Hopkins' Best Dressed Sale and Boutique funds hospital projects

Many shoes, for women and men, will be available at the 45th annual Best Dressed Sale and Boutique.
Many shoes, for women and men, will be available at the 45th annual Best Dressed Sale and Boutique. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun Photo)

Bargains fill the racks at the 45th annual Best Dressed Sale & Boutique this weekend in Baltimore. Every stitch has been donated to this high-end rummage sale that takes place in a cavernous carriage house, and all proceeds benefit Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Shoppers could come across a Chanel suit, a Halston tuxedo or a pair of Prada shoes. They could walk away with a full-length mink, a glamorous gown or even a tiara without significantly lightening their wallets.

"You will buy so much that you won't want to shop for a month after," said Cressy Spence, one of four co-chairwomen, adding that she speaks from experience.

The sale opens with a $55-a-ticket preview gala Thursday evening, Oct. 4, at the Carriage House, on the grounds of the Evergreen Museum & Library on North Charles Street. The event continues with free admission through Sunday.

A year of gathering and weeks of setup precede the event, sponsored by the Women's Board of the hospital.

"It really takes an army to get this together," said Helen Passano, co-chair. "Stores call us throughout the year to say they are cleaning out, and we should come and get it. My garage at home has been full three times this year, and my husband has become the best and most experienced packer."

Dozens of volunteers have sorted through new and used donations. Men's and women's attire for all occasions and seasons is sized, priced and hanging on about 100 commercial racks. When the doors close at 3 p.m. Sunday, the hope is that not a remnant will remain.

The sale netted nearly $200,000 in 2011. The renovated kitchen in the hospital's eating disorder clinic, the zero-gravity treadmill in the rehabilitative medicine department and updated instruments in the dermatology wing all were purchased with proceeds from previous sales. The benefit also funds two annual scholarships to the medical and nursing schools.

"This is not glamorous work, but we really make something out of nothing because of the generosity of our donors," said Dee Bosley, board president.

The fundraiser began decades ago in members' homes and later expanded to the Carriage House at Evergreen, where it takes up every square foot of space on the first level. Even the roomy stalls are all filled with specialty merchandise — one contains cruise wear and lingerie. Another shows off men's accessories. The lift that once hoisted carriages to the second level now lowers stored merchandise to the showroom floor.

"We can fit eight or nine racks filled with clothing on the lift at a time," Passano said.

At least six racks are packed with jeans and jackets. Even at the bargain price of $15 each, the ever-desirable denims, some the standard Levis and others with designer labels, will add about $5,000 to the profit, Passano said.

Need formal attire for a wedding or holiday event? Look at nearly 100 new gowns donated by a popular bridal shop and several tuxedos from a well-known menswear store. The gowns are priced at $40. Most tuxedos are $35, and colorful silk ties will go for $5.

"You can't rent a tux for that, and you can't dry-clean a tie for that," said Don Vandemark, a volunteer who has promised to help men with fittings. "How can you not buy here? Their quality standards are so high. But this is no elitist sale. There really is something for everyone."

Passano insists on keeping prices low.

"We price to sell," she said. "We won't help ourselves if we make things too high. You can get a look-to-die-for here, and people will think you have paid hundreds for it."

Some shoes arrive in original boxes, never worn. Then there are many pairs of gingerly trod, known as "What was I thinking buying those?" said Spence.

Lacy Flynn sorted through a stack of knits by a popular woman's designer that arrived at the Carriage House from an estate. "It looks like the woman bought out an entire store in her size," Flynn said.

Shoppers will find leather bags and new leather gloves. The jewelry runs the gamut from costume to gold and silver. Then there are the furs, including hats, scarves, stoles and full-length coats, all appraised for their current value and tagged far below that appraisal. Passano already knows the furs "will fly out of here."

For shoppers with a taste for vintage attire, a clothing historian has sorted items by decade and might even share a bit of history with buyers.

Howard Moses, a retired physician and volunteer, has switched his own neckwear from a stethoscope to a cloth tape measure and will be ready to find customers the perfect item and fit. The doctor remembered a college student so impressed last year with his buys that he returned in a few hours with most of his fraternity brothers.

"This really is like working at the candy store," he said. "There is just a marvelous camaraderie."


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