The Lady With 400 Long-Sleeved Blouses

The Lady With 400 Long-Sleeved Blouses

Here's another in our series of Vintage Stories, recounting the colorful characters and captivating histories we encounter in our search for vintage treasure:

When you visit our Recommended Links page, you'll find a list of businesses we support and recommend. Among our favorites is Atlanta consignment shop chain Finders Keepers. Bonnie runs her shops as integral parts of the community, offering educational workshops and engaging in ongoing philanthropic support of local causes.

Better Dresses Vintage has become an unofficial benefactor of Bonnie's generous spirit. When a potential consignor brings in clothing far beyond her shop's 2-year age limit, she sends them to me. One such redirected consignor was the feisty and fabulous Mrs. Barbara H.

Mrs. H. told me she had far too many clothes, and would I be interested in taking some of them off her hands? I asked the usual questions about age and condition, and explained the procedure. We made an appointment for later that day, and I drove the few miles from the studio to her home.

Just beyond the front door, in her mid-century home's living room, I was greeted by towering stacks of clothing arranged along a sizable sectional sofa, a coffee table, and a wing chair.

I spent a moment admiring her cases of collectible dolls, then we got to work. Seemed Mrs. H. has a bit of a problem with shopping. Not the sort that gets you featured on reality TV, but you could see how things might have gone that direction had she been just a bit less fastidious.

You are certainly the tidiest hoarder around, I said, and we had a good laugh. Mrs. H. has a sense of humor and holds no delusions about her massive collection of clothes. "I have really got to downsize," she kept saying. 

Spry and energetic despite her age, Mrs. H. disappeared downstairs several times to a mysterious storage area, returning with additional stacks of garments. She was "too embarrassed" to show me the "racks and racks of clothes, many with the tags still on. I just have too much," she said, "I like buying it, and I don't ever get rid of anything," she said, sending a shiver up this vintage seller's spine.

So why the change of heart? I asked. For years she's wanted to renovate, she explained. And now that her husband is gone, and she's newly retired, it's time. First, though, she needs to get rid of what isn't, and in some cases has never been, worn. There's just too much, she repeats. She wants to free up and assess the space she already has and formulate a plan.

She's bought long-term care insurance, she explains, but to remain in her home all her life, she'll need an additional bedroom and bath to accommodate live-in help, if she needs it. "Smart!," I said, though she didn't deny the allure of additional closet space. More laughing.

I could see that despite the good-natured attitude, she was concerned and rather overwhelmed by the sheer bulk of her wardrobe. I promised to help her in any way I could. 

We chatted as I made my way through the stacks, pulling an item here or there, and placing the discards into new piles by type. Mrs. H. had been a clothes horse, she admitted. She liked following trends, and dressing up as often as possible. As I sorted, she described where, when, and why she'd acquired this piece or that. It's the sort of ongoing commentary I so often wish I had, but more often than not is no longer possible.

"Oh, I wore that dress to a business dinner, back in 1978," she recalled. Then she'd share some tidbit about a long-ago co-worker. She'd tell me what a great deal she'd got on this jacket or that pair of slacks. "But the tag's still on; you never wore them," I'd say. "Yes, but wasn't it a bargain?" More laughing.

Some of the fabulous items I purchased from Mrs. H include ... 

her grandmother's 1930s silk dressing gown:

her own beautiful, 50s floral sundress with shelf bust:

and two jumpsuits, both of which sold right away:


I bought a grand total of 14 items from Mrs. H, making an imperceptible dent. She reminded me that twice the living room's quantity of clothes still remained in the storage area, though none were old enough for me. I promised to return the next day to see what could be done.

In the morning I loaded a few of her most modern items into my car and we headed off to Bonnie's main shop. I knew what sort of items they accept, and had serious doubts about these not-vintage-but-not-recent-enough clothes making the cut. Still, I felt I owed it to Mrs. H to show her I was trying.

Bonnie's ever-gracious staff played along when they saw me walk in and I signaled them surreptitiously that I already knew the stuff wouldn't pass muster. They looked the items over, nonetheless, and tried to inform Mrs. H politely that the clothes just weren't current enough for their trendy clientele.

But where was she? "OMG, no, Mrs. H! Step away from that rack. You are not buying that blouse!"

"But isn't it pretty? And such a good deal." We were wiping laughter tears away as we headed to the car.

Back at Mrs. H's house, I cataloged the designated donations -- a lengthy process -- then made several round trips from living room to minivan. I returned the next day with an itemized tax receipt from the donation center. I suspect it made a difference. Any way you figure, more than 50 women's suits, 100 skirts and pairs of trousers, 40 blazers and jackets, and 200 long sleeve blouses add up.

I ran into Mrs. H today as I left an estate sale next door to my home. I called out her name, reminded her of who I was, and invited her to stop by for coffee when she'd finished shopping. "Do not buy any clothes!" I said. She laughed, of course. 

She took me up on my offer, and we had a lovely time catching up. Mrs. H looked even fitter and more stylish than I remembered. I should have snapped a photo for you. She wore a zebra print long-sleeved top, coordinating button earrings, and black slacks. Her hair and makeup were perfectly in place. I couldn't help wondering if the outfit had come from the storage area, or were all new acquisitions.

I asked if she was feeling less stress since downsizing her massive wardrobe. Yes, she said, although "there's still a lot of stuff I should get rid of." She reported with obvious pleasure that the long-awaited renovation was complete, and that she looks forward to remaining comfortably and safely in her own home as long as she cares to.

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