Preparing to Shop at Saks 5th Avenue
>> >When you enjoy what you see, and then describe the details, your experiences become more satisfying.
Learning how to identify high points, however, takes practice. Without preparation, it's too easy to become sidetracked by low points; things that are foreign to your everyday ideas about how the world should be compared to how yours is.
Manhattan is not the world! It is simply thrilling location, with much of that thrill evolving around money. Manhattan is a living museum of raw buying power. Accept that for what it is and pretend you are part of it (if not already).
Prepare yourself for opulence. If you are used to small-city shopping districts, walking into a huge, upscale place like Saks 5th Avenue can be intimidating. Letting thoughts sneak in like "that little cotton blouse costs what?" are downers. Who cares what items cost when there are so many new things to see? Wash those penny-pinching ideas right out of your brain.
. . . once you've become brain washed, you will have a lot of fun poking through one of the nicest upscale stores in America.
Prepare Your Imagination
Once upon a time, before mass merchandising, shopping for rich clothing was all about fabric. The fineness of the cloth. The weave. The colors. And the details, such as beadwork, embroidery and precious metal threads.
If it's been a while since you bought clothing not made of denim, cotton jersey and acrylic, now's the time to broaden your scope. Think about movies you've seen of society folk, queens and their courts. Study pictures of opulence. Look at the fabrics and fashions from India, a country where appreciation for fine cloth and intricate jewelry still exists.
Once you have these images in mind, picture yourself wearing soft, vivid, draping fabrics, woven with gold and decorated with embroidery and beads.
If you have a hard time imagining wearing this type of clothing, spend a month or so pouring over People Magazine, paying particular attention to the way it depicts award and fashion shows. Could you dress better than any of people you see? Would you need a stylist to select just the right outfit, or do you have enough taste to "do it yourself," given the right financial resources?
Knowing what beautiful fabrics are and imagining how you can wear them is an important preparation prior to shopping in Manhattan, but there is one more thing - learning how to describe the details you find so beautiful.
To learn how to describe details with enthusiasm and precision, tune into the HSN (Home Shopping Network) or QVC on cable TV and listen to the patter. Their descriptions are incredible. I've actually heard details that make the clasps on pierced earrings sound exciting!
Using TV merchandising methods as your guide, practice describing the things you love, going into intricate detail for several minutes at a time. Tape record your descriptions, then listen to hear whether you've hit the mark.
Here's another exercise: Write down details about what you love (especially when you get something new) and see how, over time, your lists become longer and more interesting as you exercise this skill.
Once you learn how to describe the things you love, with passion and gusto, and you can imagine wearing clothing that is beyond your budget or everyday needs, you are ready to shop at Saks.
When to Shop
Armed with your stimulated imagination and newly discovered expectations, try to shop at Saks on "just awful" days. If at all possible, choose rainy, cold or dismal days. Why? Because Saks at 5th Avenue and 50th Street is located on one of the busiest blocks in Manhattan. It is across from the Rockefeller Center and NBC, two major tourist focal points. The word is "throng."
Trust me. Shop when the weather is lousy. Remember, it never rains inside.
Please, don't get caught up with the cosmetics displays on the first floor. Been there. Done that. You can see top quality cosmetics all over Manhattan.
Look, instead, for the shawl (shoulder wrap) department. Here is where fantasy begins. This shop is set into a very small niche on the far north side of the first floor. It usually holds merchandise that would make the monarchy weep.
The last time I was there, I saw two stunning $3,000+ silk shawls, complete with ornate fur collars and brilliantly colored embroidery. These sat unattended, in the middle of the floor, just right to try on! When I attracted a clerk, she complemented me on my taste and said that the shawls would look great over a tee-shirt and jeans (like Cher or Lil' Kim).
Excuse me? Is this fun, or what? Never again will I worry about personal style. . . and to think I used to shop the Gap.
The second floor holds footwear and designer clothing. Skip this floor and come back later.
The third floor is where you want to be. It is here you'll find Saks' Fur Salon and their highest quality evening wear.
No matter what your size, let your dreams run wild. Not only will you have fun picking the clothing for your own pretend "celebrity" events, you can actually touch $5,000+ dresses and coats.
Pay close attention to what you see and feel.
Take the time to mentally describe everything as suggested above, or, if you're with a friend, chatter HSN-like about the detail. Pay attention to the way materials feel and how beads and embroidery are stitched. Consider which furs are way over the top and which lush coats you'd wear with your jeans as well as with those shimmery new dresses you are about to pick out.
If you have a camera, take pictures. Pretend that you are taking pictures for your stylist so that he or she has a better idea about your tastes.
After you've spent an hour or so on the third floor, check out the eight floor for the "real person's" formalwear department. You'll be in for a surprise!
Until now, you've probably thought that all formalwear displays tend to be pretty. After spending time on the third floor, however, it is entirely possible that your gut reaction to this merchandise will be "what junk is this?"
Hummmmm. The eight floor formalwear is nice, but at a price. A much lower price, at that! If you didn't understand what the term "upscale" meant before experiencing this contrast, you will now.
OK, after you get over the shock, stroll over to Saks' lingerie department on the same floor to feel a lot of real silk and soft lace. Beautiful stuff. Enjoy!
All Other Floors:
Next, go down to the fourth floor to see moderately priced clothing, plus the Saks label clothing.
The Saks label starts in the mid-hundreds for separates and can go into the $300s, which is significantly less than what you pay for designer labels. On sale, you can pick up excellent bargains, such as their silk and cashmere blend sweaters for $50/$60.
Once you have a feel for differences in quality, you're ready to see the designer fashions on other floors and draw your own conclusions as to whether those designers know how to make the cut. The most vibrant fashions (which are sometimes made from the most flimsy materials) are those that cater to young women and the young at heart. Shopping in this area is like strolling through a fully blooming garden.
If you don't have a big shopping budget, continue pretending that you can buy anything, no matter how frivolous. Write down your "purchases" and total them up. After you know what it takes to satisfy your fashion needs, pretend that you fly into Manhattan quarterly, at the beginning of the seasons, just to stock up.
Shhhhhhh ... a shopping secret
You can bargain at Saks as well as at other fine stores. Like something expensive? Know how much it'll be when it goes on sale? Tell the clerk that you are interested in an item at, say, 40% off. Do the calculation in your head, of course. Very often they'll make you a counter offer.
Other Fabulous Department Stores
New York is loaded with fabulous stores. Department stores, in my opinion, are the most fun simply because they are so excessive.
That said, many exclusive department stores have branches in major American cities as well as in Europe. What is special about Manhattan's flagship stores, however, is the city. I defy anyone to walk through Manhattan streets without getting a sense of anticipation. Think "Breakfast at Tiffany's." A mall is a mall, no matter how exclusive. 5th Avenue, however, IS 5th Avenue!
Over time, I'll give you insight on how to approach Macy's, Bloomingdales, Barnies and Burghoff Goodman. Until then, here's a quick tip: If you are even remotely interested in cookware, visit Macy's basement. Macy's is to pots and pans what a cathedral is to Catholics.
Of course, all of these stores have sales (with Macy's cookware sales being most excellent). If you know what you're looking for (and even if you don't), shop 'til you drop. Expect a bargain, and you'll get several. It's the Manhattan way . . .
PS: for more information about Saks and perhaps (ahum) your account, visit saksfifthavenue.com
Article and photos by Karen Little. First published on 2/4/2001. All rights reserved by www.Littleviews.com.