The subway entrance to Bloomies.
My mom in one of her designer outfits made from Jerry Brown fabrics, circa 1977.
Pat Field on 8th Street.
My favorite time of year has always been Fall: the crisp, dry air, the bittersweet goodbye to summer, and the promise of wooly knits, leather boots, cashmere and my favorite Fall accessory, big chunky scarves. And yes, the leaves are pretty and all that, but there’s no place better to spend the season than New York City, which is where I grew up. Catching glimpses of fashionable women who got a jump on Fall fashions was always exciting and shaped my thoughts about what I was going to purchase for “back to school.” But there was no bigger influence on me than the August issue of Seventeen Magazine, which I pored over, deciding which items were absolutely necessary (a fair isle sweater?) to purchase in order to transform last year’s wardrobe.
My mom would always take me to Bloomingdales, or as we, insiders, called it, “Bloomies.” We would take the subway in from Queens and exit the 59th Street 6 station directly into the basement, which gave me the impression that we had a private entrance to the famed department store. The weather was still warm, so getting hit with the cool air and generic scent of 1000 different perfumes (that somehow always smelled, and still smells, exactly the same) was always a thrill. We’d pass Forty Carrots, the ground breaking frozen yogurt and health food restaurant that has now moved to the 7th floor, take the escalator up to the main floor, where no matter the time of day there was extreme cacophony, and finally, end up at the Young East Sider (Y.E.S.) department, which catered to juniors and because of its name, made me feel like a real “Manhattanite.”
I was never disappointed with the selection. Although it felt odd to be trying on sweaters in late August, I loved that I’d be prepared when the weather got cooler. After our haul, we’d go back down to Forty Carrots and I’d enjoy my newest obsession, strawberry frozen yogurt smothered in fresh strawberries. Leaving the store with my iconic “Big Brown Bag” in hand made me feel richer than a queen.
Depending on the era, we’d also go to Olaf (late 70s), the clog store, or Capezio (early 80s) for new white lace-up dance shoes that I destroyed quickly (and had to replace frequently) by wearing them out on the street. The final stop was always Jerry Brown fabrics on 57th Street. My mom made all her own clothes because she coveted the trendy designer styles, but didn’t like the quality or the high prices. The musty-wool smell of the store is etched in my memory, and it’s one of those New York institutions that I miss dearly. Although I’d get bored waiting for her to choose her fabrics for the season, and go off into a corner to read my book, I always enjoyed seeing Jerry and Lou, and was proud that they treated my mom like a celebrity.
In high school, I did my Fall shopping with friends, mom’s credit card in hand, but we still went to Bloomies (with a detour to Fiorucci, which was across the street.) But the summer before my freshman year at NYU stands out, as I went to the Village alone (my high school friends had all left for college in Boston) to check out the dorm I’d be living in, Weinstein, and explore the shops that would shape my wardrobe for years to come: Antique Boutique, Patricia Field, Flip, Capezio, Reminiscence, Canal Jean Company, Trash and Vaudeville, Urban Outfitters (the first NY store, on 8th Street) and all the thrift shops in the East Village that I came to adore. I remember exactly what I bought that summer of 1983: black suede (my friends called them “punky”) ankle boots, an oversized purple angora sweater, an army surplus bag and an antique volume of Shakespeare’s works ($35, a huge impulse buy for me.) I still have the book, but alas, not the clothes.