I Miss Loehmann’s

October 26th, 2023

By Bonnie Tarantino

I am on a plane to Charleston South Carolina. It will be my first time visiting so I am very excited as I love to travel to new places. Scott has a conference which will require we dress formal for a few of the nights. This led me to the mall to find something to wear. I hate the mall.

After scouring Nordstrom Rack to no avail, I poked into Zara. There I found a few possibilities for a 5 ft 8,135 lb, fit 30 year old. With arms full I made my way to the dressing room. I don’t like dressing rooms for many reasons, the top one being that they just smell bad. Women are fragrant but when they shop, they give off more of a, well…crotchy smell. I assume that this happens because, like me, our fight or flight reflex has been triggered by the onslaught of shame that these little evil changing cells ignite. Shame stinks.

The particular hell of a dressing room that I found myself in at Zara’s had mirrors on two sides but not in front. It was small enough that if I lifted my elbows out to the sides, they actually touch the two mirrors. Also, when I bent forward my granny panty ass would hit the curtain which of course did not close all the way. On top of that the lights in this dressing room were designed by a dermatologist who clearly wanted to highlight skin tags, blemishes, cellulite and even somehow the total weight of my body at every awkward stage of its weight gain journey. Everything I managed to contort on made me look like a rugby player who decided to go out for the mermaid team.

After saying enough “hell no’s” and” fk this’s” I started putting all the stuff back on the hangers (except for one amazing pair of sweatpants.) I put my soft, worn and practical clothes back on and placed my hand gently over my image and apologized, “I am sorry I did this to you honey. We should have gone to White House Black Market where the sizes are generous, and the fitting rooms are tall and wide with a hint of a beach resort cabana.”

Where I really wanted to go after this shopping tantrum was Loehmann’s.

When I first moved from New York City 20 years ago to the town we now live in, I experienced the fashion dessert that is the suburbs of Baltimore Maryland. My one saving grace was that there was a Loehmann’s. Loehmann’s for those who don’t know was one of the first clothing stores that sold high end fashion brands after the big department stores did their seasonal dump. Basically, our watered-down version of Loehmann’s is now Marshals, T.J. Max and the Rack at Nordstrom.

My kids hated to go to Loehmann’s as did many people because the dressing room was very embarrassing. You may say “Oh I hated Loehmann’s for that very reason” but hear me out.

At Loehmann’s we all shared one big room, like a big locker room. The room was large, the mirrors were large, the ceiling was high and guess what? No one looked that bad, no one looked that good either, but people looked well…like people. Beautiful, varied, all shapes and sizes and ages people, people with a story people. And many of these people had their mothers or sisters or best friends or kids with them. Instead of hunting out in racks alone, we were gathering as woman are designed to do. Out of the showroom floor however was brutal. People would snatch something right under your eyes but once in the dressing room the energy was very collaborative. In this dressing rooms you would put something on and someone would say. “Oh yes. That’s great. Get it. Get it!” Then you would look at the price and tilt your head and another woman would say, “It is worth it. You will wear that again and again.” Then you would put something else on and it was terrible. The room would wait for you to declare it the fault of the design and agree. At Loehmann’s there was an unwritten rule, it was never your body’s fault. The clothes were often rejects for just by being there. If you looked bad, it was made wrong. Often as you stood there semi naked between options someone would pass something over to you. “Try this. You have a body like my daughter, you will look stunning in this.” Often that was the piece you walked proudly out of the store with, on a hanger with plastic wrap because it was Loehmann’s. Why wrinkle something that was just steamed cleaned several months ago?

Basically, if you were the type of woman to go into that dressing room at Loehmann’s, chances were that you were the type of woman who was at least kind enough to yourself that you could handle the reflection of your truth while cheering on your fellow gatherers Everyone woman no matter what dressing room they enter wants to find clothes that fall right over their soul, wants to find the dress that flips and flares and even dances into life the beauty set deep in her skin. Clothes should activate our desire for fun, should ignite our vibrant sparkling eyes. Clothes should show the world you know your body well. So where do we go now for community while retail foraging?

In the end I did end up at the White House Black Market store, a store designed better for my age and style, and yes I even found a really nice dress that highlighted the curves and strength of my body. But as I watched the woman roll the dress up in tissue paper and place it carefully in a little black and white bag, I was pretty sure that I would have found a much better ensemble at Loehmann’s and that someone’s mother would have helped me.

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