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Clothes off their backs and onto the rack

Note to readers: Pre-eBay, pre-Internet, pre- Planet Hollywood, positively prehistoric. Once upon a time you could buy celebrity-worn discards direct from a walk-in store. That's what this clotheshorse learned after happening upon A Star Is Worn in August 1990. Here's a story that that can still thread the needle.

LOS ANGELES -- "You mean I can really buy something that belonged to Farrah Fawcett? Those are her pants?"

Fred Howe, store manager of A Star Is Worn, says that's a typical reaction from tourists looking to develop something of a skin-tight relationship with their favorite celebrity.

Local shoppers at Hollywood's answer to Goodwill are a bit more pragmatic. "They're not so much concerned with who wore it, but if it's a good deal or if it's a trendy piece," Howe says. "They figure that somebody's already done their shopping for them."

The store was founded four years ago by Sonny Bono's lesser-known former wife, Suzie Coelho. She had become good pals with Cher, Bono's most prominent ex-.

The two women thought it would make sense to sell their used duds to commoners. They encouraged other stars to do likewise. Explains Howe, "Cher buys lots and lots of stuff. It's very expensive, and she only has X-amount of closet space. So it really is just a matter of logistics."

Cher, whose used clothes are always in high demand, has "such a close relationship" with designer Bob Mackie, Howe says. "I mean, he even customized her sweatpants. It's incredible."

Cher tends to discard clothes as if they were paper towels. Lots of stars are that way.

"They're so much in the public eye that they don't want to be seen in the same thing too often," Howe says. "I don't think it's good PR for them."

Profits from sales are divided three ways, he says. A Star Is Worn gets a cut, as does the star. A donation also is made to the star's favorite charity. Howe won't name the percentages or the charities, but says the authenticity of the clothing is verified either through the stars themselves or their "personal assistants."

"When it actually comes to cleaning out the closet, though, they don't let the personal assistant do that," Howe says. "They do it themselves."

Imagine Cher thumbing through her glitter gowns and various see-through pants. "Yuck, they got you, babe."

A Star Is Worn doesn't "discriminate" against fading stars, but sometimes you've gotta draw the line, Howe says.

"If a celebrity came in and just gave us things that were all ripped and torn and stained, we'd politely say that we couldn't take those things. We like to have things that are in good condition."

For $600 you can buy a collection of four shirts worn by James Garner in the movie Sunset. Beneath the Sunset display is a rack full of Stevie Wonder's shirts, sweaters and pants priced to move at $35 to $50 apiece.

But the store stocks mostly women's clothing. Gowns, sweaters, blouses, leisure wear. Even a "black reptile" bustier worn by Lisa Hartman and available for a scant $110.

"Men just aren't the same with their clothes as women," Howe says. "Women will go out and buy a $2,000 gown, wear it once and then don't want to be seen in it again. A man will go out and buy a tux and keep it for 10 years."

The most expensive item in the store on this day is a glittery waiter's jacket worn by Prince on his Purple Rain tour. Seven thousand dollars -- and cheap at the price.

"Prince is very legendary," Howe says.

Those with less legendary budgets might want to opt for a plastic guitar pick with "Prince" printed on it. Only $195.

Other eyecatchers include a slinky black gown worn by Cybill Shepherd on Moonlighting ("a steal at $2,000"); a sleevless, red cotton dress filed out by Catherine Bach on The Dukes of Hazzard ($145) and a Farrah wool tube skirt ($65).

There's also a decidedly unglamorous bargain rack, where shoppers can take 50 percent off the marked price. A strikingly shabby tennis shirt worn by Victoria Principal is only $10. Or how about a Heather (The Fall Guy) Thomas sweater vest for the low, low price of $50?

Howe says the store may get a costume Madonna wore both on tour and on the cover of Rolling Stone. Besides that, it was created by a really trendy designer.

"That's a great threefold combination," he says. "A very salable, high-end piece."

Or maybe you'd rather have a Mindy (The Facts of Life) Cohn tank top. Only $12.50. And probably available anytime.