PALM BEACH, Fla. — On the sunny island of Palm Beach, black-tie galas are common, Sunday brunch is $100 and a beachside hotel room can cost more than $2,000 a night in high season. But there are bargains to be found. The snowbird's paradise has a thriving high-end consignment market for designer and often barely worn castoffs.
The island's busy society calendar means twice-daily costume changes in a land of labels that include Chanel, Hermes, Valentino, Gucci and Prada. Many of these garments and accessories make their way to a handful of exclusive consignment boutiques and a few even trickle down to bargain thrift shops.
"They sometimes don't even wear it. They're shopping constantly. If it's last season they can't wear it anymore. And they wear it all just once, including the shoes and the handbag," says Monique Javarone, owner of Fashionista Palm Beach, an upscale boutique that specializes in vintage.
Often store owners go to multi-million dollar estates and sort through racks of designer clothing for clients who don't want the stigma of being seen in a consignment store or who have too much to transport.
"It's wonderful here. You can look like a million for under a hundred," said Paulette Cooper Noble, author of "Bargain Shopping in Palm Beach and Broward Counties."
While the stores are full of colorful, lightweight Missoni, Pucci and even Lilly Pulitzer garments on the lower end, there's one label that reigns.
"The thing that everybody wants year after year is Chanel. It's still the No. 1 consignment handbag. Even the shoes are still No. 1 ... it's that very classic, never go out of style look," said Sean Connolly, owner of the Paradise Lost boutiques.
At Encore Plus Boutique in Boca Raton, Ayla Habibi said Chanel purses are also her No. 1 seller and range from $800 to $4,700 (sold new, the purses can exceed $5,000). Handbags are the most popular items at most of the stores, where Hermes and Louis Vuitton are close seconds.
"The Chanel and Hermes fly out the door," said Lisa Stark, owner of Serendipity in Boca Raton, who also posts items on Instagram. "As soon as we post things, the phone starts ringing."
When she first started more than a decade ago, the in-demand items were ball gowns and St. John, a luxury knitwear brand, but now she says women dress more casually.
The Palm Beach hand-me-downs are so good that fashionistas from all over the world vie for them online. A handful of the stores have started selling their items at upscale web retailers like 1stdibs.
"Half of what we sell goes overseas," said Javarone, who says hers online business has doubled in recent years.
Many customers seek out the store after first seeing her items online.
If the upscale boutiques aren't interested, the clothes and accessories may make their way to some of the area's thrift shops. The thrift stores are also a good spot for lower-end designers like Tory Burch, Lilly Pulitzer and Milly.
"We do get Hermes from time to time, men's ties, scarves, pocket squares," said Goodwill Embassy Boutique assistance store manager Becky Shore. The store recently had Christian Dior china and sold a slightly chipped Baccarat crystal horse for $199. She says it's not uncommon to get a collection of the same designer all at once from an estate, like a collection of Judith Leiber bags.
The deals are so good even the rich aren't passing them up. Many of the socialites who come in to consign items, often leave with a purchase.
"They buy the same things (they sell)," said Connolly. "They bring in Hermes scarves, they'll consign two or three at a time and they'll walk out with one."
Kelli Kennedy, The Associated Press