The phrase “department store” may conjure images of women in Michigan combing through bins for a deal on family-sized packages of Hanes or grandmothers buying pre-teen granddaughters their first bras, but let me assure you, this is not what greets you in the hallowed halls of Bergdorf Goodman. Originally the mansion of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, the institution straddling 57th and 58th on Fifth Avenue sets the gold standard, boasting botoxed Park Avenue ladies and Nolita hipsters with daddy’s credit card. All on a Wednesday at noon. Who are these people?
In front of the escalators, I spotted a girl who couldn’t have been more than 17 flitting behind a Bergdorf personal shopper carrying a notebook. Before I could even wonder how much it would cost to acquire the services of such a woman, this teen princess wearing jeans, an astoundingly large gold necklace and a handbag that probably topped my rent for the month squealed, “Anything in snakeskin would be cool…” Where is this kid’s mother?!
I headed straight for the home of the Social Power Lunch, the Bergdorf Goodman Café. Filled with social mavens and pearl-clad grandmothers taking their unpolished granddaughters for a lesson in social graces, the café has no doubt played host to some of the most headstrong social dynamos in the history of New York. I spent most of the meal visually shopping plastic surgery and one woman with silvery-blond hair was looking awfully ‘perky.’ Though my roommate raves about the Chopped Salad, I sampled the Roquefort Chicken Salad with Walnuts and thought, “Wow, this is what a country club tastes like.”
The designer shoe section was chaos. I’d happened upon sale time (lucky me) and women were clinking diamonds trying to get their size in hot pink Jimmy Choo sandals. In the background a striking slim blond holding an impressive caramel Birkin bag (for the hoi polloi, that’s about ten grand) calmly asked for a full-price Chanel boot.
Gliding through the shockingly cold hallways of the couture floors, I found women shuffling hangers and chatting on cell phones, though none seemed to be entertaining the notion of work or work-related conversation. Two middle-aged women with heavy Jersey accents discussed scheduling, one remarking she’d have plenty of time to shop as she’d had her “appointment” early. “Your doctor’s appointment?” one asked. “Oh, no that was yesterday.” Do any of these appointments involve making money? Doubtful.
I wish I could say I left feeling superior to these fresh-from-facials slim-as-gazelles-in-the-wild women with their oversized sunglasses and pressed jeans. I wish I could say I was glad my parents spent good money on my education and not Birkin bags in ten or twelve different colors. But squinting against the glare of display cases and golden heels, one’s morals slip. I began wondering if it was still possible to marry into the Vanderbilt family or if investment bankers were really as dull as I’d imagined. After a few hours, the fog had mercifully dissipated, but the $250 dress I’d purchased, alas, remained.