How to Wear Balenciaga–Or Just Look Like You Do!

Fashion continues to be driven by retro and vintage, which is a polite way of saying fashion designers are not designing anymore, they’re just knocking off old tat from the flea market. This is great news for you, the ordinary woman in the street. All you have to do to be totally au courant is watch what hot Balenciaga designer Nicolas Ghesquière’s assistants are buying at the flea markets and snag similar garments. And you’ll save a fortune! That knocked-off Balenciaga novelty vest, “designed” by glamorous Ghesquière and cribbed from deceased designer Kaisik Wong, which Cathy Horyn wrote about in The New York Times last week, retails for a staggering $8,390.

This coming weekend presents a wallet-enhancing opportunity. At the Manhattan Vintage Clothing Show at the Metropolitan Pavilion, an astounding array of vintage drag will be sold from 2 p.m. on April 19 through 6 p.m. April 20 (110 West 19th Street; call 463-0071 for exact hours). For the entry price of $15, you can shop where the designers go to pillage the past.

Here are some tips on bargaining that will serve you well. I got them from a ballsy veteran of the vintage-clothing dealers’ scene named Sunny Chapman, who can be encountered this weekend at booth No. 29.

“What’s the best you can do?” is Sunny’s preferred approach-though she cautions that “there is no way to bargain with me without pissing me off. It’s just a matter of degree. And only people I’m married to and fierce drag queens are allowed to call me ‘honey.'” The biggest crime in Sunny’s book? “If you want something and you can’t afford it, then for Chrissakes don’t tell me, ‘There is a tiny, nearly microscopic mend on this fabulous Victorian dress that’s 120 years old-can you give me a discount?’ Instead, say something nice about it-or me. Tell me how young I look.” The ultimate faux pas? Offering insultingly low prices.

Get there early-i.e., when all the designers are jostling for the best pickings. From Miuccia to Marc, they’ll all be there. Don’t toady up to them; use it as an opportunity to vent any lingering fashion rages and settle old scores. E.g., “Hey Donna, what the hell am I supposed to do with all those old blouses you sold me which snap in under the crotch?”

P.S.: Snag a summer frock by Koos van den Akker, the patchwork god of the 70’s and another major source of Balenciaga “inspiration.” Sunny has a good selection (average price: $275). Caution: stay away from high-priced quilted patchwork vests. Kate Moss is the only chick rich enough and thin enough to wear one. They will, unless you are totally anorexic, turn you into a giant oven mitt.