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Chic on the Cheap


Clearing out—or adding to—your closet has never been so much fun nor has it ever been done with more philanthropic purpose. After a four-year Covid-created hiatus, BerkChique! is returning Friday through Sunday, April 26th through 28th, at Ventfort Hall Mansion and Gilded Age Museum.

“We’re heartened by the fact that people are excited about BerkChique! coming back,” said Berkshire’s premiere fashionista, Vicki Bonnington, one of the organizers of the event. “We were a little nervous that people kind of lost interest in clothing during Covid when everyone was wearing sweats.”

The founder of BerkChique! is Nancy Fitzpatrick who in 2012 found herself with the task of disposing of a large collection of her aging mother’s exquisite clothing and accessories. “Nancy’s mother, Jane, had fabulous stuff,” said Bonnington. “There were furs, hard-to-find designer clothing, and one-of-a-kind items, and Nancy said, ‘I can’t take it to Good Will.’ She asked if I would help plan and participate in a sale she was thinking about with all proceeds to go to local nonprofits. I thought it sounded like fun but we had no idea how much work it would be!”

Bonnington, who has a renowned passion for fashion, offered to donate her entire professional wardrobe (she had just retired after 30 years as a corporate attorney) and also volunteered to be point person for the collection of other upscale clothing donated to the sale.

“One-half of the stuff at BerkChique! is from my closets and the other half comes from other people’s closets,” she said. “I go around and pick up stuff. We wanted to make donating a luxury experience. I will even help them go through their closets if they want.”

The first year, she took five racks of her own clothing to the sale, and last year brought fifteen. This year it is expected she will up the ante to twenty racks of her personal clothing and accessories.

Yes, she is able to cull that much from her closets year after year and still have enough left to attend all the Berkshire Gala Season events. “I shop everywhere I go,” she confessed. “People think I am a tremendous shopper, but I am not. I am an enthusiastic shopper—and I have been collecting things for sixty years. I never throw anything out. I always find a home for it or give it away.”

She is even a customer at BerkChique! “Many friends of mine have bought some of their all-time favorites at Berkchique!—even some of my favorite things have been purchased there,” she revealed. “Sometimes, I think I could be in danger of buying some of my own clothes back! After all, I bought them because I liked them.”

The whole notion behind BerkChique! is joie de vivre. “My goal in life is very shallow,” she said. “It is to have fun every day. People will say, ‘Oh, my God, these clothes can’t all be yours. They are all different styles. But, when I get up, I think, ‘How do I feel today? Do I feel like a cowgirl? An over-the-top young Edwardian? Fashion is fun. Don’t take it seriously, it is intended to be a joy, to brighten your day.

“I’ve always been an eccentric dresser and I think it is a fun thing,” she continued. “What other people think does not influence me at all. I dress for myself. What is worst thing that can happen? The fashion police will come and arrest you? There are no rules anymore.”

She said she loves going to parties with themes and throws herself into preparing for them with elan. “Some of the pictures people have seen of me were at parties with themes like ‘Night on the Nile’ or the ‘Hair Ball,’” she said. “It’s not like these are clothes I go out on the street in.”

She recalled one ball where the theme was Couture Metallic Disco. She had ordered a dress online that arrived the day before the gala. “What I hadn’t realized was that it was for a drag queen. When I opened it, it said it was for people 5-feet-10 for taller. I am 5-feet-5-inches, so I had to find some super high heels. It looked great and it certainly was metallic!”

Never afraid to step out of her own norm, she finds delight in helping others explore their limits.
“I love it when folks consider items that are a bit further out of their repertoire because clothes can be transformational for people. They are often delighted and surprised about how wonderful they feel in items that are out of their routine.”

Indeed, one of the goals of BerkChique! is to lure customers outside their comfort zones. Volunteers help visitors with their selections and are present in the dressing rooms to help them dress and to give feedback.

“Customer service is critical,” she said, adding that she is there to guide customers in their selections, especially during Friday’s First Dibs Shopping Party. A $100 donation gains admittance to VIP shopping from 5:30 to 8:30PM, while a $25 ticket ($40 for two persons) provides general shopping from 6:30 to 8:30PM

“That is when most of my stuff gets sold,” admitted the renowned fashion maven. “Early shoppers are serious shoppers.”

Selections on Bonnington’s racks and those from some other donors become part of what she calls the “priceless rack,” the super pricey items that range from $200 up. “My side of the sale, comparatively speaking, might have higher process but you can still get a very expensive dress for ninety percent off. It is a luxury experience.”

This year BerkChique! also has an expanded section of men’s clothing with terrific bargains. “I think we have about 70 suits right now; we even have some tuxedos,” she said, “I don’t think there is a suit on the racks that was less than $1,000 and we will sell them for $75 bucks. If you love a treasure hunt, this is where to have it.”

Not all of the clothing on offer is designed for a ballroom, however. Bargains can be found starting at $5 and ranging upwards. “There is something for everyone,” she said. “I work pretty hard as salesperson to find something that will make your day.”

Those with new and gently used women’s and men’s clothing, shoes and accessories, including belts, handbags, jewelry and scarves, can drop them off at Ventfort Hall or schedule a pick-up by a BerkChique! volunteer. Check the website for more details on donating goods.

With Bonnington’s passion for clothing and her deep delight in helping others find just the right ensemble, does she ever regret the years she spent as a corporate lawyer? “No,” she says succinctly. “I did not enjoy the law but I was good at it. I have twin passions: food and clothes. I do not cook and have eaten nearly every meal of my life in a restaurant. (Eating out and cooking) are mutually exclusive. When you are doing something that is work, it takes the joy out of it, so it would ruin it (fashion) if it became work. My motto is, ‘I don’t cook, I curate.’ Putting together outfits for people is another form of curating.”

This year’s event will be held at Ventfort Hall, 104 Walker Street in Lenox, a venue suitably elegant for the offerings. Proceeds from the sale will benefit the continued restoration of the Gilded Age “cottage” built in the Jacobean Revival style.

In the past, BerkChique! has benefited and continues to benefit many other regional non-profits through the donation of clothing and/or funds, including the Berkshire Humane Society, Berkshire Botanical Garden, Berkshire Creative/1Berkshire, Community Access to the Arts (CATA), Goodwill Industries of the Berkshires, Berkshire Art Center and WAM Theatre.