The term “trunk show” conjures up images of 19th century vaudeville acts - something akin to the magician in The Wizard of Oz (who later turns out to be the Wizard - oops... hope I didn’t ruin the ending for you!). At any rate, it’s a far cry from the fashion world’s version oftrunk shows.

Right now, despite the fact that the fall collections are being shown in New York, the spring collections are packed in trunks and traveling the country. This is prime opportunity for you, the customer, to see every piece of a collection you may not have been able to see visiting your favorite store.

Large department stores buy more of a designer’s collection, and lots of it, so the chances of finding something unique are narrowed. Small boutiques, like ours, cherry pick from the collections to select the best garments for our particular markets and our particular customers. But guess what? There could be all kinds of outfits you miss out on if none of us selects them. So enter the trunk show.

Here’s how it works. Twice a year the main designer collections are shown in New York and then move on to Paris, Milan, London, etc. After “market” when the buyers have finished looking in the showrooms at the collections they saw on the runways, these collections are put together to travel throughout the country to the stores that carry the line. And, yes, nine out of ten times, they come in trunks. Big ones. The store advertises that so and so is here for one, two, three days. You can then visit the store and see the entire collection to make your own selection.

For instance, we may buy five or six pieces of a collection that are perfect for our store. But the collection is actually 30 pieces, or 50 pieces, or more. Think about that and multiply it by about 70 appointments and you can only imagine how much we see on a buying trip. There is no way we can buy everything we see, so the trunk show affords you an opportunity to come see the other items on the designer’s line and order it for yourself.

Trunk show collections come in sample sizes, but you can see what you like, be measured to determine your size, and order what you want. The designer’s sales rep is on hand to talk you through the particulars of the garments. Whether or not to add a sleeve, order a different color or fabric and so on. It’s an ideal way to view everything designers are showcasing, and possibly tweak it to your taste.

As a customer, here are some caveats to remember when shopping the trunk shows:

1.  Watch the local newspapers and web sites of your favorite stores. The fall and the spring are when you will see the most trunk shows advertised.

2.  Call ahead to be sure the show is still on for the days/times listed. The fashion industry is crazy wild and sometimes things happen.

3.  Don’t be shy. The sales rep for the designer is there is help you one-on-one. You are under no commitment to buy. This is your chance to ask questions and give serious thought to what you need/want. However, as a courtesy, if you are just there to look because you love the designer, tell the rep up front. He or she will be delighted that you’ve come to just look. Don’t run them ragged trying to fit you, make phone calls on your behalf, and bring piece after piece into the dressing room if you are not an earnest purchaser. Trunk shows are serious business and cost money to put together. If you want to play dress up, this is not the time or place.

4.  If you decide to purchase, you will be measured. Measurements are not to custom make a piece for you. Rather it is to determine if you are an 8, 12, 14, etc. While the designer can make adjustments based on your needs, this is not haute couture. (I will write about the latter in another post, but let’s just say it involves muslins and money. Lot’s of money.) Once your garment comes in, alterations are made to make it fit you just so. There is a charge for this, so keep that in mind. Very few women are a perfect size anything, so nips and tucks are usually in order.

5.  You will be asked to deposit money for the item. We require 50 percent. Some stores require 100 percent. One very important point. Once you order, it’s yours. This is why the store brings in the trunk show, so you can pick what you want. As mentioned earlier, there is no way we can buy everything. And we certainly can’t buy everything you decide to buy and then not buy. So if you order it, make sure you love it.

6.  Don’t be in a rush. Ordering generally takes six to eight weeks. If coming from Europe, longer. Make certain you are comfortable with waiting for your special piece or pieces to come in. Shopping and feeling beautiful should be fun, not stressful.

We have customers that wisely mark their calendars for specific shows knowing there are items they need for their wardrobes. Jackets, suits, evening wear. Year after year they come and buy, adding pieces to their closet, and building beautiful outfits from their favorite designers, all hand selected by them.

Trunk shows are a rewarding and highly personal way to shop. About as close to haute couture as you can get, without going haute-ver the top!

Write and let us know what trunk shows you shopped. Tell us what you liked, what you wished for, and of course, what you bought!

Cathy Ann Sauer is a buyer for Nina Raynor in Delray Beach and fashion contributor to Boca Raton magazine and our sister publication, Salt Lake Magazine.