By Diana Metzger
Nobody wishes to hear the news of the passing of a dearly departed friend while in public; crying is rarely sexy and when the woman next to you consoles you and asks if you were close to the deceased, you’re going to have to tell them you were very attached to the retail establishment, like family. I got the news about the closing of Loehmann’s while puffing away on the elliptical at Crunch Gym. Thankfully, the woman next to me was a store devotee as well and she, like I, took the news hard. She and I had probably seen each other half naked in the store’s Friendship Height’s public dressing room. This was the beauty of Loehmann’s: deep discounts paired with zero boundaries.
For those not in the know, or without bargain hunting Jewish mothers, Loehmann’s is a long running, discount designer department store. Known for it’s Back Room of high-end fashion and its very public dressing rooms. They’re set to close all doors at the end of March, but rumor has it, the Friendship Heights location and the Rockville locations may close as soon as mid-February. Beware the ides of March, indeed. And Loehmann’s never even told me they were sick.
My Loehmanns journey starts in the tender middle grades. My mother took me to the one in Florida, while visiting my grandmother, to pick out my dress for the 8th grade dance. While most girls wanted frilly and florescent, I chose a dress that would have made Hilary Clinton proud: a knee-length, silk, navy blue DKNY shift dress. Very day to night. I was ready to walk out the door with the dress, without trying it on; I wasn’t much for shopping those days—which I think enable me to power shop with speed and efficiency now that I am a clotheshorse. My mother insisted I needed to try it on and dragged me into the ladies dressing room. Much to my tween horror, the dressing rooms were communal. Yes, they have a handful of private stalls, but the real joy is the group experience. Women of all shapes, ages, and sizes were stripping down and trying on, with little to no shame. The women felt comfort and atmosphere of camaraderie, which allowed them to weigh in on complete strangers clothing choices. There was no discussion of be-moaning one’s weight or comparing thigh gaps (which is a comfort because my thighs have a really inseparable relationship). The chatter was all about complimenting style, color choices, and cuts for one’s body type. The dressing room in Loehmann’s is a female Utopia, with the occasional overbearing mother or two.
Over the years, I sought out Loehmann’s as a way to match my love of what I saw on the pages of Vogue Magazine to my real life. Loehmann’s introduced me to my other very committed retail relationship to Marc Jacobs. The coupons were plentiful and the prices were attainable. Each location had it’s own flavor too. In college, I trekked from Evanston, IL to near O’Hare Airport because rumor had it, the Loehmann’s over there had a fantastic selection marked down. Friendship Heights had more fancy designers in abundance, but less deals. Rockville was cleaner, but more picked over, and after a hearty search you could find really amazing black Marc Jacobs flats at an insanely cheap price.
Perhaps these deals led to their financial downfall, but it was a beautiful ride while it lasted. I look at the closings in a bittersweet way, like the Borders Bookstore liquidation; my favorite things at insanely cheap prices—the feeling of joy I get from finding a real buy will be tempered by the knowledge that it will be my last. Goodbye sweet friend, til we meet again at the Jewish-owned, White Plains strip mall in the sky.