What was the best part of Saturday's Boutique Benefit put on by Evonne Kane and her merry band of volunteers? Was it that it helped not one but four nonprofits? Was it that its seventh year was its most successful ever? Was it that I snagged a dress I tried on in a boutique four months ago for one-tenth of its original price? Those were all peak moments, but the best was the tiny, hot communal women's dressing room.
Inside the anteroom with a half-curtain cobbled together from a bedsheet and a tablecloth that did a poor job of covering the doorway to the main hall, trying on clothes among the other bargain-hunting women was a singularly entertaining, even life-affirming experience. Stripping down together is a great equalizer. Pretensions and pecking orders are set aside. There stood the editor of the local newspaper in her bra and panties, just like me. And the cool mom from the dance boosters, asking whether a slinky silver dress looked good on her (it did). We all had work to do. Every woman in there, whether solo or with a friend, had her mental list going as she chatted good-naturedly, organizing which items would be purchased and which were go-backs, whether the borderline items needing alterations were worth it. If someone asked for an opinion on a particular item, she got it.
It was sweltering in the small room, so a vote was taken as to whether to turn on a huge old metal standing fan. The fan won, and when plugged in, the sound was like the roar of a DC-10. Plumes of dust arose from the unswept floor. But it was slightly cooler and we could get on with the business at hand without perspiring on the merchandise.
"Are you gonna buy that? If not, I'll try it on."
"This dress makes me look like I should be collecting the harvest in a Russian wheat field."
"What a shame I spent so much time getting these pants on – I will never get them off."
"Are you kidding me – this is an Azzedine Alaia, but here it's a $5 skirt!"
"How about this dress – costume, or intriguingly arty?"
The constant wisecracking and camaraderie of the dressing room presented a moment to appreciate women and their inexplicable common bond around shopping.
It is the rare occasion when we take our clothes off in front of each other and ask each other's honest opinions. This kind of literal and figurative disrobing was at once fun, charmingly unself-conscious, hilarious and remarkable. Two feet away from another lady in her bra and panties in the hot, loud room, you just worked your way through your finds with good cheer and the hope that you and everybody else would come away with a wonderful new wardrobe treasure. Besides my bargain dress, I also left with a warm admiration of my gender.