My one-cent Bloomingdales sweater

This sweater was just one cent. No, really.

Picture it. Spring, 2008. The euro was trouncing the dollar. The Democratic party was in turmoil, split between the experienced vanguard and the young upstart. I had just survived the fourth round of layoffs at my job. And I was sitting on a $40 Bloomingdales gift card that a family member had given me the previous Christmas. All I needed was a whimsical but chic Marc Jacobs top at 60 percent off and the world would be right.

At the time, I actually lived near the uptown Bloomingdales store. I’d stop in frequently with the gift card, quickly realizing the only floor I could afford was the second and that the only time to go was Monday evenings right before close, after the Eurotrash had moved on from their shopping to the 8pm shows in Times Square. But being just $40, the gift card made buying anything a challenge. As a rule, I do not spend more than $10 on any cosmetic or undergarment, nor do I believe in paying for fragrance — it’s all around you. A Marc Jacobs top was never more than 20 percent off: out of my price league. Those G-darn Euros and their socialist spending, maintaining New York retail prices!

So I had nothing to buy. Sniffle.

Then one warm day my coworker pal Stephanie said she needed to find a dress. Would I accompany her to Bloomingdales after work? Sure. Stephanie tried on many things on the second floor while I listlessly fumbled through the winter clearance racks, full of fug unwanted fashion. Then I saw it: a lovely gray v-neck lightweight cashmere sweater. Long, but with shape. There was no price tag. It had to be around $40, I figured. I tried it on. It was warm but breathed. It hung well, enough to cover a Chipotle-filled stomach but still shapely enough to hint at a feminine body.

Stephanie and I approached the register. I started to reach for the gift card. “How much is this?” I asked the sales person. I set the gift card on the counter.

She looked at the tag and entered in some numbers. A slow smile emerged on her face. “You won’t need that.” Then she gently petted the cashmere and her benign amusement turned into painful restraint.


“This is only a penny.”

“Um. What?”

“It’s a penny. I swear.”

“Um. Uh. What?”

Stephanie interjected. “WHY?”

“It’s too old to be on the floor. It must’ve been returned a long time ago. All merchandise that’s on the floor but is too old to be in our system is a penny. It’s policy.”

Stephanie’s jaw dropped. Expletives were uttered. High-fives happened. I dropped the shiny copper coin on the counter and fled the store, fearful that God would strike me dead. I wore it well into summer, even though I sweltered, never failing to gracefully mention in conversation how little I’d paid for it. It was hand-washed in the sink with Woolite. People who know me still ask: Is that the penny sweater? I nod smugly.

Before I moved to Brooklyn last year, I often roamed the crowded racks between Lexington and Third looking for lightening to strike twice. It hasn’t. But oh, look: the euro is still resilient. There’s always the Soho store.

And I re-gifted the $40 card, saving myself $39.99 on a present. Triomphe!


  1. Blanche Deveraux

    The first paragraph of this story made me feel like I’d entered a time capsule and was about to hear Sophia Petrillo tell an epic story from her childhood in Sicily.
    Annie Schoening, you surpassed my expectations.
    A penny? For that sweater? Daaaaaayum, girl! I’m about to head on over to Bloomingdales to see what kind of outdated clothes I can score for pocket change!

  2. Stephanie

    It’s true! I was there!

    Aside from the shock of seeing my friend get a cashmere sweater for ONE CENT, I’m pretty sure the expletives were in full throttle because I’d just realized I wasn’t going to be able to get away with spending any less than $300 for a stupid dress. [email protected]

  3. Ikenani

    That happened to me a couple times at Bloomie’s in LA and I was told that anything priced at a penny wasn’t even supposed to be on the floor b/c it’s been priced out of the system or something like that, and that technically Bloomie’s isn’t supposed to be selling it.

  4. Cookie

    It has happened to me twice. I bore friends and family alike with the tale of my penny jeans and sweater. But recently in Bloomies in LI the clerk and manager wouldn’t sell me the Penny tee shirt quoting “it was not supposed to be on the floor”. Left disgusted but made sure they took it off the floor.

  5. Heather

    The employee made a mistake by selling you this– they’re called job outs and it means the merchandise has been marked to leave the store. If she’d ask her manager they’d say they’d have to sell it at the last sale price on the tag or get back to you with a reasonable price— you think retailers really want to give their stuff away?

  6. Jessica P

    Same thing happened to me, except I had picked out TWO penny dresses at the same time. $300 worth of dresses for two cents? I’ll take it!! Luckily in California, it’s a law that whatever an item rings up as must be sold as such.

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