Just what are the socioeconomic and cultural stereotypes for Manhattan's more traditional department stores?
October 6, 2004 1:26 AM   Subscribe

A NYC Question: Just what are the socioeconomic and cultural stereotypes for Manhattan's more traditional department stores? In other words, why is Bloomingdale's often referred to as exclusive by (possibly ignorant) British journalists? [More inside.]

I realize everyone shops everywhere and that stereotypes are often wildly imprecise but, for the benefit of an occasional visitor, what do stores such as Macy's, Bloomingdale's, Saks', Bergdorf Goodman and Lord and Taylor (perhaps Barney's is relevant too?) say about those who predominantly shop there, in standard terms of income, age and, if possible, general cultural and political outlook?

I know there's a big price difference between some of them but I was hoping for more subtle differences between what is probably quite a uniform shopping crowd already.

Thanks for any tentative answers and apologies if it's a redundant question.
posted by MiguelCardoso to Society & Culture (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Macys is a general department store for all middle-class people, and is not seen as exclusive.

Bloomingdales and Saks are a bit more upscale, but middle-class people might still shop there if they are looking to splurge on a luxury item.

Bergdorf Goodman is for very rich people.
posted by falconred at 9:31 AM on October 6, 2004

For the most part, Bloomindales' target is young, svelte, metropolitan, super-affulent females, think 13-45, with the real emphasis on the ones in their twenties and thirties. Their offerings are kind of unique, as they tend to emphasise the avant-garde designers and clothing companies, but it's usually their more modestly priced, ready-to-wear collections. B. Goodman, Bendel's and to some extent Saks feature a lot of the same designers, but more of the super-super expensive stuff.
posted by lilboo at 9:58 AM on October 6, 2004

Barney's is, IMHO, the only upscale department store that seems to specifically cater to men as well as women, as opposed to places like Bloomie's and Saks (and possibly Bergdorf, though I've never been there), which seem to have token menswear departments as a "while your wife is spending money on the other 6 floors" kind of thing.
posted by mkultra at 9:59 AM on October 6, 2004

Bloomingdales and Barney's and Sak's etc have a reputation for being a bit hoitey-toitey and expensive as well as for being influential in setting fashion trends. Barney's recently began selling fur again, pissing off animal rights people (like me) who know that many dull-minded but rich fashion victims see Barney's as carrying the "latest style," a keep-up-with-the-(rich)-Joneses barometer of sorts. Of course, these stores are probably as far from London and France "Style" and "Fashion" as Ohio is from New York (the Midwest always seems about two years behind NY and at least five behind Europe, even in simple trends like the Casio G-Shocks that were popular in England for a while).

Not that I like "Fashion", of course. Or Barney's or Saks. Or people that shop there. Or people, much.
/"working class bias"
posted by Shane at 10:03 AM on October 6, 2004

Many thanks!

Barney's recently began selling fur again, pissing off animal rights people (like me)

Shane: this month's American and Italian Vogue, both monster issues, contain the same disgusting and dispiriting photo-spread, clearly "promotional" rather than editorial, with all sorts of animal pelts, including that of the lynx. My wife and I bought both magazines for a recent train-trip and felt not a little cheated...

I seem not to have understood Bloomingdale's - the few times I tagged along it seemed very democratic and accessible and not at all exclusive. Perhaps it has *polite guffaw* "come up in the world" since 9.11?

I have to say, that for Europeans like me, one of the wonders of the U.S. and Manhattan stores, restaurants and hotels (as in the extraordinary use of their lobbies) is that anyone can walk in and around, with no attempt at harrassment or - very European this - making the non-preferred customer feel unwelcome.

This is one of the practical, indisputable things I most admire about America.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 10:16 AM on October 6, 2004

I agree with everything here so far. Gimbel's (now out of business) was on par with Macy's. Lord and Taylor's and Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom's are all mid-to-upper level. I associate them with suburban moms, though lots of people love Nordstrom's shoe department.

Barney's is way upscale, and people who shop there are stereotypically more likely to make a lot of money and be a bit cooler-than-thou. Lots of black, overpriced, but well-made clothes, and very nice but pricey men's suits. "Will and Grace" makes jokes about the sales there, which are a fighting-over-that-sweater zoo, if that helps put it in a cultural context for you. People have been known to try on clothes right there in the aisles during the sales so they don't need to wait for the dressing rooms and potentially miss out on something.

Also, real New York doyennes pronounce it simply "Bergdoff's" (no final R, no Goodman's). I associate the store with Fifth Avenue and Park Avenue society women. The store itself is on Fifth Avenue, diagonally across the street from Tiffany's and down the block from Prada if that helps with context. The John Bartlett hair salon on the top floor is very chi-chi, and has a great view of Central Park. I saw Paris Hilton at the salon several years ago, back when only the local NY tabloids knew who she was, not the search engines. Um, yeah, I guess that outs me as going there too sometimes. But just for the hair!
posted by Asparagirl at 10:16 AM on October 6, 2004

As a slighty off-topic note: I used to shop almost exclusively in Nordie's (Nordstroms') men's department, however, (At least here in Oregon; I'll find out about California when I go to visit my parents at Xmas.) they recently dropped the nicely cut italian slacks they were carrying in favor of some cheaper stuff that has these ugly, 'hip' coarsely batted seams in place of nicely finished pockets and fly, and the Nordies brand of teflon-coated super100's (which totaly ruins the concept, IMHO.) ... which are cut for rapidly broadening american asses rather than my skinny euro-shaped ass. Quite honestly, I haven't been back since. I've found that the department stores have pretty much stopped doing nice mens stuff and you've got to go to whatever the local upper-class independent mens shop is in a city to find nice stuff these days.
posted by SpecialK at 11:15 AM on October 6, 2004

bloomingdale's hasn't changed appreciably in the last several years. and they are significantly more upscale than lord & taylor--largely evident in the behavior of sales girls, absence of on-sale racks, and the fact that rather than display twenty of the same item in a range of sizes, they display three (one in size 2, one in size 4 and on in size 10). so, if you shop at bloomingdale's, you don't have to buy it on sale. if you shop at lord & taylor, you probably do. but if you shop at either, you have a clothing budget that doesn't reserve designer or name-brand labels for "special occasions".

it's more accessible than niemans, but not less accessible than nordstrom. (at least such in the case here, in chicago, where we don't have macy's--which always struck me as low-rent--but do have barney's. what i love about barney's is that you can spend $200 on a sleepmask, made out of last season's silk ties, but then you have to point out that you bought it at barney's for anyone who doesn't shop at barney's to know that you can, in fact, spend $200 on last year's ties, cut-up to make a sleep mask)
posted by crush-onastick at 11:50 AM on October 6, 2004

Perhaps I'm oversensitive - as a Sephardic, fairly Orthodox Jew (although with much room for improvement...) - but is there a happy-go-lucky (i.e. not at all significant to a New Yorker) Jewish note to Macy's, Bloomingdale's and Barney's?

These are the kind of "nuances" foreign visitors such as myself find more difficult to notice. Is there a more "WASPy" - call it that - department store? Or is this all entirely irrelevant? Whenever I've been over, it certainly feels so.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 12:08 PM on October 6, 2004

> why is Bloomingdale's often referred to as exclusive by (possibly ignorant) British journalists?

Bloomie's? Exclusive? They let me in. There goes that theory.

> Barney's recently began selling fur again

Animal rights, yeah, absolutely. But if they'll sell me one of these I'm all over it. Or it's all over me.
posted by jfuller at 12:38 PM on October 6, 2004

For something to be "exclusive" means that they have to exclude something or someone. Who, exactly, is excluded from Bloomingdale's?
posted by waldo at 1:24 PM on October 6, 2004

Lord & Taylor is the waspiest one, i find--dull selection, lots of sweaters and boring things...

Don't forget Jeffrey, which is the hottest and most exclusive of them all, but doesn't have the departments the others do (no rugs, furniture, etc)

Bloomingdale's has had all of its thunder and buzz stolen by Barneys, i think. Back in the 70s and 80s Bloomingdale's was the best, hippest, most innovative (they used to have one country highlighted each year, often starting trends) place around.
posted by amberglow at 2:19 PM on October 6, 2004

I'd say a hip journalist nowadays would reference Jeffrey instead of Bloomies.
posted by amberglow at 2:22 PM on October 6, 2004

Just go to Century 21. Very democratic.
posted by swift at 3:00 PM on October 6, 2004

I'm fascinated with this kind of thing, but take it out of NYC to the mall stores. Tells you a lot about teens today. Remember when The Limited and Benetton were de rigeur? Now it's all Abercrombie and Fitch and the horrible Hot Topic. I have no clue where the preppy set shop anymore. J. Crew? Talbot's?
posted by GaelFC at 4:11 PM on October 6, 2004

...Jewish note to Macy's, Bloomingdale's and Barney's?

Not that I know of. I've honestly never thought of department stores by religion/ethnicity.

Now Jewish *food* stores, yes. Ever hear of Zabar's?
posted by Asparagirl at 6:16 PM on October 6, 2004

I recall reading of a time when Bloomies was closed down to everyone, and Queen Elizabeth went shopping with her entourage. No clue when that was, sometime in the last 2 decades I'm sure.

Jewishness: Once there were a variety of non-PC jokes around featuring Bloomies as the punchline. Yet as a goy from the midwest, seems nearly anything NYC has a Jewishness about it, mixed in with all the other stereotypicaly NYC ethnicities. Come to think of it, ethnicity itself is rather NYC, compared to where/when I came from.
posted by Goofyy at 1:38 AM on October 7, 2004

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