Clothing that doesn't sell and isn't reclaimed is donated to nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping women land professional jobs, including Baltimore's Suited to Succeed.
One woman stands out for Torrible.
"She came up to me at an event and told me she got her clothes for her job interview and for her first few months of work from my shop's donations," said Torrible, who opened Wear It's At six years ago. "I love hearing that I helped make that happen."
Suited to Succeed provides business clothing — more than 14,000 pieces last year — to underprivileged women seeking to re-enter the workforce. The group recently named Torrible its "Giving Goddess of the Decade."
"You can just see the change in these women when they put on a nice suit," said Del Henry, a manager at Suited to Succeed, located on Light Street in Baltimore. "They walk out of here with their heads held up."
Torrible also has assisted the Cinderella Program, which offers needy Baltimore-area teens a wide selection of prom gowns, and has donated coats to homeless shelters and clothing to the Red Cross to help women who have lost their wardrobes to fires.
Torrible is not alone in helping others. Roland Park's Re Deux consignment store donates unclaimed items to the House of Ruth, the Red Cross, church thrift shops and several overseas organizations. The shop, which opened three years ago, just gave a dozen ball gowns to a sale to benefit Johns Hopkins Hospital.
"There is a home for everything," said Jan Braun, Re Deux's co-owner. "We don't throw anything away. We recycle."
Wear It's At started in a storefront on Main Street and has since expanded into two adjacent spaces. One section of the store is filled with top-of-the-line fashions bearing designer labels and, in some cases, the original price tags — with a marked-down price to lure buyers. The other two sections feature more moderately priced clothing, as well as jewelry, shoes, handbags and accessories.
The shop, which stocks all sizes, has done well since it opened in 2006, Torrible said.
"We have made consigners a lot of money at a time when many of them needed income," Torrible said. "They trusted us with high-end merchandise, and we took care of it for them. We have built a great customer base, and many keep coming back."
Adele R. Meyer, executive director of the Michigan-based National Association of Resale Professionals, said she could point to many consignment ventures that have succeeded and expanded despite, and in many cases because of, the recent recession.
"This industry does thrive in a slow economy," Meyer said. "Satisfied buyers spread the word about a shop. And once buyers are hooked on resale, they don't often go back to spending more money on high-priced merchandise."
The industry generates about $13 billion in annual revenue nationwide, according to Meyer's association, citing data from First Research, a market analysis firm. There are more than 25,000 resale, consignment and nonprofit thrift shops in the United States, the association says on its website.
Vinita Gupta, on a recent first visit to Wear It's At, called the shop "totally a find." She selected a few purchases from a new-arrivals carousel and promised to return.
Manager Molly Brooks shopped at Wear It's At before finally taking a job there.
"Before I worked here, I spent hours here," said Brooks, showing off a sleek black ensemble — an off-the-shoulder top with leggings — that she purchased at the shop. "There are great things here, and you can sell them back. It's a clothes game that is lots of fun."
Torrible, 48, a wife and mother of four, came to retail after 20 years spent working in gerontology and advocating for the elderly in the halls of Congress. She took a break from the job market while her children were young.
But after she sold a designer purse on eBay, she began exploring the world of resale.
"In gerontology, I felt like I was in a constant battle with politics," Torrible said. "I think I am still making a difference in people's lives without those struggles."
One of her first customers was a 93-year-old resident of an apartment above the shop. She left the store with shoes, a handbag and a friend in Torrible, who frequently offers her upstairs neighbor meals and rides to doctors' appointments.
Torrible freely gives advice about what she thinks looks best on her customers.
Monyka Berrocosa, founder of MyCity4Her Inc., an online business site for women, recently honored Torrible with Baltimore's Spirited Woman in Business award.
Torrible dressed Berrocosa in clothing from the shop for the annual awards luncheon. Berrocosa bought the entire ensemble: a black cotton dress from Calvin Klein, shoes by Nicole Miller and a bracelet from Ralph Lauren.
"Stephanie is making things work in a challenging economy," Berrocosa said. "She is doing amazing things with a store in Reisterstown."