Friends of the Autry Fashion Show 0015

The Goodwill Fashion Show: Glamour That’s Better the Second Time Around

Updated May 20 — You’d think the high glamour of Hollywood’s Oscar night would have absolutely nothing to do with your local Goodwill store. And given that Goodwill has stores even in the home of Hollywood, you would be very, very wrong.

Tana Wong puts finishing touches on some of the dresses for the Friends of the Autry “Goodwill Goes Hollywood” fashion show. The Linda Darnell dress is at far left (Photo by Tessie Borden)

Goodwill Industries Los Angeles employees for years have found so many red carpet-​worthy gowns among the cast-​offs that the stars send them (because their old clothes have to go somewhere!), that for years they’ve been coördinating fashion extravaganzas to show them off.

On Monday, for the Friends of the Autry fundraiser, Goodwill presented Goodwill Goes Hollywood: A Star is Born, a theatrical fashion show and luncheon that tells the story of a fictional aspiring actress who comes to Hollywood to make it big in show business.

“The true way to enjoy it is to see a show,” said Camille Guerrero, a Goodwill spokeswoman. “To see it in full color, to see it performed, because a lot of work goes in pre-​, during and post-​production. It takes a lot of work to produce a show, and these ladies work tirelessly here to make it look seamless and flawless.”

The idea arose several years ago, when in one of the loads of clothes Goodwill gets daily, workers sorting on the warehouse conveyor belt found some dresses from the 1920s and decided they should neither be thrown away nor sold for pennies.

“The CEO’s wife decided they would put together a program,” said Patty Sykes, a volunteer with Goodwill Industries Volunteer Services, which produces the shows. “I think the CEO’s wife was the one that found them and kind of got the GIVS program launched.”

Guerrero said it was launched along with women’s auxiliary group.

“They knew that there was ample items to select from, from a variety of donations that came through,” she said. “That was just sheer wisdom, because now, all these years later, we’re showcasing them, and it’s producing revenue for Goodwill.”

Friends of the Autry contracted with Goodwill to produce the show. Revenues from ticket sales go to the Autry for its operations.

Patti Sykes works on one of the dresses for the Goodwill fashion show (Photo by Tessie Borden)

Tana Wong, another GIVS volunteer, said this year’s show features and actual dress worn by an actual A list actress: a peach satin number with jeweled accents that once belonged to Linda Darnell, who played Lolita Quintero in The Mark of Zorro (1940), Chihuahua in My Darling Clementine (1946) and the hapless Carmen Espinosa opposite Tyrone Power’s Juan and Rita Hayworth’s Doña Sol in Blood and Sand (1941).

“This is the dress our heroine will wear after she’s been discovered and she’s won an academy award,” Wong said. “In Hollywood you can still come across a lot of this type of thing.”

Each gown has its own story to tell. There are dresses from the 1870s with lawn blouses, lace-​up bodices and bustles, chic looking flapper style coats with intricate embroidery, dance dresses from the 1930s that are not much more than sequins and cobweb-​thin netting, meant to be worn over a slip.

“They’re found in people’s attics and closets,” Wong said, “when their grandmothers pass away and, you know, they’re clearing out the estate and they come across fabulous old hats, furs, handbags, all sorts of things.”

Choosing gowns for the Goodwill show (Photo by Tessie Borden)

Wong says that just about three months ago, they received a flapper style wedding gown with a photograph of the bride attached to it.

“You could actually see the original person that had it made,” she said. “You knew it was because she was kind of a little zaftig. It was a little chemise style, and here she was in her dress.”

Pulling a celadon velvet and fur number from the racks, Sykes describes how it got to Goodwill.

“This one, which has seen much better days, I’ve seen it in a video,” she said. “And they found it in a brown paper bag that somebody had left at Goodwill. At the time the ermine was brand new, practically. It’s just gorgeous.”

Wong said the people who work on the show learn to do everything, from emceeing the presentation to writing a script to carefully repairing rips and tears on the dresses.

“We have to be so careful with handling them because everything is delicate,” Wong said. “The fabric is old.”

In fact, just like at a top designer’s fashion show, the models are not allowed to sit after they are dressed, in order to protect the delicate clothing.

Wong says all the people who work on the show are fans of the fashion industry.

“I think that’s what brings us here,” she said.

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About the author

Tessie Borden is a former newspaper journalist. She writes about the arts in light of the cultural and political history of the Americas, the American West and California.