Lt. Col. Charles thomas asked his wife yesterday morning if there were any chance she could go to Loehmann's and not buy anything. "Very minute. Very minute," Regina Thomas replied.
She has plenty of company.
Regina Thomas, who says he considers the store's discount prices one of the bonuses of moving back to Washington from Alabama two weeks ago, was only one of 100-plus shoppers waiting for the Falls Church branch to open yesterday for one of the first all-out pushes of new fall clothing in the area.
If discount houses once carried a stigma among some shopprs, that day is waning - if not gone. Soaring clothes prices have made bargain-hunting a social equalizer. And that's why there were lines in front of two area stores yesterday - Loehmann's where designer and other merchandise is sold below general retail prices: and Zippers, a new outlet near Tysons Corner for Levi jeans and other items.
Sitting on the Lowhmann's store-front window ledge for more than an hour before opening time was Virginia Neal, a real estate dealer who last year bought about 50 outfits at the store and spent about $5,000. (Yesterday she spent $384,74.)
Her shopping companion, Maxine Shanklin, a potter who was sharing Neal's bottle of Coke whitle they waited, figures she visits the store twice weekly.
By 11:30, 660 customers had shown up and more than 100 had signed a waiting list in hopes of being called into the special "Back Room" where the top designer garments were stored. Only ten women were admitted at a time and others were advised that the wait for the Back Room was at least an hour. That didn't seem to stop anyone.
In the four other dressing rooms, 30 to 40 customers shared mirrors, admired each others' new clothes and snatched up garments discarded by the person who had last tired them on.
No one appeared disappointed at the bargains! An Yves Saint Laurent corselet, spotted by a customer who found it too big, was passed to a friend who found she was too busty and was finally snapped up by a model who found the size and the $39.98 price tag, down from the original $200-plus, a good buy.
Still, there are bargains and there are bargains.
Tandy Dickinson, the socialite, found an Adolfo copy and a pale wool pantsuit. "Only $127?" she asked, looking over the top of her Balenciaga sunglasses at the pantsuit price tag. "Why, that's less than my dinner bill in Georgetown last night."
Among the best sellers on the opening day of the fall sale: Ultrasuede dresses at wool challis and cashmere shawls: designer blazers and Diane von Furstenberg dresses marked down to $19.95.
Meanwhile, around the Beltway, more than 125 people were waiting for the opening of Zippers, a new discount store claiming to be the largest Levi store in the world. According to Willaim Adams, president (and president also of the Country Legend stores, which he started) the store has more than 25,000 Levi jeans in stock, plus Levi shirts jackets and coats.
The crowd was far younger than the one at Loehmann's, mostly dressed in jeans and T'shirts and California "slaps" - rubber'soled multicolor thongs.
Along with the lines to get in ("We were waiting for the occupancy permit and finally had to go pick it up," said Adams about the half-hour delay) there were lines for the 20 dressing rooms and lines the length of the store to check out.
Most customers checked out tow or more pairs of blue jeans and corduroys. Tom Boaz, a recent graduate from George Mason High School, had an armload three pairs for himself and one each for his two brothers. "They're so cheap," said Boaz, who was buying the usual $16 versions for $11 each."Who can pass up such a bargain?"
Among those counting the Zippers' customers were Zippers' competitors, including representatives from The Gap, Giant's Pants Corral and the General Store.
In other cities, particularly Minneapolis and New York, such price cutting has triggered a pricewar on Levis. Locally, the General Store has cut the price on jeans for the first time since the store opened three years ago, and recently Steven Windsor cut prices in their four suburban stores.