Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.
"PEAK BASIC PRIVILEGE: apparently there are women that are standing in line for SIX HOURS to get into the @Hermes_Paris sample sale. OH OKAY," the tweet reads. That was one of several similar sentiments I found while scrolling through a search for "Hermès Sample Sale." At that point, I had been in that line outside sale host Soiffer Haskin for a mere five hours.
But I didn't feel very privileged — after all, I was required to attend for work. By that time, I hadn't had anything to drink for fear of losing my spot while on a restroom break. I hadn't eaten breakfast because I was trying to compete with shoppers for a spot I now know they arrived at 3am in the cold to snag. I shuffled into line at 8:50am, ten minutes until the doors were to open, and at that point the line was already snaked from 317 West 33rd Street well onto Ninth Avenue and, the last I heard, all the way to 31st Street.
I was standing behind a woman in a lovely heather-gray boucle coat draped over a silk shirt, smart-looking ankle length olive pants, a Louis Vuitton Pouchette Mètis purse with a silk ribbon wrapped around the top handle (I heard someone ask her how much it costs; she didn't answer), and leopard calf-hair wedges with geometric heels. I immediately felt inadequate. She was wearing heels! Why was everyone in this line so well-dressed? My faux leather-front leggings, Yeezus concert tee shirt, Zara flight jacket, and Clark desert boots felt perfectly suitable to wait in line for what I thought would be a three-hour, coffee-less stint.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves here — let's start from the beginning.
Ten minutes in, a passing woman stops and asks a group waiting just ahead of me what they were in line for. One answers that she's not sure — she just heard there was a sale. By 9am, we see that the line was wrapping itself up 32nd Street. A Soiffer Haskin security guard stands near, making sure that we all remain in a relatively single-file line. "We like to say it's six hours from the time you get in line until you check out," he says at that time.
An hour later, I feel the lack of coffee taking effect. To distract myself, I check out some of my line mates. There were seriously some of the most well-dressed women I've ever seen in one place. A constant parade of Hermès, Louis Vuitton, and Chanel bags file by as their handlers take spots at the end of the line. A street style photographer would have a field day capturing all of these outfits. "You'll have to spend the whole day here," says a woman as she walks by, a black Mansur Gavriel bucket bag swinging from her shoulder. It's a little past 11am now, and I had no idea how right she would be.
It's becoming clear that no one anticipated this wait. The man behind me who I deduce works in finance and thus dub "The Banker" is conducting conference calls, prefacing each by saying he's out of the office and his phone may die. He accepts a call from a woman who is likely his wife. He tells her where he is and asks if she wants anything. She says no. He says he wants ties.
Everyone in this line is friends now. There are offers for coffee runs and bathroom breaks. A Soiffer Haskin employee walks by with a trash bag for discarded items, not unlike a flight attendant (It's helpful, since we'll end up filling two). The chilly wind is especially so once you make it onto 33rd Street, where the old post office is blocking what's left of the sunlight. People are shoving their hands into jacket pockets for protection. That's where mine have been — I gave up on trying to read the book I packed for the occasion, The Age of Innocence, long ago. My hands were cold, and I couldn't focus.
I'm eavesdropping to kill time. I can hear a mom on the phone with one of her sons. She wants to buy ties for him and his brother as Christmas presents. He's telling her about his upcoming date. I don't find it weird at all that he called his mother in the middle of the day to share this info — I am the same way with my mine.
So far, the only people who have dropped out of the line was that group that didn't know which sale there were in line for. They were intrigued once they found out it was Hermès, but when it became clear this was an all-day commitment, they decided to head back uptown.
My friends are checking on me via text. "Are you in??" Everyone is anxious to hear about all of the French goods that I'm prepared to come to blows over (kidding, kind of) after waiting so long. Each time, I'm sad to disappoint them. "No, not yet. But I think I'm closer!" Each time, I send a snapshot of my location in relation to the light post closest to the door leading the way to Hermès heaven.
Whenever a stranger passes by and ask what the line is for, I feel my face grow hot. "Is this to the DMV?" one kid asked me. Later on: "BABY GIRL!" a man shouts in my direction. I look up. "What are all of these people doing?!" We're in line for a sample sale. "A WHAT?" he takes a step closer. A sample sale, I say a littler louder. He wants to know what that means. "Good luck," he says, walking away. This happens several times throughout the day. "Let's just start telling people it's for the DMV," the banker says.
An attendant tells an older woman behind me that the line is moving so slowly because people inside are trying on clothing. Apparently, once you're in, there's no time limit —you can browse to your heart's content. With the venue's one-in, one-out rule and a maximum capacity of 80 shoppers, this line is starting to make sense.
People are getting cranky. When someone stops and asks what we're doing in this line, that older woman replies dryly, "sunning ourselves." I bite my tongue to keep from laughing; it was cloudy, we had just felt a few raindrops. The woman buying ties for her son with the date gives him the real answer.
Just ahead of me, two people try to join their friends in line. We're coming up on six hours of standing, and no less cranky. A boy in front of them turns around. "Um, you have to go. That isn't fair to the people who have been here." Surprisingly, this doesn't turn into a thing, and they just leave. The line applauds the boy's bravery.
My phone bleeps. "Did you go to the Hermès sale?" my friend's text reads. "We just rode by and the line looked BANANAS." I took a deep breath before responding simply, "GIRL."
"Still not in," I follow up shortly.
"Sheesh. Do you want some water or something?"
"Are you close? I would love some coffee or a soda." She tells me she'll bring the coffee in thirty minutes.
In the time it takes for her to get there, we actually move up in line really fast, so much so that I wonder if I should tell her not to get it. And then we stop moving. The clouds are getting thicker. She arrives with the coffee and tales of her dating woes to distract me. She leaves me when a couple heavy raindrops fall from the sky. "Good luck," she says. That's what they all say.
I wonder if people are wondering what kind of life I live that I can stand in line all day, and that's when I see the tweet. "Basic privilege," I roll my eyes.
All of a sudden, the day hits me. My feet hurt. My bag with my DSLR camera and work laptop is weighing me down. There is a child behind me sitting on the ground, watching something high-pitched. I remember reading that children weren't allowed into the sale last year and hope for her mother's sake that that isn't the case now.
A man walks by selling selfie sticks as another advertises his food truck across the street. I overhear the banker say that he saw a business card for a professional line sitter, and immediately scan the ground for one. I don't see it.
We're nearing happy hour and haven't inched any closer to the part of the line that will bring us to the front door, where the line continues up to the second floor sale space. People are getting concerned, and I am, too. I want to come back to the office with something, anything to be able to put together a sale report. An attendant tells the sassy woman behind me that he's pretty sure the sale's organizers will make a decision soon. The people working the sale need to be able to leave right at 7pm, but considering the line is still blocks-deep, that may present at problem.
They may offer vouchers or wristbands that would allow us to enter the sale a little earlier on Friday if we don't make it in after this wait, he says. I'm not sure that will work. I can't imagine that people who have been in line since 2am today want someone showing up at 8:32am tomorrow and getting their pick of the (supposedly) restocked merchandise first.
No wristbands, no vouchers. There won't be any of that. A man in a suit comes out of the building and says that we won't have enough time to shop the sale before it closes and he's sorry. That's it. He's sorry. He's sorry.
The line, except for the two groups ahead of us who are deemed the lucky ones with enough time to shop, crowd around the man in the suit, reminding him that it isn't fair that we've been in line all day with nothing to show for it. A lot of people, like me, remain in line. I think they're in shock. I know I am.
I got in line that morning excited about the report that I would file and the details I would weave through it. I had been thinking about the enamel bracelet that would come home with me and the story of this line that I would tell my friends about over a drunken brunch, exaggerating about having to pry it from some old lady's fingers or how I surprised my mom with the scarf I knew she wanted.
I got none of that. All I am left with are my thoughts. And none of them are nice.