Thrifty Couture

by Jan 27, 2022Nonprofits, North Brunswick

The Boot Camp Babes of Compass Pointe don outrageous fashions in The Cheesy Thrift Shop Runway Fashion Luncheon Extravaganza.

They strutted down the makeshift runway in front of an excited crowd just like experienced models at New York Fashion Week. But the Boot Camp Babes of Compass Pointe donned outrageous fashions created from thrift store shopping excursions, proving that fashion is fun at any price point, just about anything can be transformed into something magnificent and the power of friendship is a transcending amazing bond.

It all began in a neighborhood parking lot.

The Boot Camp Babes, a group of 30 ambitious ladies who live in Compass Pointe in Leland, get together three times every week to exercise in a neighborhood parking lot. Retired physical education teacher Jane Donahue leads the workout, and the participants range in age from 54 to 73.

Claire Renaud was one of the first 10 women to join the Babes after moving from New Hampshire a year ago. “This group makes exercise fun,” Renaud says. “We are always laughing. Our cheek muscles are the strongest because we work those more than anything else!”

There is much more to these Babes than exercising together. While they train seriously to be healthy and strong, sporting matching inspirational T-shirts that read “Stronger Together,” Renaud says, “Our goal is to do outrageous things.”

Compass Pointe Ladies Runway Show

So, the group embarks on monthly adventures. They’ve been to wineries and festivals and kayaking excursions. Becoming bolder with every escapade, the Babes celebrated National Flamingo Day and National Pink Flamingo Day by going out to dinner wearing giant-sized flamingo wings and pink headbands with 8-inch-long beaks. The costumes were pieces from Renaud’s theatrical costume business, which she sold in April 2021 to a South Carolina theater company. On October 28, the Babes hosted their most outrageous event yet — The Cheesy Thrift Shop Runway Fashion Luncheon Extravaganza — for a sold-out crowd at Locals Tavern in Leland.

Renaud recalls, “The fashion show idea happened out of nowhere. Growing up as the youngest of 16 siblings, I bought most everything I owned from thrift shops. I still do today. On a recent trip to a local Leland thrift shop with Babes Janet Blair and Cindy Guardalabene, I shared that my sisters and I would often pick out something crazy at our thrift shop for each other to wear.” And the idea for fashion show was born.

The Babes were paired through a drawing from a hat, one taking on the role of model and the other fashion designer. They trolled thrift shops to purchase outfits with a few simple rules: Spend $20 or less. Buy the most outrageous, over-the-top things you can find. Don’t worry about sizes. And don’t reveal for whom you are choosing clothing.

Runway Fundraiser Compass Pointe

With shopping complete, each model received a fitting by Renaud in her home, where she still has a work room she used for her business. Each model was blindfolded while her designer looked on as Renaud used her 37 years of costume design experience to add a piece of fabric here and make a tuck there. Renaud also crafted accessories, transforming old shoes into gloves, a metal food trivet into a matching necklace and bracelet, and reworking the top of a cat food can into a sculptured ring.

Master of Ceremonies for the fashion show was Artie Kuhn, the daring husband of Babe Donna Kuhn. Wearing a Renaud-redesigned double-breasted suit with tails that trailed like a bridal train, Kuhn read a script prepared by the verbally eloquent Babe Denise Sheehan.

The 23 outfits were described as “aggressively fashionable, couture of all couture and vixen vintage.”

Every detail was acknowledged as the fanatical array of clothing, embellishments and accessories walked the restaurant. It was a stream of trendy animal prints, flirtatious feathers and fur, gold epaulets and chains, a feathered fedora, a cerulean blue sequined sash, wide-leg trousers with floral beaded appliqués, a flamboyant red and black turban and more. Every model in the show wore blue eyeshadow extravagantly painted from lashes to brows. It was as exciting for the models seeing themselves in their fashions for the first time as it was for the audience who watched.

Fundraiser Compass Pointe Ladies

Awards were chosen by the wait staff at Locals. Top models were Patty Schmitt and Barb Matthews. Top designers were Barb Matthews and Cindy Guardalabene. Rosemary Gasparrini received the award for the thriftiest outfit, spending a mere 99 cents for a new-with-tags mother-of-the-bride gown. Renaud transformed it into a pantsuit with sleeves like wings worn by Janet Blair. An audience member won an auction to have the privilege of modeling a mermaid costume from Renaud’s collection, which was voted best design. Best runway walker went to Jenny Strahan. The wait staff was surprised at the end of the evening with an additional $400 tip, proceeds from a basket raffle and the auction.

Renaud concludes, “We look for any occasion to have fun. We are motivated by our love of our friendships and our desire to live our best lives by being healthy and active.”

The Boot Camp Babes plan to step up their game next year. Is that even possible? They will donate fashion show proceeds to the beneficiaries of the thrift shops where they will purchase their outfits.

Photography by Bill Ritenour

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