Racking up a rich array of discounts Fashion: For 32 years now, discriminating shoppers have lined up to buy Baltimore socialites' cast-off glamour clothes at Evergreen House.

September 26, 1996|By Vida Roberts | Vida Roberts,SUN FASHION EDITOR

An article in yesterday's Today section about the Best Dressed Sale at Evergreen Carriage House gave incorrect dates for the sale. The event takes place Oct. 3-5 at 4545 N. Charles St. For more information, call (410) 955-9341.

The Sun regrets the error.

Women were lined up early this morning waiting for a chance to buy designer glamour at designer jeans prices. It's opening day of the Best Dressed Sale and Boutique at the Evergreen Carriage House on North Charles Street, and racks jammed with status labels like Feraud, Lauren, St. John, Chanel and Escada wait for the onslaught of thrifty but discriminating shoppers.

The fact that these status clothes have been previously worn by status socialites doesn't deter the growing number of women who make the sale an annual excursion.


The Women's Board of the Johns Hopkins Hospital has held the sale for 32 years. The event may be bigger and noisier today, but the quiet and discreet way these women gather only the best of Baltimore's hand-me-downs hasn't changed much since the sale's beginnings.

It all started as a round of annual private parties in the genteel homes of Women's Board members where they sold their worn but fashionable frocks to each other and their friends.

The list of donors has grown, and sale items have expanded to include men's and children's clothing, but today's committee members are just as selective about the pedigree of the clothes they will accept from contributors, whose names are prominent in the social, professional and business registers.

"We send solicitation cards to some 1,400 donors," says Carolyn Meredith, "and if the quality of the clothes is not consistent, we will drop the name from our list. With more and more things coming in we are nearly growing out of space and we have to be selective."

During two collection weeks in spring and fall, Women's Board members and volunteers work a schedule that would drop a triathlete. Cars pull up to the old stable of the Evergreen mansion, clothes are checked in against the donor's registered card. The contribution is appraised for its tax-deductible value and then passed on to other women who check the garments, tag them, sort out the sizes and finally price them.

Nancy Randolph, this year's co-chair, keeps a running jump ahead of the incoming inventory, stacking boxes, loading racks and sorting shoes.

The donors are as diverse in style as their contributions. A well-regarded regular stops with her uniformed housekeeper and driver and drops off assorted cocktail and evening glitter. An old gal delivers a bundle heavy on the traditional and tweedy.

The ladies of the Women's Board are gracious, and each contribution is greeted with delight and hearty thanks. Longtime contributors get a warm social hug, an acknowledgment of belonging.

Some of the dear old things contribute dear old things, often dressmaker suits and shirtwaists from specialty stores and labels that have passed out of existence -- John Simms, Dorothy Lovell, Mildred Davis, The French Shop.

"There's room for some of them here, especially if they are of excellent quality," says Debbie Kurz. "We get older ladies shopping the sale who are looking for just that sort of thing."

The young and trendy may want them, too, and this year's sale is well-supplied with the Ultrasuedes and double-knits that are back in style.

It is the super-labels, however, that get the most attention. They are singled out, pored over and even coveted. The holding room for designer wear is thick with Ungaro, Donna Karan, Bill Blass, Scaasi and Valentino -- some still wrapped in Saks, Bergdorf, Bendel and Barney bags.

Melanie Sablehaus, who volunteered to model a snappy military Ralph Lauren jacket, got in the spirit. "I'm going home and bring in some of my old gowns and take another look at these," she said as she went on to try a Karan jumpsuit and Chanelesque pink top of lesser stature. Designer labels have that effect on women, and the Lacroix always looks greener on the other side of the fence.

It is the chance of finding dream clothes that keeps the shoppers coming back year after year.

"I have been doing this sale with my friend Leighton for at least 10 years," says Gay Legg. "Some people go to spas, we go to the Best Dressed Sale. We will rearrange our schedules, car pools and families' lives to get there. We finally decided to let our friend Jane Mason in on our day because she's a different size and she bakes the coffeecake we have while we're waiting for the doors to open."

They shop for each other and their collective nine children. "We know which daughter needs a new dance school dress, the perfect parka for one of the kids, a replacement for a husband's cummerbund," says Mason.

She doesn't think of it as economizing, but as the ultimate way to recycle, beat retail prices and help to support worthy hospital projects. She also brags about the Armani suit that cost $70.

Economizing can be done gracefully. Louise Ingalls, the late society page editor of the late News-American, was an early supporter of the Best Dressed Sale. As a widow with two children, she frankly admitted that she could not possibly have dressed up her busy gala calendar without it.

To the young buds, who were appalled that she would wear someone else's clothing, Mrs. Ingalls advised: "You can be assured, my dears, the women who owned these gowns bathed regularly."

The Best Dressed Sale at 4545 N. Charles St. is open today and tomorrow from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. with all remaining stock at half price. Call (410) 955-9341.

Pub Date: 9/26/96

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