My one-time experience at the Bloomingdale’s makeup floor


Post Christmas shopping. New York City. January of the New Year – in this case, 2009.

I had a couple of appointments today in “the city,” as I refer to Manhattan since I live in Queens. Going in on a weekend day is always a gamble with how long it will take. Catching a train within two minutes of getting to the subway platform on a Saturday or Sunday can really set the tone for the day. However, if the train line is under construction and/or rerouted, God only knows how long it will take to get to a destination, be it one or five miles away. I got lucky today and wasn’t rerouted upon boarding.

I met my friend Cornelia on the UES and after a little bit of shopping, we drifted down Lexington to Bloomingdale’s, since I received a $50 gift card for Christmas. I was actually pretty excited, since in three years I’ve never had a reason to actually go in the store. I take that back: I met another friend there once on the makeup floor, but since I wasn’t there to actually buy anything and we left within minutes of meeting up, I didn’t count it as an actual trip to Bloomingdale’s, ie Bloomies. Since I’m not a regular shopper, I don’t think I can get away with calling it that.

What can a person buy for $50 at Bloomingdale’s? I’ll be honest – not a whole helluva lot. Let me put it this way: I’m reading a fabulous book Helen sent to me, entitled The Best of Everything, which is a novel delving into the lives of young secretaries working in a publishing firm in the 1950s in New York City. The starting salary is $50 a week, which apparently was really good money back then for being in a typing pool. Flash forward fifty-three years later, and my $50 gift card can buy me either a discount on something more expensive, a singular expensive item that shouldn’t be expensive (like a tie, a pair of panties or a travel size bottle of perfume), or two small expensive items. So one week’s salary from the 1950s is buying me something small and hopefully classy.

That having been said, most women know that the best bet is to go to the makeup counter (unless that woman is not a girly girl). There are lots of things $50 and under. Seeing as I was still using the same, tired tube of L’Extreme Mascara I wrote about back in November, I knew exactly where I was headed: my beloved Lancome counter.

I really tried to find an excuse to buy a gift set of perfume or something unexpected, but everything was more expensive than I wanted it to be, and damn it, my eyelashes have been crying out for fresh mascara. They simply won’t lengthen anymore with the practically-dried-up tube I have at home.

So here’s the downfall about being on the makeup floor at Bloomingdale’s, one of the most famous stores in the world: it’s a fucking snake pit! Nordstrom, something we don’t have here (pity), is known for its customer service. I would really love to do some compare and contrast shopping because God’s honest truth (and I had a certified New Yorker, Miss Cornelia, with me), the place is loaded with a higher ratio of sales people to customers, practially, all scrambling for a commission on whatever you end up purchasing. They don’t care if you have the money or not, nor how much of your precious time they’re taking up; and they certainly don’t care if they come off as bottom-feeding jerks. It’s all about the sale.

First things first: it’s a good thing I knew exactly what I wanted to buy at Lancome, because while they have the samples of mascara sitting out, everything is hidden and not organized well. I’m sure there’s some marketing scheme on why nothing flows together, like a candy aisle at the grocery store, but it just added to the confusion, if you ask this consumer. The woman who “helped” me didn’t describe anything about any of the other mascaras or eye makeup, didn’t mention any specials, sales or what goes really well with L’Extreme; she simply got out the box I asked for and handed it to me.

My lady was probably in her 50s or 60s, short, and sported a poof of coiffed, blonde (dyed) hair and lots and lots of green eye makeup. I own a subtle shade of green eyeliner of which I don’t like to dab on too much, but this woman had the super bright set all over her: upper and lower lids, corner of the eyes, with green eye shadow to match. I think she even had something glittery. I don’t know about 60 year-olds with glittery eyeliner. I’m just saying.

Maybe when you’re a salesperson you have to make yourself stand out as much as possible, because then I could always find her, saying, “It’s the one with tons of green eye makeup at the Lancome counter.”

“Ah! That’s Zsa Zsa. Right this way,” the helpful Information person might say.

“Zsa Zsa’s” lame attempt at upselling was encouraging me to buy a gift set of Juicy Tubes, which are “only” in stock now and then they’ll be gone forever. Yeah yeah, lady. I held onto my mascara box and continued looking. When I strayed too far at the Lancome border, almost into MAC country, she told me she could just hold onto it for me until I decided. Clearly she was worried I would pocket the mascara in my purse. Fine, I leave it with her. So I turn the corner to go find Cornelia, unsure yet of what else I would be purchasing (because nothing’s worse than having $20 on a gift card at an expensive store – I just wanted to use it up!), and suddenly, an overly groomed, waaaay too much gel in his hair sales guy, accosts me and proceeds to give me the hardest sell I’ve ever had in my life to sign up to have a makeover done by a professional makeup artist at the end of the month.

Thankfully, Cornelia found me in the middle of his spiel (even though I was clearly giving off the not interested vibe), and she managed to keep him at bay. The catch was we had to purchase a $50 gift card to Bloomingdale’s that day and if we missed the appointment, we could just use it towards Bloomingdale’s some other time. They don’t give a rat’s ass whether you come and get the glamorous “makeover,” they just want you to purchase a $50 gift card that day. They’d love it if it never got spent, or better yet, put it towards an even more expensive purchase if you come back for the makeover and Francois or whoever is doing the makeover, recommends $250 worth of products. Uh huh. I’ve got your number, Slick.

When I said I couldn’t afford the $50 today, he literally said, “But it’s like money in the bank!” Who says that? It’s not money in the bank; it’s out of my bank account and going towards something I haven’t even bought yet. Furthermore, I’m signing myself up to come back to this place…on purpose….again in three weeks? No thanks. Somehow I managed to get out of his clutches. I returned to the Lancome counter and bought a new Le Stylo waterproof eyeliner in black (add it to the Bottom Line, These Are Awesome list!). Again, thankfully I knew the name but did Zsa Zsa even try to care about the sale? No. When I picked up the bottle of Oui perfume, which smelled delicious, I asked her how much the small bottle was.

Here is the perfect opportunity to try to upsell me on something I already have an interest in! Instead, Zsa Zsa says to me in her thick Slavic accent, “Ummm…I don’t know, I’ll have to look it up.” I checked out, my items coming to $51.50 (so close!), and she did not bother looking up the price of Oui. No matter. I can probably buy it on or somewhere else for at least 10% less. But seriously? That’s the best they can do? Could she have given less of a shit?

And don’t even try to walk through the areas where a lighted sign says Information. It’s more Bloomingdale’s sales people who hold onto random colognes, perfumes and/or clipboards, waiting for lost and befuddled prey. I couldn’t believe how popular it was to be in there! You would think they were giving the stuff away – and I assure you – they were not.

Lastly, Cornelia and I stopped by a sunglass counter, where she tried on some pairs of aviator sunglasses. The woman raved about a particular pair, that while looked very nice on Cornelia, she and I both agreed that the fake rhinestones around the edges (just a few, strategically placed), took away from some of the refinement of them. The woman said she was going to try to find something else for her, after telling her that they were “nothing,” that there weren’t really any sparkles on the glasses. She turned to me and promised me an associate would help me find something for myself. I said, “Oh okay,” but I hadn’t taken any interest except to ask Cornelia if she thought tortoiseshell frames would look okay on me. Thanks for making that leap, but I’m aight.

Cornelia’s saleswoman turned away from her to help another demanding customer in the middle of assisting her, so we left in disgust. I was happy to have my two pieces of new makeup tucked away in my first “little brown bag” I’d ever had from actually purchasing something, but all in all, the experience rates a C-. Sorry, Bloomies. Insert “wah wah wah” sound effect.


I have yet to attempt to go clothes shopping there (and let’s face it, I’d need at least a $1,000 gift card to try that) but if I’m going to go the designer route, I’ll have to try somewhere else – Saks, perhaps?

I have no idea what Bloomingdale’s was like fifty years ago, but I would hedge a guess it didn’t feel like you walked in with a bullseye on your forehead with a sign on your back that read, “Total sucker.”

Nice try but no dice. In the meantime, I will be walking around with my fabulous matching black eyeliner and eyelashes, thanks to my own personal research, and no thanks to Zsa Zsa’s piss poor sales skills.


  1. All I can add is that the Bloomies of the early 70’s was still a heady experience, with multiple sizes and shapes of brightly colored glossy gift boxes freely doled out at the gift wrap counter -and at holiday times, they were everywhere throughout the store. Half the fun of giving a gift from Bloomies was the box it came in. Big chunky jewelry, the latest polyester palazzos, and platform shoes just shouted Bloomies when you walked down the street; silk Gucci scarves in brilliant florals, fashion socks to tickle your toes, and fake fur collars on London Fogs were so-o-o- fun to wear. And the makeup facials were the essence of seductive: they just sucked the money right out of your wallet. Just hopping off the Lex and swinging through the revolving door into the store revved the shopping cells into gear: it made you feel like you could buy the whole place even if you were only on a grad student budget. Alas, only a few years later, the tides had turned, and the gift boxes were now collectors’ items; gone was the largesse of the sales clerk. Now she had to search high and low beneath her counter to find the last remaining flat, prefolded soft-sided unibox, and begging for tissue to go with it was mandatory. The colorful atmosphere of the store seemed to have degenerated into the bleak chaos of Filene’s basement even on a good day. And the Attitude of the sales clerks had grown decidedly more edgy: by the 80’s, clerks were either totally aloof, waiting with glazed-over half-eyes for a customer to beg for assistance, or they were in the aisles and in your face with the latest designer test spray.

    I haven’t shopped at Bloomies since the 80’s, but I don’t miss it. I’d rather remember how it was almost 40 years ago. And they oughta change their name to Gloomies.

  2. Hey Zoe, You are an awesome writer! I hate even thinking about the cost of things today and the excessive spending here is all over the world on one side of the coin and then nothing on the other side Hopefully we girls are all in the middle….choosing not to spend when they make it so easy………living with what we need and not wanting more. I must admit I do want a ShamWow! Just hate buying off TV. Love you Girl, AA

  3. Don’t I have some great family members? I think my mother’s reply really “makes” the post come more alive – and proof that today’s Bloomies sucks.

    Zoe Says: favorite line is “They oughta change their name to Gloomies!”

    And to my loving aunt: I went ahead and bought a ShamWow the other day. Ha! The trick is to purchase what you want online – then they want you to buy from the phone after that. But there’s always a way! I’ll try to do a post about it after experimenting with it.

  4. la zia cara says:

    What an excellent review! Just think, you would still be wondering about the bloomies experience if I hadn’t been inspired to get you the quintessential Manhattan gift card, which you intelligently used for exactly what I hoped you would, your beloved Lancome. I owe you a buck fifty!! LOVE YOU MORE THAN GREEN EYE MAKEUP!!

  5. I can attest to the awful experience – I was Zoe’s Bloomingdale’s shopping partner.
    When Zoe mentioned she wanted to go to Bloomingdale’s my heart raced – not in a good way. I have never been able to go in to the 59th street store without a near anxiety attack. I never stray from the first floor – but is there really a first floor? If you walk in the Lexington Ave. entrance you don’t know whether to go up or down. A split level department store – very poor design. This causes a bottle neck and almost makes me turn around and go right back out the door – but Zoe and I push on. Off to the makeup area on the pseudo first floor. I went to the Laura Mercier counter while Zoe was at Lancôme. My experience wasn’t much better at that counter. I was the only customer with two saleswomen looking bored and of course not acknowledging me. After a few seconds I found what I was looking for, on my own, and had to ask the saleswomen if they in fact worked at the counter. Their response “yes”. My response “great, I’ll take this”. The response in my head was – I could use a little help here. I want to spend some money at your makeup counter bitches. Let’s make this transaction quick and painless so I can get out of here. Oh Gloomies. Always fun shopping with you Zoe!

  6. Haha I am so glad you posted this on your top 12 list because I somehow missed it the first time around! Love it. I actually felt like I was at Bloomingdale´s with you while reading it!

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