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Two teens find fashion makeovers to be an unforgettable experience

By Sierra Robinson

ECM editor Miriam Raftery also contributed to this report

September 19, 2012 (La Mesa) – From an early age, Kim Romano developed a passion for fashion—and a keen eye for detail. At age five, she liked to sketch paper dolls in stylish outfits. By age nine, she enjoyed playing dress-up.

“My Mom would bring home bags of hand-me down clothes. I had the best closet in town,” says Romano, owner of Fashion Exchange at 8270 La Mesa Blvd. in La Mesa. She went on to attend a fashion college, then worked as a traveling makeup artist at Nordstrom’s, Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s department stores.

In 2009 she opened up her shop—which despite the weak economy has thrived. “It’s better every year,” she told ECM.

As an intern for ECM, I visited Fashion Exchange with my friend, Gracie. I’m not exactly a fashion diva. As for Gracie, whose taste in music includes punk rock, she noted, “I’m totally Goth—all my dress-up wear is black and grey!”

We were excited to see what outfits the owner and her helpful assistant, Roz Reeves, would choose for us. We would be modeling several selections for an article on the store, which carries both new and second-hand/consignment clothing and accessories, as well as vintage clothing and jewelry.

Modeling our first outfits was like taking a trip back to the past—in vintage‘50s wear. 

My pleated blue dress had a full, petticoat-style lining and short matching jacket ($56.99). I also wore a pair of pink bowtie leather pumps ($32.99) and vintage pink leather purse ($15.99). A vintage ‘50s brooch provided an elegant finishing touch ($24.99).

Gracie looked, in short, graceful in her vintage Lasso Scotland knit dress and teal jacket ($56.99) and gold sparkling Nina pumps ($19). Adding to the sophistication were classic gloves ($7.99), vintage feathered head-band style hat ($38), and dazzling flamingo brooch ($24.99), along with a doctor bag purse ($36).

We moved on to model formal wear –pleased to learn that you can buy prom gowns and party dresses here for half price or less, most worn only once.

Feeling a bit like Cinderella’s fairy godmother, I talked Gracie into modeling a stunning pink Betsy Johnson sequined dress ($126.99) and Aldo pink pumps ($26.99). She also sparkled in vintage rhinestone necklace ($34.99), clip earrings ($19.99) and bracelet ($10).

Roz chose a light blue beaded Terrani Couturi gown with a daring V-cut ($214.99). I sparkled head to toe, complete with rhinestone dangly earrings ($7), necklace ($34.99) and rhinestone Nina sandals ($14.99) tucked beneath the voluminous skirt of my designer gown.

Next came everyday wear—which brought us back into our comfort zone. 

I loved the fit of the slimming Abercrombie “Skinny” jeans (just $10!), which we paired with an orange tank top ($5.99) and G. scarf ($8.99). I really liked the cool accessories, especially the string and bead teardrop earrings ($9), as well as gold and orange bangle bracelets ($12). As touches of high fashion, Roz added Steve Madden bonze open-toe sling heels ($14.99) and gold aviator sunglasses ($10). This was my favorite outfit, though I never would have picked it for myself!

For Gracie, Roz chose black Crystal Rocks jeans ($39.99)and a satin Charlotte Russe ruffled blouse ($5.99). The latter was Gracie’s favorite find of the day. “I stay away from frills normally,” said Gracie, who enjoyed adding the feminine flair to her customarily sedate style. She looked sassy peering over a pair of faux-Gucci sunglasses ($10). Gracie also wore animal print White House high-heeled shoes ($13), a silver-tone bracelet ($15) and a necklace of faux-pearls and chains ($37.99).

Last, we were given free rein to choose our own outfits.

I picked a Western theme . (Hey, it’s East County, right?) I felt ready for the rodeo, decked out in knee- high lace-up Nina West boots ($20.99—a steal!), black tank top ($5) and fringed black Cejon shawl ($6) and gold vintage scarf tied at my neck ($4). I wore my own jeans and found a belt with large Western- style buckle, topping it off with a black sparkly cowgirl hat ($9).

Gracie took it upon herself to find what she called “summer wear.” She had a nautical flair with striped top ($8.99) that she hung off one shoulder, revealing a white tank ($6) complimented by Abercrombie jeans ($15). I grabbed a straw sun hat ($10) for her. But her favorite accessories were the Naughty Monkey strapped heels in navy and cream stripes ($17.95), which she purchased afterwards.

We passed on modeling swimsuits, though you will also find a good selection of beachwear in the store, perfect for swimming—or just basking on the shore.

Although we arrived an hour before opening, once the shop opened its doors at 10 a.m. it was swamped with customers—all eager to find fashionable wear at bargain prices.

“I prayed for three years before I opened the store,” Romano reflected, “but I never had any fear…this is my passion."

Save money with this coupon for Fashion Exchange:


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