The cut-rate beginning of Barneys New York

Like Saks and Henri Bendel, Barneys New York has long been the epitome of a high-end fashion retailer.

Which makes these unabashedly low-end ads, found on a matchbook from the 1930s or 1940s, all the more interesting.

Seems that luxury department store Barneys was once bargain basement Barney’s, a menswear store openly hawking factory rejects, auction stocks, and showroom models.

Launched by Barney Pressman in 1923, the store began as a 200-foot hole in the wall on Seventh Avenue at 17th Street.

Barney may have been gimmicky, but he also sold quality—soon luring devoted clients to a part of Manhattan known more for its Irish pubs than clothing stores.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that Barney’s son edged the store into the luxury realm.

In the 1970s, Barney’s added a women’s department; in the 1990s, the store (without the apostrophe) decamped the now-blocklong 17th Street store for the Upper East Side, where Barneys holds court today.

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11 Responses to “The cut-rate beginning of Barneys New York”

  1. D. Says:

    The phrase “Select, don’t settle!” is indelibly etched into my memory.

  2. Kathryn Says:

    I took my little brother there when we were young kids to get him a white turtleneck shirt so he could look like a beach boy.

  3. Bruce R. Gilson Says:

    I had been wondering when Barney’s turned into a luxury store. My memory goes back far enough that I remember it as “Barney’s Bargain Store.” Now I’m in the Washington DC suburbs, and Barney’s has a store in an area called Friendship Heights, which also has Tiffany’s, Cartier’s, Brooks Brothers, Saks 5th Avenue, and Neiman Marcus, so I knew Barney’s had changed its image, but apparently it did so back in the 60s without my noticing!

  4. lazarusdodge Says:

    Seems to be forgotten that in the beginning, the store also went under the name “Barney’s Boys Town” because of it’s large selection of children’s clothes.

    I think – and my memory is foggy – that there was a Barney’s Boy’s Town on Pitkin Avenue in Brooklyn back in the 1950′s. Then again, we also shopped at Mirsky’s not a few blocks away…

    - Jeff

  5. BabyDave Says:

    I remember going to Barney’s in the early and mid-1970′s when the boy’s department was right near the layaway office. There I was, age 12 or so with my mother on a Friday evening, out for a new, inexpensive jacket, and there was this line of working men waiting to put down the next $5 or $10 on some special item they had reserved.

    Also, the television commercial: Five or six kids sitting on a stoop, pondering their futures. A young Willie Mays envisions fame as a baseball player, Louis Armstrong (forget that he grew up in New Orleans, OK?) is confident about his musicianship, and Fiorello LaGuardia is, of course, a civic-minded youth.

    And then the attention turns to a bespectacled boy.

    “And what about you, Barney? What are you going to do when you grow up?” a stoopmate asks.

    “I don’t know,” replies the future haberdasher, “but you’re all gonna need clothes.”

  6. Lisa Says:

    BabyDave– your description of the old Barney’s commercial intrigued me, so I checked Youtube… and actually found it! (You forgot Baby Humphrey Bogart, by the way!)

  7. BabyDave Says:

    I’ll be darned, Lisa. Thank you. I don’t have any sound at the moment, but I will check this out as soon as I can. (I am curious if my recollection was remotely correct.)

  8. whetstone Says:

    Barneys used to run cheesy ads, I remember them on channels 9 and 11 on weekend afternoons.

  9. fifilaru Says:

    My mother always considered Barneys and Bloomingdales low-rent stores. Macyʻs too. Mom was kind of a snob.

  10. RED DAVE Says:

    The old Barney’s Building on 17th Street and 7th Avenue still lives in a glorious new incarnation as the Rubin Museum of Himalayan Art. The section at the 16th Street corner is now Loehmann’s.

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