The art of department store merchandising has risen to such splendor in the last few years that the consumer can't be expected to appreciate it. Just as modern art and modern music freed themselves from the mere entertainment of people who go to museums or concerts, the department sote has gone beyond the customer.
In the trends set by Bloomingdale's and other avant-garde innovators, the emphasis is on artistic display in which the dry goods are there to be part of a visual effect. Small wonder that no one will come forward and "help" you buy anything. Would you ask Cezanne to help you to an apple?
In the reactionary days of store keeping, there used to be departments which bore such names as "Blouses," "Suits" or "Shoes." In them, you could find a blouse, a suit or shoes. Sometimes they also featured people who could sell you blouses, suits or shoes, and occasionally an expert who knew what was there, in the way of blouses, suits or shoes. Subdivision were limited to simple concepts, such as Better Dresses or Worse..
Better Dresses now goes by the swishy title of Place Elegante, the Chandelier Room or the Regency Room. And Worse calls itself Young or Comtemporary something or other. If you're neither elegance nor contemporary, but fall more into, say, Biddies Ready to Go, you're out of luck.
But it's not enough to know your age and price range, in order to discover which of the 15 departments blouses are kept in you want to visit. Just as the museum has its Rembrabdt Room, so the stores have now set up rooms and corners to commemorate particular designers. It's no use saying, "I want to spend about $25 for a T-shirt," unless you can also identify whose name you would like to have spelled out across the bosom. You wouldn't walk into a museum and tell teh socent, "I'd like to see something nice in the way of landscapes."
Another part of the museum experience now featured in department stores is the concept of the Total Environment. Dividing up the merchandise so that you must run from one floor of the store to another to see the same item in different brand names and prices is only part of it. Your really advance store puts in escalators which require a hike from one end of the store to another at each level in order to keep going in the same direction. It also fails to mark its exists clearly, so that if you are lost long enough, you may be willing to negotiate buying your way out of the place.
This, too requires imagination and daring. It's not enough to be aware of trends and developments, but you must be prepared to be ahead of them. Formerly, stores showed merchandise one season ahead, so that you bought your bathing suits during the rainy season, for instance, since no self-repecting emporium would dream of stocking them while it was hot out. Now, however, they are operating two seasons ahead, and fall clothes are now being widely shoen. The hope is that they will go just a bit further so that you could, for instance, but a bathing suit next summer, provided the bathing suit was part of the Summer 1978 Collection, rather than the 1977 one.
But buying is not really the idea. the department store is now a recreational facility, designed to keep you occupied for hours on the merest pretext. But as with any cultural endeavor, it may find itself in financial trouble. Sales must be down since salespeople started going in for curating, rather than taking money.
Perhaps we could keep this valuable resource alive by charging admission or asking donations, as a small return on the pleasure offered pending a day in a department store.
Or some philanthropic person could donate a Shoe Wing.