A month or so ago, I had asked my friend Arwen (a fellow enthusiast of all things old) to write a guest article on her favorite retro, vintage, or antique find.
Alice Blue Gown
February 20, 2013
In October of 2001, while living in Colorado, I was frantically trying to come up with a costume idea for a friend’s Halloween party. We were both costumers in theatre, and she was having a contest, so whatever I decided on, it had to be good. However, I was poor, and therefore hoping to incorporate some of the costume pieces I already owned.
The problem was, how could I do this without repeating a costume from a previous year (being a costumer, I considered this cheating)? I already owned sparkly red horns, a trident, and a red feather boa, so I was hoping to do something with a devil theme…without going “sexy devil”, of course. “Sexy” Halloween costumes were for people who lacked creativity. And yet, if I was a costumer, and I was supposed to be so creative, where were the ideas? …the cheap ideas, that is.
I was wandering around the Pearl Street area of Boulder when I passed a Buffalo Exchange, a hit-or-miss consignment store whose typical stock consisted of late-90s clothing and shoes that were the sartorial equivalent of a Third Eye Blind or Matchbox 20 CD; i.e., nothing I wanted anything to do with. There, in the window, was my inspiration: a fluffy confection of a dress with a full tea-length skirt and ruched cummerbund of sky-blue chiffon, and a bodice covered in velvety sky-blue millinery flowers. It was in pristine condition and appeared to be a prom dress or debutante presentation dress from the 1950s.
Three thoughts hit me at once:
1) What is such a gorgeous piece doing in a Buffalo Exchange?
2) They’ve gotta be charging at least $45 for that dress; there’s no way I’ll be able to afford it.
3) It doesn’t matter what that dress costs; I’m going to own it, and I’m going as Devil In A Blue Dress for Halloween.
I went into Buffalo Exchange and looked at the tag on the dress; it said $15.00.
$15.00?!? No way!
Apparently the people who ran Buffalo Exchange had no idea what they had on their hands. I went up to the counter and asked the girl to take the dress off the mannequin and hold it for me until the next day (which was payday—yeah, I was that poor).
“We’ve had a lot of people looking at that dress,” she said. “I don’t want to hold it unless you’re serious about buying it.”
“I promise I’ll be back,” I said, “I don’t have the money right now, but I get paid tomorrow, and I need to have this dress.”
The next day I was back, $15.00 in hand, and told the employee at the counter about the dress I’d put on hold the day before.
“It’s a good thing you’re actually buying this,” she snapped. “I’ve had a ton of people come in to ask about that dress today.”
“I didn’t have the money yesterday; I had to come back,” I replied, and got my dress and got the hell out of there before she had the chance to give me any more attitude.
Other than a few yellowish spots hidden among the billowing folds of the skirt, the dress was in great condition, especially considering how old it was. The skirt took 15 whole minutes to iron. I wished I could wear it on a regular basis, but there weren’t many opportunities to pretend to be a debutante in Boulder.
I carried my red trident, wore the dress to my friend’s Halloween party with a red bob wig, the sparkly red devil horns, a red feather boa, red 1950’s gloves (an earlier vintage find), and red velvet flip-flops to which I’d sewn red marabou feathers, and won first place in the costume contest—a mini bottle of Kahlua.
Not too shabby for $15.00.