Dear Readers: Spring has sprung; you may be thinking of sprucing up your wardrobe, getting out of sweatpants and getting back to some semblance of normal, including your fashions.

If you’re looking for a great deal, you might think, “Let’s head to the outlet store.” I’ll bet you see the outlet store as a repository for department store over-runs, department store off-season items, and a place to get a great bargain.

But hold on. Big-name designers have begun creating lines of fashion items specifically for their own branded outlet stores.

The name is there, and the price is low? What a deal. But, the quality is low as well. The Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov) is advising consumers to be aware.

Thin, lesser-quality fabrics are often used, along with poor stitching; the sewing skill is not there. Cheaper buttons and zippers are used; patterns may not line up. All signs of lower-quality merch.

These items are not left over from the department store; they are manufactured especially for the outlet store. It’s certainly a choice we have as consumers; just caveat emptor — be aware of what you’re purchasing.

— Heloise

P.S. There are discount department stores (you know their names) that carry designer, name-branded items. Their items may very well be left over from the department store.

— Heloise

What is wicker

Dear Heloise: Remember wicker from the 1980s? It appears to be making a comeback. But what is wicker? A fiber?

 — Shauna S. in Tennessee

Shauna, yes, I’ve been seeing more wicker about. The term “wicker,” however, refers not to the material, but to the actual act of constructing the piece. Wicker, some say, is derived from the word “woven.”

What’s woven? Reed, willow, rattan ... strong, durable fibers that are lightweight. Indoor, outdoor — look for wicker everywhere.

— Heloise

Send a money-saving or timesaving hint to Heloise, P.O. Box 795001, San Antonio, TX 78279-5001, or you can fax it to 1-210-HELOISE or email it to Heloise@Heloise.com.

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