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The Buyer’s Market
If you're not shopping thrift stores, you should be. Score a wedding dress, designer handbags, maternity clothes and other bargain buys.

U-turn Consignment Boutique photo by Adam Ryan Morris

Yes, Milwaukee ranks low on high-fashion lists (as detailed on Page 60). There is no Saks or Barneys here. No Nordstorm (yet). But the city still possesses a wealth of personal style and plenty of stylish personalities who know that thrifting can reap significant rewards. Go beyond the mainstream chains – from Goodwill to the Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul to Play It Again Sports – and you’ll find that the area’s independent thrift stores are rich in high-fashion at friendly prices. From the best return on consignment to the top place for scoring designer duds and the most pleasant fitting rooms, these superlatives take the work out of bargain hunting.

A photo guide to poppin' tags at some thrift stores around MKE.
Boutique Vibe

➸ U-turn Consignment Boutique (6905 W. North Ave., Wauwatosa, 414-443-0143) has, what are by thrift-store standards, sparse racks of clothes. But this design is completely intentional. And it works. Jessica Brittingham and Deb Kruse see that their shelves and racks are lined with an array of looks, from a sailor-inspired Betsey Johnson strapless bustier dress to a bright blue “upcycled” skirt made with mitten-sized pockets. The selection is just enough to inspire you to try that sleeveless red shift dress, without being overwhelmed.

Shop for a Cause

➸ At Well-Bred Bargains (890 Elm Grove Rd., Elm Grove, 262-754-5579), 100 percent of proceeds go to the Elmbrook Humane Society. We don’t need puppy-dog eyes to convince us to buy pretty printed silk scarves, but they sure don’t hurt.

Most Personal

➸ Two words: personal shoppers. As long as you make an appointment, Once Again Consignment Boutique (15790 W. Capitol Dr., Brookfield, 262-781-4747) will grant you a shopping buddy to help find what you need. Add in meticulous organization by clothing type, and you’re in for a breezy shopping excursion. Its best-kept secret happens to be the large selection of ’70s-era Willis-style Coach handbags – at a fraction of the current $300 retail price. Secret no more.

Hear more about thrifting on WUWM’s “Lake Effect” June 11 at 10 a.m.
A Room of One’s Own

➸ Never underestimate the power of a large, clean fitting room – a concept Retique has grasped with both arms (190 N. Broadway, 414-273-1797). This Goodwill offshoot features a slew of midrange designer styles, but save your pennies for the mint-condition cashmere sweaters. Retique also offers a frequent buyer program with bonuses such as 5 percent off purchases $20 or more.

Best Return (On Investment) Policy

➸ Not only does ReThreads (2943 N. Humboldt Blvd., 414-263-1690) offer designer steals (Ferragamo signature flats, a funky fuchsia Tibi knit dress), but it also features two selling options. Sell your old duds to ReThreads and receive either 30 percent of the projected resale value in cash or 50 percent in trade. Those Ferragamos just got more affordable.

Biggest Consignment Sale 

➸ A large room filled with racks and racks of clothes, a stage filled with jewelry, purses and shoes. People everywhere. This is Divine Consign (multiple locations, divineconsignsale.com, 414-213-6557), a consignment sale held three times per year across the city. It takes sifting to find the goods, but from teens to the elderly, the range of customers reveals the sale’s broad appeal. Also appealing: the cupcakes for sale.

Wedding Party

➸ Before January, Tasha Ventimiglia’s wedding dress sat in her closet collecting dust. She wouldn’t have a reason to use it again. Other women must have this problem, she thought. So she and her sister, Molly Nogalski, opened Miss to Mrs. Bridal (by appointment only; 2893 Main St., Suite C, East Troy, 262-684-2899). They consign wedding dresses and outfits for mothers of brides, and more than a third of the stock has never been worn. It’s certainly a good way to avoid wedding-related sticker shock.

Fur Traders

➸ East Town Women’s Shop (159 N. Broadway, 414-273-1030) is the place your mother, and possibly her mother, shopped when looking for a good designer bargain. But that doesn’t mean the store is dated. Modern brands such as BCBG and DKNY line the walls, and the perennial treat comes every fall when the store carries delicate furs – for those who like their winter wear lush.


➸ With its funky home furnishings, prime Brady Street location and laid-back vibe, Dragonfly (1117 E. Brady St., 414-271-1244) is quintessential East Side. There are tons of quirky accessories for women, but from a telephone tie bar to brass-colored cuff links featuring a basketball player, there are also plenty of men’s accessories that can pump up the polish factor with a heavy dose of personality.

Plus One

➸ Newly opened Playroom Closet (1320 S. 108th St., West Allis, 414-258-0700) and Heavenly Kidzz (2675 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., 414-294-4040) are an expectant mother’s godsend. Both are stocked with newborn essentials. Added bonus: From shoes to tailored blazers, Heavenly Kidzz also has a prime stock of maternity wear.

Teen Scene

➸ A relatively new secondhand and consignment shop, Swanky Seconds (2223 E. Capitol Dr., Shorewood, 414-313-4042) sits on a bustling tony strip in Shorewood, near the high school and across from St. Robert’s grade school. The store’s location and its policy of rarely taking consignment items older than three seasons make it worth a stop. A treat for its young neighbors: The selection includes prom dresses.

Hidden Treasure

➸ In the back corner of the Riverview Antique Market (175 S. Water St., 414-453-6936), flanked by brightly colored Barnum & Bailey circus posters, is a tightly packed vintage treasure trove just waiting for a plundering. Heir Apparent’s offerings are what today’s luxury brands are trying to re-create. A 1960s plaid trapeze coat by Milwaukee designer Robert Hyman? Check. A 1920s navy blue Yves Saint Laurent cashmere jacket for $39? The stuff of fashion dreams.

Web Savvy

➸ Keeping track of a favorite shop’s inventory can be laborious, especially when it specializes in secondhand wares, which usually means a selection that changes daily. But freshly updated websites can make all the difference. Levine’s (5510 W. Center St., 414-459-1123), which has one heckuva shoe wall, also has a blog that details current trends and styles those trends using items from the store.

Steady Style


➸ The website for Elite Repeat (2205 N. Calhoun Rd., Brookfield, 262-789-9359) bluntly and explicitly explains that the only brands it consigns are those on the high end of your typical mall, or better. A single store visit confirms the elite claims. It’s filled with plenty of basics – work-appropriate khakis and cardigans – as well as a separate room of secondhand sartorial rarities. Bonus points for consistency and a consistently fine selection.

This article appears in the City Guide 2013 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.
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