In five years, the District Sample Sale has become the premiere shopping event in the region.
The draw of more than 20 of the region's best boutiques selling end-of-season clothes at prices up to 90 percent off regularly attracts 700 shoppers to the twice-annual event. Supermodel Hilary Rhoda, actress Ali Wentworth and New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, have all braved the sea of thrifty fashionistas for a crack at the discounted duds in downtown D.C.
"We tell new attendees every year to brace for the chaos," said Barbara Martin, head of the public relations and events firm BrandLinkDC, who founded the event with four other women in 2006.
"You can immediately tell who has never been before, as they are usually the ones standing there looking a bit shocked that the other 75 percent of the room — including a lot of ordinarily conservative Washingtonians — are ducking behind whatever they can find, dropping trou and elbowing to get to the best bargains first," Martin said. "It really is a sight to behold."
The event is the brainchild of Liberty Jones, who owned designer shop Alex Boutique, as a way to sell her end-of-the-season merchandise and give to charity in the process.
Jones, who is now the public relations manager for Neiman Marcus Mazza Gallerie, and the other organizers — Martin; Jayne Sandman, co-director of BrandLinkDC; Shannon Haley, an executive at KPMG; and Mary Amons of "Real Housewives of D.C." fame -— met over drinks one summer night and launched the inaugural event that fall.
The first event raised $10,000 for charity. Since then, the event has donated $216,000 for charity. Tuesday's event benefits E.L. Haynes Public Charter School in Northwest Washington, D.C.
"We choose a different charity each season," Martin explained. "In the fall, it's a women's charity. In the spring, a children's cause. And with each event, we donate not only to our chosen charity for the season, but we also donate a portion back to every charity we've worked with in the past, as well."
The major draw of the event remains the deeply discounted designer merchandise and a night on the town atmosphere. (Participants are treated to cocktails and hors d'oeuvres throughout the night.)
"It turns out hundreds of credit card-wielding fashionistas from D.C., Baltimore and beyond," said Lisa Schatz, owner of Cupcake, a high-end boutique in Fells Point. "Shopping, cocktails and Georgetown Cupcakes. What else could a girl need?"
In addition to Cupcake, other Baltimore boutiques such as the hip, funky Babe in Federal Hill, and Poppy & Stella, a popular Fells Point shoe boutique, regularly participate.
The event also features popular shopping spots in Washington, D.C., including: Urban Chic, Ginger, Julia Farr, The Shoe Hive, Wink, Caramel, Sherman Pickey and Hysteria.
If you go
The District Sample Sale takes place in downtown Washington, D.C., at 2101 L St., NW, on March 29 from 5:30- 9:30 pm. General Admission tickets are $40, VIP tickets are $100, Benefactress sponsor tickets are $250, and Corporate Benefactress tickets are $600. VIP and Benefactress guests receive a paperless goodie bag and will have private access to the sale for an hour.
Go to districtsamplesale.com.