Thursday, August 27, 2009


At fifteen I was infatuated with Sarah's world.

Infatuated in a wholesome way. In the way girls, at fifteen, are. She was smoother, cooler and infinitely better dressed. She was exotic (Jewish!) and had deli meats and whole grain mustard in her fridge. Her mom smelled like Christalle and wore things that floated as she walked.

We would tan on her deck over the canal. Cool off in her pool. Tan more, and get picked up by cute boys in ski boats that were older and offered cold, canned beer from coolers.

Sarah, of manicured toes in Bernardo sandals... Laura Ashley dresses and Lily prints... recognized that I needed help, and took me shopping.

I had money from a part time job at the evening switch board at Wayne Aker's Ford (there is a story there, too, I just know it...) and babysitting. I showed up at her house with money in hand. Her mom drove.

And together, they introduced me to Loehmann's.

It was a long drive to get there - all the way to the tippy-top end of I-95. I was overwhelmed at first. So much stuff. But Sarah and her mom talked me through it: they KNEW Loehmann's. So intimately, in fact, that underneath a magnet on their refrigerator door was the code clipped out of the newspaper for matching Loehmann's tags to the proper designers that had been cut out of the labels of collars and waistbands.

I quickly learned: this was a place where you got crazy-indulgent armloads of super nice clothes (and the Back Room! O! The Back Room!) and tried them on in a giant room with mirrors all around. No one judged you. No one pegged you as a kid indulging fantasies. In fact, kindly overweight septagenarians would nudge you along as you tried each garment.

The clothes weren't hanger-tired, or last season. Everything was a 'real' brand (once you knew the code) and mark-downs were steep.

I introduced Mom, and in those years when it was just Mom and I at home hunting through the racks and entering that giant dressing room looking for "Loehmann's arm" relief became something of a ritual.

My mom hated that room, and would go to the small dressing enclosures on the sides. But I loved it. I loved the open space, the mirrors all around, the break from claustrophobia-inducing dressing bays.

But mostly I loved the Loehmann's ladies.

Palm Beach Gardens, back then, was still a retirement haven. Consequently, the Loehmann's was a trove of blue hairs with New Jersey accents.

I could stand, modestly covering myself while dressing, and then step back into the giant expanse. Turn. Look at the back of the suit over my shoulder. Perch up onto tip toes (for all those critical heels-and-swimsuit moments that may - any day now - come up). Wait for reassurances. And they always came.

Loud, unapologetic, immodest, unabashed comments about body parts no one was commenting on to me, at 15, 16. "Oh my gawd! Honey you have Got to buy that! If I could wear a strapless bikini! Oy! With those arms of yours! You have to have it! And that tush! So high! Ruthie! Come here and look at this girl's tushi!"

I would costume myself at the Atlanta Loehmann's years later, when trying to look like a 'grown up' for jobs where that was expected of me (and people still wore pantyhose.) Then, in New York, we would trek up to the Bronx and I would search racks for post-maternity clothes suitable for the banking world to which I briefly reported (Insider Club!).

I thought of this because Sarah found me after that NPR bit last week- and re-entered my thoughts. I thought of this, too, because I have a big event next weekend and still haven't found a dress. And it occurred to me, as I was drifting off to sleep... LOEHMANN'S!

I wonder if I can get any sweet elderly Jersey gals to reassure me about my tushi?

No. I was not paid for this post. Neither by Loehmann's, Sarah, nor the coalition of South Florida Jewish Grandmothers. Though that last one would be cool.

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