It is now officially considered chic to buy used clothing.

The evidence? Along with the fact that thrift stores are more popular than ever among people who can afford to shop at boutiques, high-end department store Barneys New York is now selling vintage pre-owned clothes.

Of course, these aren't exactly the kind of duds you can pick up at a Goodwill shop a vintage designer evening gown might go for as much as $3,400.

At its flagship store in New York, Barneys has opened a boutique section called Decades named after the Melrose Avenue shop owned by Cameron Silver that has become a popular source of high-end vintage clothing. Silver finds designer clothes in top condition and then sells them at his own shop or through Barneys.

Meanwhile, Barneys' Beverly Hills outlet has begun stocking vintage clothes under the Renee Lewis label; Lewis finds old clothes and alters them for a modern clientele, then puts on her own label.

"Our uptown clientele has been asking for (vintage clothing)," said Barneys spokesman Souri Kim. "They are not going to go downtown rummaging through barrels."

Decades carries everything from vintage Pucci, a 1960s designer known for wild swirls and colors, to the more traditional look of Herm & #269;s, whose handbags were favored by 1950s' screen star Grace Kelley.

"I had been approached by several retailers, but I went with Barneys," Silver said. "It is successful, it is hip and it is cool."

For Silver's unblemished high-end pieces, Barneys is charging thousands of dollars per piece a stretch for the type of bargain hunter who frequents flea markets, estate sales or Goodwill shops. But Barneys argues that items like Silver's are hard to come by. His Melrose store is where people go when they discover prized old designer clothing in their closets, because they know they will be paid handsomely for it. Some of the people who sell to Silver are professional garage-sale shoppers.

"It is about the label," said Silver. "If it is not designer, it is a really great look."

Richard Giss, a retail analyst at Deloitte & Touche, said high-end vintage clothing works at Barneys because of the nature of the chain's customers, but might not be so successful at other department stores.

"Barneys' customer is willing to spend premium dollars to get what they want," Giss said. "I can't imagine that this is going to develop into a major part of their business. It is fun and trendy, and they are meeting the needs."

Still, Barneys officials clearly see potential in the Decades line. The New York store is positioning the Decades boutique prominently on the third floor alongside sections that sell clothing made by top designers. In many cases, the new offerings are made by the same designers who created the vintage pieces sold in the Decades section.

The idea for customers, one retail consultant said, is not to be wearing the vintage from head to toe, but to create an eclectic look mixing the new pieces with the old ones.

Currently, Silver is sending his fifth shipment to Barneys, which stocks about 100 of the pieces in the store at any given time. The current Decades stock includes a lot of Gucci, Courrages and Herm & #269;s.

While the Renee Lewis pieces sold in Los Angeles tend to be less expensive than the Decades line, they still don't come cheap.

Lewis, who employs one full-time worker who helps her hand-sew the alterations to vintage items of apparel, is less concerned about the designer label than she is about the quality of the fabric and workmanship. But even without the designer label, a Lewis dress at Barneys might sell for $1,000, and a vintage lace top could cost around $500.

She says the prices are a bargain compared to what one would pay for a brand-new designer dress.

"What (Silver) is doing is selling a label," Lewis said. "What I am doing is finding vintage fabrics or pieces, and I am changing and updating them to make them fashion-forward."

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