Arts & Culture
Long Live Loehmann’s
A Brooklynite’s love letter to Loehmann’s Read More
Perhaps more than the series finale of Dawson’s Creek or the fall of the Backstreet Boys, news of Loehmann’s closure—its official liquidation process began on January 9th—signals the end of my childhood, as I suspect it does for many of my contemporaries. At 27, I suppose it’s about time, but the news is sobering all the same.
It was at Loehmann’s where I first learned the blood sport of bargain shopping, in which proficiency was crucial for any woman with a love of clothes but limited funds to spend on them. It was a sport made more ferocious by hordes of pushy Brooklynites who regularly crowded the Sheepshead Bay store by the water I frequented. Often, my mother and I would perform tashlich (a Rosh Hashanah ritual of atonement) by the marina, and after contemplating our sins of the past year, immediately cross the street to worship at the altar of 50 percent off.
Salespeople were scarce, and customers had to fend for themselves using whatever scrappiness and resources they had. Loehmann’s was a good training ground for any young person trying to make his eventual way in the world, and I developed many early talents there. Specifically, I mastered: hovering, as in stealthily over someone’s shoulder to seize the last Calvin Klein skirt left; eagle-eyed vision, to spot that designer diamond in the rough; and patience, for the wares were notoriously eclectic, and those diamonds could only be found if you did some careful digging.
It was in those infamously communal dressing rooms—which can still elicit pained shrieks of recollection to this day—where many of us first saw such a blatant parade of flesh. Having not grown up in one of those freewheeling naked homes, I was like a horny teenage boy with hormones on sensory overload, always making a conscious effort to avert my eyes from bodies in various shades of undress. But, being so used to the sanitized images of supermodels from the magazines I hoarded in my bedroom, seeing realistic portrayals of what most women really looked like—sagging flesh, cellulite, the telltale signs of motherhood written across so many bodies in stretch marks and C-section scars—came as a relief, as I had half-feared my own body was freakish in its un-model like proportions.
Yet though there were many women proudly strutting in all their fleshy glory, there were many more who were obviously mortified by their perceived imperfections. I vividly remember observing scores of women stare despairingly at their reflections in the mirror as they slapped their thighs and upper arms with violent vigor. Their blatant shame at having to reach for the next size made a deep impression on my already-fragile body image. Maybe there are others, like me, who can pinpoint some of their confused relationships with their bodies from the lessons inadvertently derived from these dressing rooms; in that respect, Loehmann’s proves to be a double-edged sword in my own arsenal of childhood memories.
There were the usual suspects on every shopping expedition, soothing in their unfailing reliability: the resigned-looked husband holding his wife’s purse outside the dressing room, the well-dressed woman who looked pained to be mingling with the commoners, and the infuriated tween girl with her equally exasperated mother engaged in fashion-related tiffs. My mother and I often played the roles of the last couple of characters, with my mother always honing in on the least fashionable items in the entire store, bearing them triumphantly while I stood there with growing horror. Reacting to my disdain, she would gallingly wave the plaid skirt or frilly sweater and cry, “But this is a fashionable store! Isn’t everything fashionable? I just don’t understand.” We had many a memorable fight in those hallowed aisles, but they were usually drowned out by similar mother-daughter battles at the next rack over.
Its doors may well be closing, but Loehmann’s will live on in our collective memories. A classier precursor to TJ Maxx and Marshall’s, it was also a place where you could kvetch in the dressing room, and query complete strangers for their thoughts on your outfit and expect to receive brutally honest assessments in return. We will always remember the tears and triumphs that occurred there in equal measure, and we will fondly recall a time where people eschewed the convenience of clicking a button in their pajamas and actually took the time and effort to shop in a store. Perhaps most of all, we will think back to the undiluted joy of the rare occasions when the stars aligned, and both mother and daughter saw the appeal in a single dress—that just happened to be on sale for 60 percent off.
Tova Ross is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Huffington Post. She is a contributing blogger at Kveller.com. Follow her on Twitter at @tovamos.