Cat’s Pajamas show draws vintage clothiers to Elgin
By Janelle Walker For The Courier-News February 23, 2014 3:18PM
Sara Cassidy has been organizing the Cat's Pajamas vintage clothing show in Elgin for the past several years. This vintage letterman's sweater was given to her by one of the vendors in thanks for her work involved. | Janelle Walker ~ For Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 25, 2014 6:17AM
ELGIN — Ladies’ hats — basement.
And ladies’ scarves, jewelry, wedding dresses, party dresses, furs and hairpins — and a few menswear items, too — could be found at the Hemmens Cultural Center Friday and Saturday for the semi-annual Cat’s Pajamas vintage clothing, jewelry and textile sale.
An estimated 1,000 people were expected through the Elgin art center’s door this weekend, there to browse the wears of 100 vendors from across the Midwest and the United States, said Sara Cassidy.
She and her husband, Bill, have been bringing the vintage clothing show to Elgin for the past several years. It has been held at the Hemmens for about the last 18, Cassidy said.
When they first became involved in the sale, the couple lived in Carpentersville. Now, they coordinate the sale from their home in Minneapolis.
The Elgin sale, she said, is considered one of the top three vintage clothing shows in the country, coming in just behind similar shows in New York and Los Angeles.
“We do it here because it is a fantastic facility and the staff is marvelous,” Cassidy said. The Hemmens’ exhibition hall — the basement — and the first-floor lobby are filled with vendors selling vintage clothing from the 1880s through the 1980s for the two-day event.
For buyers, the Elgin location is ideal due to its proximity to Chicago. In Elgin, she said, buyers don’t have to pay for parking, and the cost of renting the Hemmens is more reasonable than other venues, Cassidy said.
“We get the best of both worlds” here, she added.
Those vendors include Janet Barrett and Grace George-Dash of Cleveland. The two women and a third partner have been packing up their vintage clothing and accessories for the past five years and hauling it to Elgin for the Cat’s Pajamas show.
The trip is worth it, Barrett said.
The three friends and partners split the work and the profits that come from selling items collected throughout the year, Barrett added. Pieces come from here and there — estate sales, thrift shops and the like, she said.
Cleveland is a good place to find vintage clothing, she said. Chicago — or the Chicago area — is a great place to sell it. “We have Cleveland prices, not Chicago prices” that make the sale successful for them, Barrett said.
Jennifer Temple of Columbus, Ohio, was manning a vintage clothing booth at the sale, too. It was the first time the shop she works at — Second Chances consignment — allowed her to travel here for the sale.
Because theirs is a consignment shop, they get a little bit of everything. So they went through consignment pieces and those in storage to determine what to bring for the sale, Temple said.
Some of the items they were selling included vintage Valentino, Dior and Yves Saint Laurent, Temple said.
The Valentino piece — a jacket from the late 1980s — had a $250 price tag on it. The Dior sweater — somewhat less rare — was priced at $75.
Some unused to the idea of vintage — or pre-worn clothing — might be surprised at either the prices or the buyer enthusiasm, Cassidy said. But clothes from the 1970s and earlier are still popular for those looking for something both different and well-made.
“The quality is undeniable, and so much of it was made in America,” Cassidy said. “We used to have many woolen mills here; and now, 99 percent of clothing is made overseas.”
For many years, the show was held twice a year, in February and September. When the economy soured, that dropped back to once a year. But vendor and buyer pressure brought the show back again last September and is set for this fall as well.