modestly awaits. Inside, Anthropologie and Banana Republic coexist with the occasional designer dress. The helpful staff is crazy about their work, and it shows.
Mitchell Center, 435 Center St., Healdsburg; 707/433-2660.
Petaluma: Red Umbrella Consignment
Arguably the best store in the area, Red Umbrella has a number of things going for it: It’s big, bright and spacious, and it always has a number of discounted racks. And if you happen to bring an anti-consignment friend, there’s a small yet tasteful selection of new clothes. Don’t miss the awesome shoe selection!
120 A Kentucky St., Petaluma; 707/778-3499; redumbrellaconsignment.com.
Calistoga: Ella Blu Resale
This four-year-old consignment boutique has an upscale, classy feel, and not by accident: “I tell my consignors to bring Banana Republic and up,” says owner Kate Buck. The cozy, multi-room space is situated in an old building on a picturesque street, and indeed contains everything from J.Crew to Nordstrom. Wandering between the rooms is a pleasant treasure hunt. Buck, who calls the store’s style ‘Napa Valley casual,’ wants her customers to feel comfortable, and testifies that customers and loyal consignors come from as far as Sacramento.
1125 Lincoln Ave., Calistoga; 707/942-5600.
Sonoma: SISTERS Consignment Couture
Not too far from the bustling Sonoma Plaza, SISTERS always has your back, whether it’s a festive dress you’re looking for, or a casual striped shirt. Owner Chris Johnson named the store with affection to her own sisters, and the shopping experience isn’t unlike browsing a sister’s or a best friend’s closet—exciting, but thanks to the friendly prices, guilt-free.
117 W. Napa St., Sonoma; 707/933-8422; sonomaconsignmnet.com.