NEW YORK (AP) Audra Coble dresses her 14-month-old son in style, occasionally splurging on brand-name labels such as Marie Chantal and Baby CZ.
The outfits can retail in the $100 range, but Coble usually pays much less. She shops off-season sales and at consignment stores and even surfs Internet auctioneer eBay Inc. in search of good deals.
''There's no way I'd buy some of these things otherwise. I wouldn't be able to afford them,'' the Florence, S.C., stay-at-home mom says. ''These are boutique brands.''
Second-hand is increasingly becoming first-choice for price-conscious parents, thanks to the Internet and high-end consignment shops and swap sales. Influenced by the growing popularity of upscale clothing, furniture and other baby products, parents who want their offspring to look great but don't want to spend a lot are behind the change.
A decade ago, there might have been some stigma to buying someone else's castoffs, but with pricey baby clothing becoming more common, the misgivings have all but vanished.
''Everyone's doing it,'' said Ron Shaheen, owner of ConsignKidz in Atlanta, where customers can pick up gently worn Oilily baby sweaters that cost $185 new, but in her store go for $119. ''It's not an embarrassment to buy used clothing or consign it. People think, 'Who cares if my friends know?'''
In La Jolla, Calif., hundreds of parents line up to buy and sell used baby items at the Scripps Memorial Hospital baby swap sale. La Jolla is a wealthy suburb of San Diego, and the location attracts many parents interested in used, high-end items.
Ann Demange resold her daughter's high chair for $50 roughly half of what she paid for it new.
''We also sold toys and a baby swing,'' said the San Diego mom, who shops for Gymboree-brand baby clothes on eBay and has sold some of her daughter's outgrown outfits there as well.
''I do it to save money. If a piece is going to wear really well and it's something I really like, I don't mind buying it secondhand,'' she said. ''Selling some clothes online has also really worked out well. Sometimes I've gotten more than what I paid for an outfit if an item's in demand, especially the next year.''
Wendy Liebmann, president of WSL Strategic Retail, a consulting firm in New York, said the popularity and social acceptability of used baby items reflects a similar trend among adults.
''Take vintage clothing, for example. Grown-ups have become much more comfortable with wearing something someone else once wore, especially if it's the right brand or label,'' she said. ''A consumer now says, 'If I can do it, why not for my baby who's going to outgrow in a minute-and-a-half whatever I buy them anyway?'''
She notes, though, that resale and consignment is generally for items that parents can't just run out and buy easily and cheaply themselves.
''It's got to be brand, and or quality of fabrication,'' she said. ''This isn't for anything you're going to pick up for a few dollars and wash several times and that's it.''
Alan Fields, co-author of the book ''Baby Bargains,'' sees nothing wrong with buying second-hand, though he cautions that would-be buyers need to make sure they're getting a good deal especially when it comes to buying larger items, such as strollers or playpens, on the Internet.
''Shipping is a major factor especially when it comes to bulkier items. You've always got to ask how much that's going to cost. Damage with respect to shipping is another problem,'' he said.
''You also want to check if the thing is going to come with instructions on how to put it together. Sometimes you can download that from a Web site, but not always.''
He also recommends parents buy new car seats and cribs for safety reasons because it can be difficult to know a used item's full history such as whether a car seat was in a crash, or whether a crib has been the subject of a recall.
In some cases, Fields says the best deal may not be the cheapest.
''Buying a car seat, for example, that is more money but has some additional safety features most parents look at that as worth the investment,'' he said. ''It costs more but it might be easier to use, which means parents are more likely to strap their children in correctly.''
He also notes that discount stores are doing a better job of providing inexpensive, but stylish, baby products, which means that second-hand may not always be the least expensive a belief shared by Coble, the South Carolina mom.
''I do buy used clothes from consignment stores but I find you have to watch the prices,'' Coble said. ''It's probably cheaper at Target or Wal-Mart unless you're looking for a name brand.''
She also looks for sales, noting that, ''You can find really good stuff if you look carefully. If you go to some of the bigger Gap stores, for example, they usually have a rack where you can get things for $1.99.''
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