Some days, my life feels like a circus.
When it comes to juggling, my daily planner would give Cirque du Soleil a run for its money. I walk the tightrope - between all-out fun and good taste - all the time. Though I still haven't mastered the whole fire-eating thing, I often feel like a one-woman freak show.
There are drawbacks, of course - especially if you think clowns are creepy. But the benefits are many: Who doesn't like sailing through the air in a trapeze (jacket, that is)? Unicycle-riding is a surefire way to stay in shape. And the costumes are fabulous.
But you don't need to live your life under the big top to get fabulous costumes. All you need is a visit to the Designers Circus, which rolls into Portland today and lasts through March 1. The sale, which features past-season boutique brands at wholesale prices, is the best-kept secret in Maine. And it's well worth the drive.
ShopMom, ShopGirl Jr. and I first heard of the circus last fall, and frankly, our expectations were not exactly high. Prior experience with warehouse sales usually involved a cavernous room full of angry women fighting over weird, overpriced castoffs.
Imagine our surprise when we discovered what could be, quite possibly, the greatest shopping on earth.
Or New England, at the very least.
"It's overwhelming because there's so much," O'Neill said of the sale. "We urge people to take a pass the first time around, walk down all the aisles, look at the colors and fabrics."
When ShopMom, Junior and I went, we tried that. Instead, because we have no willpower when it comes to clothes, we ended up with armloads of dresses, tops and skirts before we were halfway around the room. Not that we were alone, mind you. Everyone in the dressing room had huge piles of clothes.
Now, said dressing room is an open, no-holds-bra'd affair that is not for the squeamish or the shy. But if you can get past that, it's great fun, because before long, you're trading outfits with the gal next to you and recommending shops and restaurants to all your newfound friends. The tone at Designers Circus is much more civilized than the Filene's Basement wedding dress sale.
But the deals are equally astounding: I grabbed a formal gold skirt, a vintage-style shirtdress and a cute, floaty top for $20 apiece (mind you, the dress alone cost more than $100 originally). Junior opted for corduroy pants and a frothy pink confection that can best be described as a long tutu. And ShopMom grabbed so many things that she needed help carrying her bags to the car. Most memorable was a gorgeous brocade suit that was an absolute steal.
This sale will include a mix of winter and spring styles - most of which are last year's model, but no less chic - at wholesale prices (half or more off retail). O'Neill says shoppers should expect great sweaters, new accessories, oilcloth bags, felted hats and wool purses. I'm looking forward to the addition of several designers with a younger focus, and the spring line from a retro designer from L.A. - I'm guessing it's Dick & Jayne, one of my favorites.
If you're like me and feel a little guilty every time you splurge, take heart: Designers and their representatives have donated goods to be sold at low prices to benefit a local designer who is living with metastasized breast cancer. O'Neill, who is also a cancer survivor, has designed and produced a bracelet for sale.
Some of the designers are actually on hand to discuss their lines or give gentle guidance. And the women who work the sale are familiar with the designers and the collections, so they know which labels and cuts flatter each figure type.
With their help - and at these prices - there's no way you'll end up looking like a circus freak. Even if you feel like one sometimes.