Rack Race

updated 07/04/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/04/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

IT LOOKED LIKE A ONE-WOMAN HOME Shopping Club extravaganza. Oprah Winfrey, the Incredible Shrinking Woman, invited 2,000 of her fans to the Grand Ballroom in the Hyatt Regency Chicago on June 18 for a benefit sale of 900 dresses and other items from her wardrobe—a silk-and-satin history of her waistline from size 8 to size 22.

The event began decorously with a light breakfast and a silent auction, conducted by Oprah, of 15 special outfits, including the dark navy blue Richard Tyler suit she wore to interview Michael Jackson last year and the purple sequined dress she wore to the 1985 premiere of The Color Purple. Then came bargain time—and a fairly civilized stampede to the racks. "There was only one rack of 8s and 10s, and when I got there, there were only one or two items left," says Pam Borchardt, 38, a Chicago Realtor. "People were grabbing armfuls as they went into the fitting room. Inside, people were trading clothes. I got a red Ungaro dress for $600. It still had a Marshall Field tag on it for $1,820."

The shoppers were the lucky winners among 50,000 Oprah viewers who had sent in postcards to gain a ticket. Their four hours of demidelirium raised more than $150,000 for Chicago's Hull House, a community outreach organization of which Oprah's fiancé, Stedman Graham, is a board member, and Families First, a Sacramento group that provides food, shelter and education for abused children. Prices started as low as $10, for casual pants, "to make sure everybody went home with something," said a spokesperson.

As with any yard sale, the proprietor suffered from separation anxiety. "I should have kept these," joked Oprah, appraising the size 10 Ungaro and the second outfit, a Donna Karan, that Borchardt had nabbed. "They would almost fit me now."

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