Sunday, March 15, 2015
The ordinary woman's guide to the garment district
I have written about the garment district before and will write about it again. Thanks to the wisdom of a son who moved to NYC I go there at regular intervals.
I am somewhere between feeling pretty comfortable and finding things out that I can't believe I didn't know about before.
What I haven't lost is my natural ability to be clueless, and like all fundamentally clueless folks I want to share when I have figured something out.
Now this is not an exhaustive or very savvy list.
There will be more instalments when I have more to tell you in the future. After all I am not Mimi G. or Carolyn, just a visitor who is lucky to be able to go there every once in a while.
Here are some basics:
It depends if you are doing a fabric focused trip or fitting this in as part of a larger venture I guess. I have been in and out of all three airports and tried just about every configuration of taxi, shared whatever, to get myself from the airport to the garment district (West 40th- 37th between 5th and 7th Avenue).
I have tried JFK and LaGuardia. Tried booked cabs, busses and standing in those lines that never move. I have taken Ubers and illegal cabs. I have wasted hours while some shared driver drove everyone else in the van somewhere else first.
If you are fabric shopping go into Newark Airport.
Once you get out of baggage take the Air Train (millions of signs) clean, fast and frequent which will connect you to a New Jersey train which will take you to Penn station in Manhattan where you can easily walk yourself right into the garment district. No muss, no fuss, lots of people who can help you buy the right tickets. A real get in and sit down and you are there situation. Also your cheapest option by far.
Now if you are going right from your plane to fabric shopping you might want to have a pull along case that is empty along for the ride and a change of underwear and clean socks in your purse.
I always go to Ben's on W38th. Note because the food is spectacular particularly but because it is authentic. Absolutely go there with your head set to realistic and with the knowledge cholesterol is not so much on the new hit list.
Ben's is not the place to go if you are vegan, gluten free, or want a good big salad. It is however an excellent place if you want 10 inches of pastrami in your sandwich, a matzo ball soup with one baseball sized matzo, or cabbage rolls that appear to be made by stuffing one whole cabbage.
It is also an excellent place for people watching.
Ladies who lunch married to men who now have the garments made in the East, teenage boys actually eating 10 inches of pastrami while talking, and Latina waitresses trying to explain kosher to tables of Norwegian tourists who want milk in their tea.
If you forget to go at Ben's there is always the ladies at the back of the first floor at Mood.
Now the fabric:
There are the standards, Mood, and not just for the bathroom, Elliot Bermann, Parons, B and J and others like that. Most lists cover those and those are probably the first places most of us go. We figure better places better fabric.
Not necessarily so.
The thing is for first timers the garment district is sort of weird.
The best stores are often up several or many floors up in office buildings and the tiny stores at street level seem to sell only sequinned whatever, the stuff that you would need if you were in the skating competition business or going to other places at night than Joann's before they close, or the grocery store. Five inch heels kind of places.
You walk by all those stores and think "Wow that's way too flashy for this mother of three, where are the good stores?"
Aha. This is where you are being fooled by the garment district.
The idea around that neighbourhood is that the window is the best place for the fancy stuff, the fancier the better - this does not mean however that they don't have exactly what you need down back.
What you are looking for is a place so crowded they don't have a cutting table, they stand the rolls up vertical and cut like that.
A place where they say "that sandwashed silk 54"?
"$15 a yard," two thirds what they would charge you at Mood and half what they would charge you at B and J.
A final word.
To shop in the New York garment district you never walk into a place and say "No thanks I am just looking."
That may work at Joann's, or Fabricville or Fabricland (assuming any staff ever approached you) but in NYC you have to tell them what is in your head and they will start pulling the bolts faster than you can look at them.
You will never find anything by yourself in these places and they expect to work it.
In NYC everyone expects to work it.
So if what you really want to say is:
"I want something to wear to my son's wedding that is not too matronly, maybe in persimmon"
"I want something to make a summer cardigan in with holes in it"
"Or I want a summer print in cotton that doesn't have flowers in it'
Just say it.
And if they can find it at all, they will.
Tomorrow two new to me stores I really like and pictures of what I bought.