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Junior League

Kids are those rare people who actually need a whole new wardrobe every season. The clothes, though, needn't be new.

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For middle-income parents, the cost of raising a child conceived in the past year from birth to age 22 is projected at almost $1 million, says U.S. News & World Report. Not that anyone's counting, of course. Children are a magical and precious lot. But it's easy to grasp why hand-me-downs are a time-honored tradition and how consignment and thrift shops dealing in kids' apparel prove a handy resource for practical parents.

"People either walk up the stairs and say, 'I can't handle this,' or dig right in," says owner Joan Blake of Second Act (1046 Madison Avenue, at 80th Street, second floor; 988-2440). For 36 years, her shop has been packed with the quickly outgrown essentials you'd find at Gap Kids (blazers, party dresses, sweaters, slickers, snowsuits, boots) as well as more uncommon, beautifully made items from Jacadi or Bon Point -- all, as they say, "gently worn." Carrying sizes infant to 12 for girls and up to 20 for boys, Second Act also frequently houses a full selection of in-line skates, hockey equipment, and ballet and tap shoes, and there's an ever-in-demand rack of tutus and fairy-princess costumes. Children's books too.

Second Cousin (142 Seventh Avenue South; 929-8048) has a small selection, but it's all high-quality merchandise, tending somewhat toward girls' fashion. A nearly new winter jacket is $15; it probably sold for four or five times that amount last winter. Hand-knit sweaters for $10. A wool blazer for $20. A crushed-velvet Betsey Johnson dress is $25, with simpler cotton jumpers running as low as $6. Once-worn party dresses range from $30 to $100.

Because of stringent acceptance specifications for consigned merchandise, Children's Resale (303 East 81st Street; 734-8897) has outstanding stuff. It's quite organized, bargains abound, and there are monthly specials and bi-annual clearance sales. Sizes range from infant to 16 for boys and girls, and the store even has a "couture rack" with items from Catimini, Monica Noél, and Petite Bateau for $15 and $25. A terry-cloth beach jacket from Barneys is $20. Sam Jordon, a regular customer, is enthusiastic: "The quality and prices are the best! A lot of clothes still have the original tags. You have to really look, but they're there." The shop also keeps a "wish list" for more elemental requests -- a crib, a stroller, a pair of crocheted booties -- to ease the strain on new parents' time and bankroll, allowing them to put money toward more important things. Like college.


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