There’s been a death in the family. Oh no, thank goodness, not that kind of death, but a real loss nonetheless, and for the millions of hardcore Loehmann’s shoppers, you know what I mean. The news is devastating. Loehmann’s, after 92 years of dressing American women, (and men) in designer clothing for less – way, way less – has filed for bankruptcy and the liquidation has begun. No more Loehmann’s? Oh no Lo’s, say it ain’t so.
With Loehmann’s, founded in 1921 by Frieda Loehmann and her son Charles in Brooklyn, NY, it was never just about the clothes. Shopping at Loehmann’s was a sport. There was skill, strategy and gamesmanship, and sometimes it could get physical. You didn’t go there to look for something specific. It didn’t work that way. You went to Loehmann’s to score. It issued a challenge, and a true Loehmann’s disciple took up the gauntlet with fervor. Patrolling the aisles got your juices flowing. It energized you, and a good find at Loehmann’s was worn on your deeply discounted sleeve like a badge of honor. Not politically correct to announce the price of your new dress? We Loehmann’s pros couldn’t wait to crow about it. You paid what for that at Saks? We paid $49.99 at Loehmann’s, and that was before our 10% every day Diamond Club discount.
Shopping at Loehmann’s was also an inheritance, passed down from generation to generation, and I come by my gene naturally. My Russian immigrant grandmother settled in Brooklyn and indoctrinated my mother at the Loehmann’s there. I cut my teeth on the Loehmann’s in Hewlett, NY. And before my three daughters were even out of diapers, they were toddling around the aisles in the White Plains, NY store getting schooled in the fine art of developing the Loehmann’s je ne sais quoi, that sixth sense that would alert you to a new shipment from Michael Kors, some hidden gems on the Free People rack, or how to pull together a suit by grabbing the skirt and jacket from different racks and making sure the fabrics were the same. So you see, Loehmann’s runs in my family, the same as our blue eyes and a love of the beach.
The key information was found on the blue Loehmann’s ticket. While it had the store’s price in large print on the bottom, it had the designer’s suggested retail price in smaller print toward the top. A $450 suit jacket for $229.99. A $275 pair of wool slacks for $139.99. How did they do it? It was like magic.
The communal dressing room was salient to the Loehmann’s experience. Your neighbor in the room became your instant fashion advisor, and you, hers. She might have the worst fashion sense and no style whatsoever, but you absolutely cared if she thought those pants made your butt look big. Women of all shapes and sizes paraded around in underwear that mostly would never qualify for the Victoria Secret catalogue. “What do you think of this?” women would ask, to no one in particular, and they’d immediately get two or three definitive opinions. The rules of the room were also written in stone, although I am sure they were never actually written. What was on your hook was yours. But hang it on the rack for items women did not want, and it became fair game for the herd. First one to pounce, wins. No backsies. I’ve gotten a couple of my best finds using this method, I’m proud to say.
Sometimes, the lure of a good discount would get the better of even a seasoned Loehmann’s veteran, and we all, gun to head, could admit to a few bad purchases. That bright green Alice and Olivia dress? Too tight. Wrong color. No place to wear it. But no matter. It was $495 full retail, and $99 today. There was no way you were going home without it. The fact that it might never see the light of day? A mere detail.
Truth is, however, those moments were few and far between. I still feel a sense of pride just thinking about that Elie Tahari black wool coat I bought earlier this year – $560 full retail, $209 for me last fall – that I have yet to wear without getting multiple compliments. Ditto for the navy sleeveless Theory dress, and the black wool and faux leather jacket by an unknown manufacturer that always looks awesome and was an absolute steal at $49.99 (before coupons).
The future is uncertain. Where will we shop? Department stores are so sterile. You have to go into a dressing room by yourself! And there is not the same sense of the hunt, to say nothing of the lack of deep discounts. Specialty stores? They are expensive. And the selection is small.
However, an optimist could see a ray of hope. This is the third time the company has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. So if past is prologue, perhaps, just perhaps, Loehmann’s will rise again. We can only hope.