Jane Foote, an attorney with HUD, took a day off from work to be there. Cynthia Olds, a management analyst with the Defense Department in Philadelphia, extended her weekend stay in Washington so she wouldn't miss it. Pat Allen, who works at Neiman-Marcus, spend a chunk of her Monday off there.
The crowds descended yesterday on Talbots, the Spring Valley mecca of preppie matrons and their equally proper daughters. It was Day One of a half-price sale, the store's first since it opened here in February. Talbots is to country club clothes what Gilley's urban cowboy bar is to Country & Western music. It is arbiter and teacher, a cornucopie of blazers, wrap skirts and prim prints in strawberry pink, lime green and cherry red.
By 8 a.m., when security officer Alvin Randolph arrived, there was a handfull of people outside the store. "Twenty minutes later the line was down to the intersection of Massachusetts and 48th Street," said Randolph, as he surveyed the crowd in the store. Now and then, he'd let in a few customers from the line when he judged there might be a slight easing of the crowd.
By 10 o'clock, an hour after the special wait to get into the place Barbara Bush, Lorraine Percy, Pat Haig and Lady Bird Johnson had earlier discovered. The huge crowd defeated the air conditioning, which was set at 55 degrees but felt more like 80.
In line, the shoppers looked like specimens from the Talbots catalogue. They wore T-shirts and espadrilles, navy blazers and khaki skirts or trousers, Bermuda shorts and alligator shirts and sandals.
Inside, amid the chaos, Sally McDonald, merchandiser of Talbots, said, "One big problem is that we sometimes fold up and put back into stock the clothes the women have taken off to try on new things," McDonald had come down from Talbots' Hingham, Mass., headquarters to help with the sale. In hingham, she said, women arrive hours before the store opens and set up bridge tables to fill the time.
"The scene yesterday was less New England prep school and more Filene's basement. Besides the normal clothing displays, tables, racks and bins spilled over with merchandise. Women piled up armloads of goods, and many, discouraged by the long lines to the 17 fitting rooms, tried on items between the racks. Women pulled trousers on under their skirts; some slipped Fair Isle sweaters over their T-shirts, and a few even stripped down to their bras to get a more accurate fit.
While her 8-month daughter teethed on plastic hangers on a sofa next to a pile of her mother's potential purchases, Penny Lyons pulled on a pair of pale blue slacks under a white poplin skirt. "I can't try on things fast enough," she said. "The baby is slowing me down 80 percent." But it was worth all the bother, she insisted. "I wear these things at least five years," she said.
Many Washingtonians were familiar with Talbots' classic styles through its catalogues when the store opened here, but not with the sales, since there is no sale catalogue. Walter Chew, an electronics manufacturer from San Francisco, was in town visiting his son David Chew, administrative aide to Treasury Secretary Donald Regan. When Chew arrived at Talbots with his wife and daughter, they were suprised at the cash or check-only policy of the sale. But he gave them $200 in cash for the sale and sat outside for more than two hours while they shopped.
"The things are very classic and never go out of style," said Susan Owsley, who was wearing a Lilly Pulitzer flower-print wrap skirt with a leaf green T-shirt and matching thongs from Talbots. "You can wear things year after year, and you can order from the catalogue and be sure of the fit. Everything is true to size and natural fiber," said Jane Foote, who was wearing a blazer and skirt, one of Talbots' most successful selling combinations."
Denise Bennick, a summer intern on the Hill who was trying on Fair Isle sweaters over her cotton sweater and add-a-bead necklace, figured she would end up buying several sweaters and pairs of pants, costing her about $200. Pat Cleary, secretary-receptionist at Stone Ridge Country Day School of the Sacred Heart, had three bright Red Talbots shopping bags over her arm and was still going strong.She estimated that she had spent about $500. "My husband told me to have a good time when I left the house this morning and I did," she said as she scanned the floor trying to find the earrings she had knocked off trying on sweaters.
By noon, Enid Hyde, president of the National Fine Arts Association, was back for her second attempt to shop the first day of the two-week sale. She had arrived at 9:45, hoping to grab a few items before her 10:30 tennis match. At 10:29, she was still in line outside the store, and fled to the tennis courts. She was back about an hour later. "We all turn out looking alike in the end," she said. "But I suppose it is not such a bad way to look, is it?"