“What are we if not searching for the other halves of every single “single” size 39 shoe?”
My friend Rosie asked me this on Wednesday morning upon admitted reluctance to venture the cold five blocks over to the inauguration of Barney’s twice annual warehouse sale. “It’s online now,” I explained to her.
We ruminated for a few finger taps (this conversation manifested via iPhone) and collectively reasoned that the demoralizing elements of makeshift changing rooms (and subsequently, the banishment of privacy), bad lighting, and the resounding noise of heavy-breathed sighs as we watch fellow partisans squeeze into the very last sizes of previous season dreams at current season dream prices make the thrill of the find all the more palatable. Or maybe we’re just masochists. Below, resident brainchild Mattie Kahn dissects the evolution of the Barneys Warehouse Sale.
Illustration by Charlotte Fassler
I first braved the Barneys Warehouse Sale in my freshman year of high school. My best friend and I—drunk on the prospect of discounted designer denim—ventured to that ubiquitous stretch of West Chelsea and fancied ourselves adults. I had dressed purposefully that morning, accepting that I would need to shed clothing and conventional propriety for the sake of Marc by Marc Jacobs. I slipped a lightweight azure cardigan over a plain, lacy tank and donned a pair of unfortunately flared jeans out of which I could shimmy easily. I opted for flats and a cross-body bag and scoffed when Rachel appeared in cumbersome lace-up sneakers.
“Amateur,” I said, appraising her feet indelicately.
To be fair, I’d inherited such savvy. My paternal grandmother was an expert discount shopper. The Sundays of my childhood were characterized by cracked mirrors and trips to fluorescent changing rooms and beautiful, silky dresses that made my spine tingle. She knew every hidden storefront in Brooklyn and half a dozen more on the Lower East Side. When we walked into such establishments together, I felt like a celebrity. Before aspiring DJs were big in Japan, Ellen Kahn was big in Loehmann’s.
So it was with her legacy in mind that I trudged downtown to stake out the poor-man’s couture. Inside, anarchy reigned. When I emerged hours later—ego bruised and wallet battered—I was the proud owner of two Loomstate sweater dresses, a pair of Citizens of Humanity jeans, and wincingly narrow, violet-hued suede booties care of Sigerson Morrison. “Is this what love feels like?” I wondered, still delirious from my acquisition-induced high. It wasn’t until the next morning that I noticed the battle scars. A baby Everest of murderous accessories had left a smattering of pale scratches around my wrists. Worth it!
After that, I returned to the Barneys Warehouse Sale each year. Some occasions yielded more bounty than others. Often, I left empty-handed and disappointed. But like New Year’s Eve before it, I could not resist its charms.
There is a prehistoric quality to sample sales that only those with two X chromosomes can appreciate. Limbs fly in every direction. Reflective surfaces are small and unflattering. Zippers and seams and hearts break as a selection of last season’s Alaia is picked apart by an unkindness of ravens, or, rather, an unkindness of frenzied Manhattanites. Grunts are audible. In the words of our beloved Shoshanna, it’s all very: “I am woman. Hear me roar.”
Granted: inventory is not always desirable. The woman ahead of you in line snagged the last Stella McCartney jumpsuit, and you think you may be bleeding. But beneath the humiliation and the wheezing and the stained silk, something real and primal and potentially triumphant is happening. Don’t be fooled by the racks of shiny stilettos. The Barneys Warehouse Sale is an exercise in survival of the fittest. And until February 4, 2013, it only happened twice a year.
On Monday, Barneys launched www.BarneysWarehouse.com, a permanent, online space for its celebrated biannual extravaganza. Come next fall, its brick-and-mortar iteration will shift focus and concentrate mostly on menswear. I know I should be thrilled. After all, the prospect of trolling for off-price Lanvin from the privacy of my own home is virtual Shangri-La. But my enthusiasm for convenience and accessibility and personal dignity is ambivalent.
There’s something discomfiting about this newfangled, round-the-clock availability. Where’s the novelty? The excitement? Isn’t there something to be said for anticipation?
A few days ago, in the name of research, I clicked around around the new site. Admittedly, I was hunting for flaws—for lackluster stock and irregular sizes and a preponderance of yellow. But what I found was so much worse than mustard-colored linen. Pierre Hardy and Rochas are available at dangerously reasonable prices. Around-the-block lines and “Cash Only” signs and snarky PR girls dressed in black are conspicuously absent.
Guys, I think I need to hide my credit card.