If love was measured in dresses, Paul Brockman would probably be the most loving husband in the world. Over the past 56 years, the German-born contractor from Lomita, California, has gifted his wife Margot with 55,000 dresses, all of which he picked out himself.
The first 10 dresses in Paul Brockman’s impressive collection were free. He got them while working at a seaport in Bremen, Germany, where workers could pick out anything they wanted when the merchandise bales were opened. He gave them all to his then-girlfriend, Margot. After going steady for a while, Paul asked the girl’s parents for her hand in marriage, and they agreed, on one condition – that they leave struggling Germany and move to America. They left for the Land of Opportunity during the 50’s and Paul was disowned by his own family for going against their wishes. The two arrived in Ohio and moved to Arizona before finally settling in California. Brockman started working in construction. No stranger to hard labor, he was soon able to build a construction company and pretty soon the money started coming in. He and Margot shared a passion for dance and went ballroom dancing every week, but Paul wanted her to have a different dress every time, so he kept buying her new ones. By the time they arrived in Los Angeles, in 1988, Margot Brockman already had between 25,000 and 26,000 dresses.
Margot never liked shopping, and says she would rather clean the entire house than go out looking through the crappy, mass-produced items available in today’s stores. So Paul picked out and bought the dresses all by himself. He would buy dresses before work, after work and even during work, sometimes coming home with up to 30 different ones. He got them during end-of-season department store sales, at yard sales and pretty much anywhere he saw something he liked. At one point, his obsession with dresses got so out of hand that he stopped caring about their size. He would look at a garment, visualize Margot wearing it and get it without actually knowing if it would fit her. “You know, it’s a crazy idea, but I kept thinking maybe my wife grows into them,” Brockman told LA Weekly. “Whether losing weight or gaining.” He never set a budget for his purchases. He would sometimes spend all the money he had in his pocket, and wait until next week if he was broke. The most he spent was $300, on a dress Margot never even wore. As you can imagine, most of the 55,000 dresses were never worn.
His wife asked him to quit, telling him she didn’t need all those dresses, but Paul wouldn’t hear about it. Eventually, he started hiding the new dresses from her, although she noticed their garage was getting fuller every day. Soon, they ran out of room, and Paul rented six shipping containers, where he stored the dresses in secret. He didn’t want people knowing he was buying and collecting dresses, and whenever anyone noticed Margot was wearing a different outfit every time, he would lie and tell them that she sewed the dresses herself. “Most men, they don’t care what their wife puts on,” he says. “I’m different. I like my wife to look good at any time.”
Things went on this way for a long time, until last year, when the Brockman’s daughter, Louise, found Paul’s stash of dresses in the garage. He and Margot had never told anyone about his bizarre shopping habit, not their neighbors and friends, not even their kids. When Louise asked what he planned to do with all 55,000 dresses, Paul said “I’m gonna leave them to you”. But she had inherited Margot’s sense of practicality and his bullheadedness and had no plans of inheriting tens of thousands of old dresses. She proposed selling them instead, and asked to see the whole collection to make sure they were still in good condition. “When I saw the way he packed them,” Louise says, “it looks like somebody’s closet in there.” He had built closet rods inside the shipping containers and layered the floor with more bags of dresses.
After meeting with fashion experts and designers, Louise spent a whole month going through her father’s collection and arranging the dresses by color in a large warehouse. Paul built dressing rooms and started inviting people to shop for dresses. He has three sales a month now, and although they’ve managed to sell part of the collection, the place looks as packed as ever, and they’re struggling to keep up with the $2,200 lease cost of the warehouse. Brockman hopes to sell them all en masse, perhaps to a fellow connoisseur, but such a client hasn’t turned up yet.
Louise estimates the 55,000 dresses her father bought in the last half century represent a $1.5 million investment, but he just can’t afford to do it anymore. Paul was a successful contractor back in the day, but at 78, he’s long past retirement. He hasn’t bought a new dress in two months, the longest he’s gone in 56 years, but he must constantly remind himself to think financially to let his obsession go. Still, he says he regrets nothing.
If you’re looking for a vintage ballroom dress, check out the 55,000 dresses website. You’re bound to find something you like, and the Brockmans need the business.
Photos: 55,000 Dresses/Facebook
Source: LA Weekly