The Warehouse Sale

Humanizing and then bastardizing the glorified institution of sales


“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, 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.

Get more Shopping ?
  • Alexandria

    Brilliant Leandra love the way this is written

  • Good choice getting Ms. Kahn to write all these articles for you – she’s a great writer.

  • Opposite Lipstick
  • sidewalkcatwalks

    I think all our credit cards need to be frozen into massiv ice cubes (all Confessions of a Shopaholic-like) and all our hairdryers need to be stolen to prevent middle-of-the-night desperation and hurried thawing of said massiv ice cube.

    Right this way, a CHANEL GIVEAWAY

  • Love your blog. Bravo on the beautiful prose.

  • sialsiquiero

    Always love your way of writing

    Sí al sí quiero

  • sophie hunter

    Fashionistas listen up!


    We take the toil out of gaining the price you want for the fashion you fancy! Zipper will watch your item for you and alert you via text, tweet or email if the price is reduced or a promotion is available!

    On Zipper you can share your planned purchases and latest buys with your friends and recommend items that you think will suit them.


    Share your style and save your purse!


    Zippit… don’t miss a deal!

    Would you be interested in this concept? I am at launch48 exeter weekend, pitching and launching this idea. Thanks for your comments!

  • Lauren at adorn la femme

    This article was so sweetly nostalgic, incredibly funny, and sent me zooming over to the new web site site immediately! An Alexander Wang top for $99 and Miu Mius at half price?! I’ll be a permanent stalker of Barneys new site–and hope I can have the fortitude to hide my credit card when I do!!


    -Lauren at adorn la femme

  • stylesaranwrapped

    Yes, but then what happens when you buy a pair of shoes from the warehouse sale online, and then it turns out that they are too small for your feet? I am currently stretching out these Phillip Lim flats that I got from the sale with my Dad’s old shoe stretchers. And I’m just wondering – what happens if they are still too small for me to wear them? Do I have to sell it at INA or auction it on ebay or something? But then what a waste…one of the many dangers of buying shoes from a sale online, which is unfortunate, since this season it seems to be mostly shoes on the warehouse sale online. Help!

  • Ashleigh

    thank you Leandra you just scored me a pair of Miu Miu’s!!

  • This is so true! Girls just CANNOT resist a good bargain. And with Barney’s new website – God, I’m screwed!

  • lavieenliz

    so true!! I see a deal and it’s on! I’m just happy I’m broke lol

  • nataliechristina

    Well Leandra thank you for ruining my life and the ten kilos i’m gonna gain of all the chocolate im going to eat while i watch Titanic and cry over me living as far away from barney’s as possible over here in Europe.

  • Vittoria

    Hide it in the freezer and freeze it. Ehy: no phon allowed.

    Vittoria from 5 IN THE MORNING

  • After looking at the shoes I went straight to the menswear and got myself a Alexander McQueen sports jacket.. Can’t decide if that’s extremely amazing or extremely sad

  • Coming from the midwest, we don’t really have anything quite like a warehouse sale. Sure, we have sales, but nothing compared to the strategically insane experience you discuss here. I’m assuming that, while the online version is awfully convenient, you’re losing that “rush” of getting up early, preparing what to wear, fighting crowds, and finding something that you can wear as a badge of honor. Shopping online isn’t something you get to say you “survived,” and for some, that takes all the fun out of it.

    I hope that you manage to keep your credit card from maxing out. I can totally see the danger – after about 5 minutes on their site, I was impressed with the selection and pricing. Oh, and I like that I can see it from Ohio. 🙂

  • alicake

    Dude, why, why, why did I read this post? Within seconds of learning that the Warehouse Sale now is online, I logged in and dropped over $500. Snagged the Acne Jordan taupe beauties I’ve been drooling over for months, at 60% off, plus the Acne Terra pumps that somehow slipped into my cart in the process. Whoops.

  • Paula McClelland

    Despite the risk of your new garments not being a perfect fit (or perhaps fitting full stop) I think 24/7 online clearance shopping websites are genius! I often go straight to the SALE button on my favourite sites – there’s a euphoric sensation that comes from buying beautiful things discounted – it’s almost democratic. Now where’s that credit card…

    <3 Paula Shoe FIend

  • Since Barney’s Warehouse is now online, I guess I have no reasonable excuse for ditching class anymore. However, I did like the sense of victory I got after snatching the last pair of Chloe heels in my size from a lady with too big feet…

  • Zainab

    Call me old fashioned but I think I’ll take my chances sweating in a crowded and poorly ventilated warehouse, just to be able to try on that jacket I’ve been lusting after and bask in all its tactile glory. Nothing worse than eagerly anticipating something arriving in the mail, only to find that it’s not the right size.

  • Namrata

    Carrie Bradshaw once said ‘Shopping is my cardio’. Well those days are definitely behind us. But I do believe that the lack of anticipation, and the thrill of scoring a find from another fashion freak like yourself will be missing. But on the other hand, sitting at home and shopping in your Pj’s, that an experience in itself!


  • everytime I read a post it makes me more and more excited for the release of your book. I love your style and manrepelling aesthetic but in addition to that you’re an excellent writer please never stop, i’m obsessed.
    christa melonae

    • Alice

      only, this is not written by her ….

  • Alice

    Ooo-wee, I feel the same way. I don’t typically bring anyone with me but my mom (she’s the only person who doesn’t slow me down). Love, love, love this post!


  • Alice

    I learned from my mother to attain beautiful designer pieces for a friction of the original price by roaming through hundreds of sale sections and outlets (my greatest finds: Navy silk and wool Dior flared trousers for 50$ and Gucci green silk jumpsuit for 150$). The fact that I can do the same in the privacy of my bedroom is even better.

  • Jay

    Somehow, despite the magic of this whole situation, I share your ambivalence. While I have not frequented the Barney’s Warehouse Sale many times, I have been to many a similar sale, and I must say that no peaceful click-click through sales-items will ever do the sale-shopping experience justice. There’s just something so special about feeling the fabrics and leathers of the beautiful dresses and bags, and, ah, the feeling of trying on a funky pair of metallic Chloe frames and knowing you’ve found your match. But, alas, perhaps this is just the beginning of a whole new way of discovering fashion. A scary thought: maybe by the time we have grandchildren there will be no more stores, just people clicking through screens searching for the buzz of a perfect outfit or accessory. Sigh.


    I live in Toronto, Canada but would give up my pinky finger to attend the show

    And yes, no one is a better shopping buddy than mum.

    L O L A – L A G E R F E L D BLOG





  • Alexandra Vasic

    Dear Leandra, as a fashion addict living 20 minutes from an actual barney and saks outlet, I try on a daily basis to avoid that place to the 9th degree, but to no avail. I’ts as if there is a cosmic pull of philip lim and theory at 70% off calling your name. Self control self contol;

  • Yvonna Russell

    I love the sale and would never go online.

  • mulberry&melrose

    so well put, i feel you on everything! 🙂 -S

  • Jules Fashion Week

    Such a nice story – wish I was in New York 😉 !!!

  • sale expert< me.

  • Love the design.

  • debbywarner

    Online is nice but where’s the thrill of the hunt?

    Where is the high that you get when the cashier says, “MF! Where did you find that?”

  • Marissa

    This is a piece about a 9th grader shopping for Marc by Marc Jacobs and Stella McCartney jumpsuits, there is something a bit icky about that image.