23 April 2012

Wheeling and Dealing

Every year for the past 64 years the Wheeler School on the East Side of Providence has held a clothing and more sale to benefit school programs. As the East Side is the wealthiest area of Providence, with a lot of "old money" some of the clothing donated is really high end. If they have Fendi bags and St. John suits now imagine the treasures they must have had at the first sale in 1948. Elsa Schiaparelli gowns? Dior New Look ensembles? Coco era Chanel? Now it is an extreme shopping event, sort of like the day after Thanksgiving at outlet stores; hot, crowded, 85%crap, 15%gems. You have to be willing to claw your way through and have unlimited patience, because you wait in line everywhere, to get into the high end Boutique area, to get close to jewelry and housewares in the White Elephant section, to try things on (really most things are so cheap, why bother?), and to check out. But any true shopper knows, its all about the hunt.
Wheeler was founded in 1899 by Mary Coleman Wheeler, from Concord, MA she was the next generation transcendentalist following in the footsteps of Thoreau and Emerson. She disagreed with the beleifs about women's education of the day, that women only needed domestic lessons taught in finishing school. She started a practical women's academy teaching astronomy, biology, and most importantly agricultural knowledge in keeping with the farming predominant in New England. She also instructed them in the fine arts taking them to Giverny to study painting with her good friend Claude Monet. Since then the school has expanded significantly and has become coeducational serving grades pre-K through 12. It does have the reputation for being somewhat alternative, I've always though it was a bit of a hippie school (come on a private school without uniforms, that's the best part!) but it still has a very high reputation, if very exclusive.

This is the sign from last year's sale, but identical to this years except for the dates. The sale is held in the school's gym, which is on Brook Street. I swear that all the kids there were directing people there. You entered through these hidden doors down an alley, there were discreet signs with balloons on them but it still felt a bit like a clothing scavenger hunt.

This photo shows the set up of the gym, as you can see the aisles are tight. Even tighter if you picture several hundred people milling among them. They were playing the 80's greatest hits and had a sort of MC announcing how things work every 15 minutes or so. I spent about an hour there from 10:30 to 11:30, and the first wave was quieting down as I was leaving but when I went but later around 5 it was still packed. I went home with three dresses, a silk scarf, three brooches, a necklace, and a jacket. All the prices were set except for in the Boutique area with the high end items. Dresses were $10 each, the scarves $2, and all jewelry $0.50.  So I spent a total of $34 in the regular area, and $12 on the jacket in the Boutique, a convenient low end price in the high end area. Overall $46 was very reasonable when I would have spent more than that on one item retail, and the money goes to help the kiddies.

This dress is a 1980's relic, cotton, and now minus the shoulder pads. I like the long sleeves, otherwise the figure hugging cut would be a little too sexy for everyday wear, as is though its extremely wearable.

The only flaw this dress had was a small hole on the left side of the lapel, a small fold and a few blanket stitches fixed that in about five minutes. I haven't worn it yet but I may have to insert a hook and eye to control how much cleavage is visible, often a trouble with us curvy girls.

Despite its vintage age I think the colors and pattern on this are very modern. Comparable to what I've seen in stores within the past year. Black, cream, purple, red, brown, and gold give a lot of options for mixing and matching. The pattern a mix of animal prints, leopard, zebra, and giraffe is a lot of fun and not something I've seen anywhere else. 

This to me is a classic 1970's polyester dress, a fabric that doesn't breathe but is very comfortable, machine washable, and dame near indestructible. It also holds color well, much better than natural fabrics which tend to fade over time. This dress was very well loved by someone, the seams at the waist had been mended on at lease three occasions, judging by the different color threads. Not a thrilling color but a dress I know I'll get a ton of wear out of, I always do with retro polyester threads.

I loved the little school marm style tie at the neck. I love ties and ruffles at the neck, my mother is the one who terms things school marmish, I always have to remind her I am a school marm, I might as well play the part well. The other major selling point on this dress, it zips up the front, with my big bosom and short stumpy arms I constantly struggle to zip things up so I did a little happy dance when I saw that and the tie covers it up so it isn't unsightly.

This was my Boutique item, its from the Peony Company in Shanghai, circa late 1940's early 1950's when the Far Eastern style was hip post WWII. I have wanted a bed jacket like this for some time, but often the silk is faded or frayed or simply too small. This was quite a find and at a very good price, but I think it was priced so because there were several of them in different colors probably from the same donor.

The colors, mainly turquoise, lime green, gold, and red were what really sold me on this particular jacket. I've already thought up dozens of combinations it will work with, the first bring the skirt below.

Wait you said, didn't she say three dresses? Welllll this was a dress, I didn't take a picture of it in its original shape. It was a definite 1970's very high end relic, the tag was from a boutique on 5th Avenue in New York and I saw a dress very similar to it last year in the RISD Museum's Cocktail Culture exhibit. It original had a high oversized collar with very long points in a sheer overlay and long sheer sleeves finished in gathered cuffs edged with the same trim as the skirt. The top was too tight so I turned the dress which was a little dated into a mid-calf length skirt.

A close-up of the trim, the natural skirt actually ended below the second piece of trim at the waist but I though it would be prettier with both so I left about an inch of gauze from the bodice of the dress at the top then tucked it under and sewed it flat inside the trim. The whole process took about an hour and left me with a unique really beautiful skirt. I also thing the flame colored red orange would be a little too bold and over the top as a whole dress and is much more striking as part of an outlet, it has a lot more potential for creative styling than a flaming red dress with a dated cut which could be sort of a one trick pony.

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