Designer dresses at half the price

If your wardrobe is fit to burst, why not make some money by selling your unwanted garments? One Suffolk shop has just the answer. By fashion writer KATY EVANS

Fancy owning a designer dress but at half the usual designer price? Then a Suffolk shop has just the answer. By fashion writer KATY EVANS.

HANDS up who hasn't overspent on clothes at least once in their life. For shopaholics, the sales can prove disastrous when items normally never considered somehow become 'must have' purchases, purely because of so-called bargain price tags. And how about all those clothes hanging forlornly in wardrobes because their owners have either put on/lost weight and can't fit into them anymore but are keeping them 'just in case'?

As for shoes, the Carrie Bradshaw and Imelda Marcos's among us are guilty of hoarding hundreds of pairs for every occasion imaginable - from knee high boots to summer flip flops.

Few women can say hand on heart that they wear, or need, all the clothes and shoes they own. But rather than letting them clutter up the cupboards any longer, why not recoup some of that vast and occasionally irrational expenditure by turning your clothes pile into a cash pile?

The Dress Circle in Ipswich has been selling unwanted and often unworn clothing for the best part of 20 years.

Now owned by Carole Emery, the shop moved from its old home in Upper Brook Street to just a few doors down at Fore Street last November.

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“I used to be a customer of the Dress Circle and when the business came up for sale I thought it would be an interesting thing to do as I'd always wanted to run my own shop,” says Carole, who moved to Suffolk 20 years ago to be with her current partner.

Carole says the shop's present location is attracting far more customers as it benefits from more passing trade, being on the corner of Fore Street and Tacket Street, half way between the town centre and the docks development.

“Some people don't even realise this is the same dress agency as it looks so different now - more like a boutique.”

The Dress Circle stocks all manners of labels, from high street retailers such as Marks and Spencer, Monsoon, Karen Millen and Whistles, to designer togs by Versace, Fenn Wright and Manson, Burberry, and Louis Vuitton.

The shop also receives bags by the likes of Mulberry, Burberry and Radley, “which are around £140 in Debenhams but half that here,” adds Carole.

“People come here to get high quality things at around 50-75% less than the price they would have been in the shops,” says Carole.

A selection of second-hand ball gowns has also just arrived in store, including labels such as Bernshaw, Debut (Debenhams), Monsoon and even Amanda Wakeley, who was one of Princess Diana's favoured designers.

And talking of princesses: after wining the title of Bishops Stortford Carnival Princess at the age of 17, Carole told the audience she wanted to own her own boutique one day.

“And now all these years later it's actually happened,” she laughs.

Carole's first job was with John Lewis in Cambridge, after which she went to manage Dorothy Perkins back in Bishops Stortford, during which time she modelled in local fashion shows for the store.

She then spent time as a beauty consultant for Charles of the Ritz, a cosmetics company which was part of the Yves Saint Laurent organisation. Having then worked as a bistro manager in Epping, Carole moved to Suffolk 20 years ago and went travelling with her partner before settling back in Nacton.

Carole's advice for anyone wanting to sell is this: “If you've got clothes you don't want that have been worn once or twice or perhaps never, if they are in good condition you can bring them in and we'll give you 50% of the price we sell them for.”

The clothes are kept in the shop for a maximum of three months, after which they are given to a charity store, unless the owners go back to retrieve them.

“What sells best are things you can't normally buy in Ipswich, such as Karen Millen, Nougat, and James Lakeland. Tops by those labels are normally around £80-£90 and here I sell them for £20-£30,” she says.

Although Carole admits there's a lot of hard work involved, she clearly loves her job. “I enjoy meeting all the different people and like seeing all the labels that come in.

“I've been shopping since I was 15 so I know most if the brands. I don't think you could be in this business of you weren't interested in fashion,” she smiles.

Turning unwanted clothes into cash can be easier than you thought. But shopaholics be warned - you may go in with good intentions of making money but the bargain prices might make it extremely difficult not to leave with more than you took in.

The Dress Circle is at 5-7 Fore Street, Ipswich, Suffolk. Call 01473 258513.

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