The B’s Knees


Rules, as every real shopper knows, are made to be broken, especially the one about never darkening the doors of dorky uptown department stores. For the next two or three weeks, prices at the four B‘s (Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys, Henri Bendel, and Bloomingdale’s) are as low as they’ll be until winter leftovers are slashed next January. And far from being intimidating, these stores are practically begging you to come in and drop money. Plus, of course, there are those priceless compensations that accompany Manhattan department store shopping: the money-back return policy, no matter how severely an item has been marked down (a $10 mistake is still a mistake), and the glamour that’s absolutely free, like the spectacular view of the Plaza fountain from Bergdorf’s seventh-floor bathroom.

Of course, the toilet isn’t the only inducement at Bergie’s, the first of our B‘s. (Historical footnote: The original three B‘s were Bergdorf’s, Bendel’s, and the long-gone Bonwit Teller. Only Bergdorf’s remains in its ancestral home: Bendel’s is around the corner in a much changed form.)

By the time you read this, the prices quoted here will have tumbled even further—probably as much as another 20 percent. So how low is low? On the fifth floor of BERGDORF’S (Fifth Avenue and 59th Street), the “young, hip” floor, a tiered mini in neon-bright orange or yellow, by a company called Noelle and worthy of covering a minuscule Hilton or Ritchie tush, is now $49 instead of $135; an embroidered black summer dress by Shoshanna, Jerry Seinfeld’s ex, who surprisingly has made quite a success in the fashion biz, is down from $305 to $119, which quite frankly is all it ever should have cost.

Contrary to popular opinion, we have never found the salespeople at BARNEYS (Madison Avenue and 60th Street) particularly off-putting, and in fact they’re especially friendly on the store’s least pretentious floor, the eighth. A tie-dyed cotton top with shredded lace at neck and armhole has been reduced to $59 from $129 (buy this immediately if you want it—tie-dye is scheduled to depart when the first leaf falls in September, and may not return for another decade). A faux-Chanel jacket (another trend with an expiration date) by Aka comes with two silly fabric brooches—one has sequins—and is down to $99 from $195; a pale pink undershirt with lace trim—unshredded this time—and made of what the hangtag claims is “superfine Italian yarn” now costs $19 instead of $48. Think of it: For $19 you can spend the day carrying a Barneys shopping bag around town.

The unaccountably popular if terminally boring house-brand sweaters at BENDEL’S (Fifth Avenue and 56th Street) appear to be keeping the store afloat—everyone seems to just love them (but us). A sleeveless crewneck in practically any color you can imagine is $49 instead of $68; a zip-front cardigan is $109 rather than $138. Liven this up with a D&G pink-and-lime giant-flora mini (yet another style on its last legs), now $109.90, down from $175.

If you want a pair of persimmon Miss Sixty cargo pants ($101, down from $169), get them at BLOOMINGDALE’S (Lexington Avenue and 59th Street), rather than at the Miss Sixty boutique on West Broadway, because, remember—at the B‘s there is no such thing as final sale. (By the way, Bloomingdale’s was never one of the original B‘s: Back in the day, its unswanky Lexington Avenue location doomed it to a hoi polloi clientele.) The price sticker obscures the original price of a beribboned Rebecca Taylor floral chiffon top, but, pretty as it is, it seems a bargain at $96.

On the other hand, it’s no wonder why some things are marked down. A company called Sweeties had the bright idea of selling a thin cotton-knit, super-low-cut scooped-necked T-shirt with a matching brassiere in yellow, green, or pink—the clear intention being that the bra is completely visible. Is this really so different than that bra top intentionally peeking from the front of this summer’s super-popular Prada dress? Maybe not, but in Sweeties’ case, the public has spoken: A bursting rack of tees and their sad little bras, now a mere $25 (for both), down from $72, hang forlornly on Bloomie’s second floor.