Words to Live By: Never Pay Retail

One of my many discount Missoni pieces.

I grew up in a family that never paid retail.  Oh, it wasn’t that we couldn’t afford it.  We could.  We never paid retail because it simply wasn’t done.

Besides, we were Jews, and there was a Loehmann’s nearby. Shopping there was a biological imperative.  I still remember my first trip to the discount mecca.  How could I forget?  The array of bodies in that communal dressing room plagued my dreams for decades.  In one recurring nightmare, a barechested woman of a certain age smacked me in the face with her batwings as she reached for a blouse someone had put on the discard rack.

Oh, wait.  That actually happened.

And yet, despite the scars of communal dressing rooms past, I have carried this never-pay-retail mentality into my adulthood.  My impressive Missoni collection (a coat, several sweaters, three dresses, two skirts, two blazers, two pairs of slacks, and a pair of hostess pants (don’t ask)), all came from the late Filene’s Basement, may it rest it peace.  The only pair of Prada shoes I’ve ever owned came from Anbar Shoes, a downtown mecca for those in the know.  No service.  No salespeople.  Just stacks and stacks of shoes and boots arranged by color.  It’s been three years, and I still miss her towering boxes of shoes threatening to tumble at any moment. Anbar – how could you leave us?

Not M by Missoni, mind you. But the real thing.

And Daffy’s.  How can I express my deep love for the Italian, Spanish, and high end American designer duds for kids at this haven for Orthodox women with taste — and 16 children? Why would anyone – -16 children or not – pay $120 for a sweater your toddler will grow out of in three months, when you can buy it at Daffy’s for $29.99?  Why would you spend $150 on a dress for Bar Mitzvah season, when you know she’ll only wear it once, and you could go to Daffy’s and get something fabulous for $23.99? (They have adult clothing, too.  But I always stuck with the kids stuff.)

And this is why I am so sad – nay, devastated – that Daffy’s is following in the footsteps of Filene’s Basement, Anbar Shoes, and Syms – that bastion of be-suited office workers everywhere –  and- brace yourself, closing too. 

Daffy’s, formerly known as Daffy Dans.  You were only 51.  Why did you have to leave us so soon?

“Where will you shop?” asks my well-indoctrinated into the never-pay-retail cult daughter.

The Outlet stores? Bah!  Those are for amateurs!  The lovely displays, the helpful sales staff!  Where’s the thrill of the hunt?  Whence the batwinged ladies?

Plus, those giant outlet malls are not the real deal.  Those clothes/bags/shoes are mostly made for those places.  They’re just cheaper versions of what they sell at retail.  REAL discount shopping is about overstocks, and unsold treasures from high-end stores.   It’s about men waiting uncomfortably on couches while their wives search for bargains.  It’s not about food courts, and child care options on site; it’s about the thrill of the chase, the hunger for bargains.  It’s about bragging rights.

DSW recently opened in my neighborhood, and while I’ll never object to another source for shoes, I fear that it, too, is not the real deal.  Sure, they have some designer items, but mostly, it’s just cheap shoes selling for even cheaper. Where’s the thrill of getting a pair of affordable shoes  more affordably?  I want to buy ridiculously priced shoes affordably.

Now that’s the thrill of the hunt.

Century 21 also opened an uptown branch not to far from my apartment.  But its children’s department at the uptown store is small (hello, Century 21 people!  This is the Upper West Side!  EVERYone has kids! It’s the suburbs in the city!!!!), and the downtown store is too much for me.  I want the hunt – I just don’t want it to be in the thick of the jungle. I want to feel a sense of accomplishment — but not a sense of survival.

Plus, it’s missing a certain je ne sais quoi.  It’s like Century 21 is too famously fabulous to be truly fabulous.  Is it the real deal?  You bet.  But I need an element of “you got that where???” when I tell someone the exact price of my bargain.  I need a frisson of joy at my triumph. Century doesn’t deliver on that front.  It’s too easy.

Where’s the joy in that?

Thank God for Loehmanns.  Though they now offer private dressing rooms along with the communal one, it’s still the same: vaguely tacky, thoroughly fabulous, often fruitless, yet ever holding out a modicum of hope: that Gallianos gown may well appear tomorrow.

And yesterday, at a PR event, I was heartened to discover that Marshalls and TJ Maxx have more honest to goodness designer duds than I had thought.  A Fendi bag for $150 instead of $295.  A DKNY watch for $79 instead of $250.  And ( and I mean this in the most complimentary way) the store delivers on the grunge factor.

Discount shopping should feel discounted.  It’s why Costco is a warehouse. Discount shopping requires you to get your hands dirty. (Though Audrey McLelland, ever perfect in a black chiffon mini dress, layers of chains, and fabulous shoes, (all purchased at TJ Maxx or Marshalls) and who delivered the Marshalls/Maxx presentation, looks like she’s never even seen dirt.  Audrey, my discounted hat is off to you.)

Will TJ Maxx or Marshalls ever usurp Filene’s Basement in my heart?  Who knows? But hope is the essence of discount shopping.  One hopes one will find another Missoni jacket.  One hopes someone else has overlooked those Jimmy Choos.  And one fervently prays that never again, will one get side swiped by the batwings of a barechested woman in the communal dressing room.

Disclosure: I went to a TJ Maxx/ Marshalls sponsored lunch where I received a gift bag and a $25 gift card.


  1. Patty says

    I love this post! I’ve found some of my favorite shoes at TJ Maxx & Marshalls. But sadly I think I’ve committed at New Yorker sin…I’ve never been to Loehmanns! I will remedy that soon. 🙂

  2. says

    You had me at Missoni. I’d sell my cat for Missoni (and if you knew how much I loved my cat…)
    Since the journey is as exciting as the destination, I wish you happy hunting,

  3. says

    I too refuse to pay retail. I love Loehmann’s and was relieved to discover that there was one very close tome when I moved to NJ. I also recently discovered Annie Sez. For some reason I thought of that store as a place old people shopped, and was pleasantly surprised. They carry tons of designer brands at really good prices.

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