It's consignment sale time in Charlotte – a twice-a-year frenzy of gently used children's clothing, toys and accessories.
My introduction to seasonal sales came via nine bins of baby gear.
During my family's move from Plaza-Midwood to Lake Norman four years ago, those Rubbermaid bins jammed with sleepers, bibs and adorable clothes were an albatross.
It was embarrassing that we had amassed such a collection (many with the tags still attached) for our 18-month-old son, an only child at the time. I had no idea what to do with all the stuff.
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I stumbled on a sale in my new suburban neighborhood and was floored. The place was packed with women filling up laundry baskets with clothes, calling dibs on Little Tikes outdoor toys and testing strollers.
I found my son a winter Lands' End jacket for $8. I was hooked. (Small disclaimer: I'm now a consignor at that sale, one of those listed on page 2E).
The difference between seasonal sales and more traditional consignment stores is a matter of personal preference. Deals can be found at both, but the shopping experience may differ.
“For me, I sell what I have, and then I have money to buy my children clothes for the next season,” says Spencer Daniel, mother of two and coordinator of the Divine Consign Show in south Charlotte.
Daniel's approach is echoed by many consignment-savvy moms.
Children grow so fast, spending a bundle on clothes they are going to wear for one season seems wasteful. That's even more true when it comes to high-end children's clothing.
Divine Consign got its start in Raleigh in 2005 and is staging its third sale in Charlotte in October.
The sale accepts gently used high-end clothing and new overstocks from boutiques. Among the lines that are sold: The Plantation Shop, Ragsland, Castles and Crowns and Baby Lulu.
If you want to shop any consignment sale like a pro, there are a few things to know before you go.
Follow the rules. Some sales don't allow strollers. Others only accept cash. Some sales close briefly for restocks and price adjustments. Some don't have public bathrooms. Do your homework before you go.
You don't need to be a consignor to shop the sales, but it doesn't hurt. Consignors typically get the chance to shop early, and scope out the action by volunteering during sale setup. Some sales offer early-bird access to non-consignors for a fee.
Shop in a range of sizes. “Different brands make different sizes,” Daniel says. “A size 4 in one line doesn't fit the same as another. I'm always looking a size up and a size down.”
Don't over-buy just because it's cheaper. Consider how your child wears clothes, and the fit before you load up your basket. The pristine Hanna Andersson dress and leggings I found for my daughter for $6 (about $60 retail) at a spring sale was a triple-treat: the price, the quality and the ability to stretch the outfit into the fall with some layering.
There are no returns. “Check for tears or stains,” Daniel says. “We do our best to check things as they come in, but we can't catch everything.”
Shop nice. It's not unheard of for lines to form in pre-dawn hours for numbered tickets to gain entry. Vying for Gymboree can get heated, as silly as that sounds. Whether you're a consignment sale vet or casual shopper, there's always room for courtesy among the crowded racks.