January 2016

Wrapture at Bloomingdale's

By Suzanne Strazza

Christmastime never fails to evoke memories. While some vary from year to year, one is the constant; this little bit of nostalgia is at the forefront the minute I sit down to begin wrapping presents…

Working at Bloomingdale’s. For those of you who aren’t aware of that which is called Bloomingdale’s, here is Wikipedia’s definition:

“ Bloomingdale’s is an American chain of luxury department stores. Founded in 1861, its primary competitors are Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor, Nordstrom, and Neiman Marcus. It’s best known for its large selection of designer brands and pricey merchandise.”

I’m sorry, but calling it a “chain” does it no justice. In fact Wikipedia falls short completely in defining the glories of one of the original American department stores.

We’re not talking Dillard’s or Penney’s or Beall’s (which, for some really odd reason, is pronounced “Bell’s. Hello? What about the A? Another topic, another time.)

As a matter of fact, Bloomingdale’s age-old slogan is “Like no other store in the world.”

Absolute accuracy.

Entering Bloomingdale’s is entering a discrete universe that shuts out the real world, allowing one to escape her (or his) humdrum, stressful, boring life.

There are escalators, each leading to a different planet.

Not a great metaphor but I’m trying to run with the Universe thing.

One walks through the revolving doors on the main floor: cosmetics, scarves, ties, perfumes, women’s and men’s clothing – of the everyday sort.

Downstairs is where the Housewares live. NOT housewares like Bed, Bath, and Beyond. We’re talking 8,000-threadcount bedding, Limoges china for your bridal registry, state-of-the-art spatulas.

Also downstairs is the gift-wrapping department – yes, an entire half a floor devoted to making presents look gorgeous.

Up the escalator from scarves and the elegant, 10-foot tall runway model who is offering a squirt of Calvin Klein Obsession, is children’s clothing and nooks containing sportswear and designer-specific attire for both men and women, e.g., tennis whites, golf pants, shoes, and of course, the then-famous walls, literally four walls of color-separated, impeccably folded Ralph Lauren polo shirts.

This was before the days when every thing, and every person had a frigging pony on their pec. Polo Ponies were sold exclusively at Bloomingdale’s.

Up one more flight lies the lap of luxury: lingerie, tuxedos, ball gowns. Sale racks hold frocks sporting $700 price tags.

Top floor? The elegant tearoom where men wearing white gloves serve crepes on fine china.

Total luxury. Total indulgence. Total bliss.

Now, you are probably wondering why I am blathering on and on about this hoity- toity, large-scale boutique that evokes intense Christmas nostalgia.

Because I worked there. In Men’s Ties. At Christmas Time.

Being a Sales Assistant at Bloomingdale’s was my afterschool job. No waiting tables at Friendly’s or cashiering at Walmart for this gal.

Walmart didn’t even exist.

Oh, for the Good Ol’ Days.

I was a Second and First Floor Sales Assistant; this meant that I wasn’t experienced enough to work in Housewares (thank God) and not sophisticated enough for Black Tie galas. I floated primarily between Ralph Lauren, Tennis, and Young Ladies (not “Girls”.)

I LOVED my job.

There’s a certain element of peace in Bloomingdale’s; it comes with the good manners, which are essentially (and unspokenly) required to enter the building. Even during the Holiday Season, people are soft-spoken, well-behaved and use their pleases and thank-you’s.

When Christmas came I was told that due to my beauty, charm, and calm-in-the- storm attitude, I was being promoted to Men’s Ties…the busiest department in the store.

It may have also been because they were short-handed.

But whatever the reason, Men’s Ties was a dream. Yes, incredibly busy, but who doesn’t want to assist in making a well-dressed man more well-dressed?

Everything about Bloomingdale’s ties screamed sexy in a James Bond kind of way. Sophisticated. Manly.

Bow ties, neckties, ascots. We carried them all. And it was my job to assist the discerning buyer in deciding between the navy with green and yellow pinstripes and the navy with yellow and green pinstripes.

There is a difference, you know.

To help a women (because most of the time the shopper buying a tie for a loved one was female) pick just the right bow tie for that gray flannel sport coat was extremely gratifying; “I have just the right thing over here – the azure polka dots really bring out the subtle (almost invisible until paired with the tie) thread running through the fabric.”

Or “Dinner at 21? I have the most luxurious ascot over here that will perfectly complement your wife’s Chanel.”

Then, the act that distinguished Bloomingdale’s from Penney’s…

The gift-wrap.

Yes, as mentioned, the Wrapping Department lived one escalator ride down; all presents were tenderly cared for there.

Except for Men’s Ties.

We were a world unto ourselves. We gave our clientele the pleasure of choosing just the right paper, ribbon, accoutrements.

Picture Rufus, the jewelry salesman from “Love Actually.”

All of the Sales Assistants in Men’s Ties had passed a course in decorative wrap. We were considered experts in the end-fold-and-tape world. We kicked ASS at curling ribbons.

And it brought so much joy to produce perfection in paper. The delight on a woman’s face as she viewed the finished product belied the sexy seductive thoughts in her head of when her man tore off that holly sprig.

Holy shit – sounds so pretentious, doesn’t it?

Remember, I wasn’t shopping there, I was the help. But how I loved to help. I, of course, had visions of a distinguished, sophisticated, oh-so-handsome, single gentleman walking through the doors and in true Hollywood fashion, falling in love with the Salesgirl who sold him the tie that he wore when he was honored at the Smithsonian.

Obviously it didn’t happen.

But a girl can dream, can’t she?

So now, as I sit on my bedroom floor in my own universe in downtown Mancos, Colo., hastily enveloping my boyfriend’s Christmas gift in leftover baby shower tissue paper, I am reminded of the glory days of Professional Gift Wrapture.

Suzanne Strazza is an award-winning writer in Mancos, Colo.