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During and after college, I worked retail and managed or merchandised a store or trained a future store manager in almost every mall in the DMV (District, Maryland, Virginia). I could easily be at a mall from open (which depending on the retailer, was 7am or 5 minutes before pulling up the gate for customers) to close (anything from 5 minutes after pulling the gate closed to watching the sun rise on your drive home).
I ate all three meals and drank more caffeinated drinks than I should have at these malls. Not having long enough of a break to break free from the mall, I would spend my time away from my store, wandering other stores. The change in smells and products and energy (along with a very large caffeinated drink) could revitalize me enough to get through a double shift. And no store could improve my mood more than Nordstrom.
I would get myself an Ice Storm at the Nordstrom Cafe before walking through the ground floor entrance (shoes, beauty, and accessories… my kryptonite). As soon as you entered Nordstrom, the air felt different. Lighter. Unlike other department stores, you weren't assaulted with a fragrance upon entry, but Nordstrom still had a memorable scent. The employees were friendly and helpful. The energy was so zen in comparison to the sensory overload of the rest of the mall.
Being a Nordy Girl in the Late '90s through the 2000's
I felt like Nordstrom's buyer and I were kindred spirits. No matter the mall, every visit I could easily find dozens of things I would want in my closet, my bathroom, and my kitchen. The color, the clean lines that still were full of personality, the accessible mixed with the just out of reach. From Bp. to Individualist, T.B.D. to Savvy, Nordstrom felt like a department store made for me.
I left retail in 2004, but I didn't stop loving Nordstrom. I hated malls by this point, but I'd make an exception for my favorite department store. I'd park closest to Nordstrom, so I could begin and end my visit on a positive and peaceful note. And when I started Wardrobe Oxygen in 2005, I recommended items from Nordstrom more than any other retailer.
I have a Nordstrom snow globe I bring out every Christmas, and more than one Nordstrom-themed tree ornament. While they have turned to rags over the years, I've owned several Nordstrom-logoed dish towels, and somewhere in the attic is a t-shirt (bought at Nordstrom) that proudly states I am a “Nordy Girl.”
Just like their brick and mortar stores, Nordstrom's retail website was modern, clean, open, and inviting. It loaded pages faster than its peers, it had an easier to use search function, a more intuitive filter function, and usually had more and better photos than other online department stores.
Nordstrom had fancy designer labels, but also midrange department store brands like Vince Camuto, Maggy London, and Nine West. And Nordstrom's in-house brands like Halogen, Caslon, and Classiques Entier were well-made stylish options at a reasonable pricepoint.
The Wardrobe Oxygen audience loved Nordstrom as much as me. Over the years, I have sold a ton from Nordstrom. It was always my best retailer for affiliate sales, usually twice or triple the amount of items sold than my second best retailer. Amazon couldn't hold a candle to what I sold at Nordstrom.
Nordstrom began changing when super influencers became a thing. An Instagrammer could share a sweater from Nordstrom and have it sell out in an hour. Other influencers with large followings started their own fashion labels and Nordstrom would feature them. Nordstrom saw the connection to social media and blasted money to influencers through paid campaigns, boosts in affiliate revenue, and features in ad campaigns.
Nordstrom always had such a clear aesthetic. Carrying many of the same labels as Macy's, Saks, and Dillard's, Nordstrom still felt like the calm, cool, and collected sister of the family. Lots of color, interesting details, an unexpected mix of labels, that mix of accessible and just out of reach. But with the rise of the super influencer, Nordstrom stopped setting trends and started following them.
Changes to the Nordstrom Aesthetic and Offerings
The past few years have been weird at Nordstrom. Lower-quality brands with more Juniors of fit. A decrease in color selection; I'd find the same item at Macy's or Dillard's available in brighter hues. Less workwear, with more of a focus on clubwear, activewear, and party dresses. As someone who sees it daily on her friends and in her feeds, I could only describe it as “influencer style.”
As Nordstrom embraced this “influencer style,” and with it shifted their marketing strategy. Fewer paid campaigns and drastically reduced commissions. Some affiliate programs experienced periods when Nordstrom either wasn't paying out commissions or had issues properly reporting commissions.
In 2021, for the first time ever, Nordstrom wasn't my #1 retailer for affiliate sales. And last year, it dropped to #4. I linked less because I liked less, but you all also returned much more than you ever had with this retailer. The comments would show what I saw in my analytics: disappointment in quality and fit, inaccurate product descriptions, items arriving with stains and still-attached anti-theft sensors.
Nordstrom's Anniversary Sales used to be a THING. I would score amazing quality items for the upcoming season at amazing prices. Thick cashmere, buttery soft leather, on-trend accessories, and coveted brands for intimates and other underpinnings. But in the past few years, it has been more of the same: Barefoot Dreams cardigans and throws, Spanx faux leather leggings, Natori Feathers bras, and quality that made you realize these were subpar pieces made specifically for the sale.
Spring at Nordstrom Gives This Nordy Girl Hope
Today, I perused Nordstrom. It was the first time since before the holidays that I really dug into their current offerings for women and I have to say things are looking up. I don't know if it's because influencer style has changed or because Nordstrom has changed but I see more color, more pieces one could wear to work or a day wedding, more accessible with brands that not only are juuust out of reach but are something I, and I think you, would want to wear if we had the funds.
'90s and '00s nostalgia is at an all-time high. We're seeing it with the return of TV shows and remakes of movies, reunion tours for bands that were hot at that time, and the return of fashion trends from that time period. With so much nostalgia for that period of time I can't think of my retail and early blog days, and my love for Nordstrom. If the spring offerings aren't just a passing fancy, I may again become a die-hard Nordy Girl.
As a busy mom of a young child, I love the Nordstrom shopping experience. But I am with you in not liking the merchandise nearly as much over the last few years. Things feel either cheap and trendy or blah and forgettable. I rarely find something that wows me, or even the basics that I need.
I used to use Nordstrom as my mall entrance, too. Last year (or so) they left our local mall and took with them the last of the large and clean, well staffed, pleasant places to shop. Only smaller shops offer that in our mall now. But I did notice the changes, and noticed that at some point, Nordstrom Rack became not a place to offload things that didn’t sell at Nordstrom but a place to hock made-for-Nordstrom-Rack items that lacked the same quality. Is that just me or did that happen?
Such a great post recognizing the changes in Nordstrom over the years.
I was at the Nordstrom at Montgomery Mall last week to shop for a new suit for my husband. I think that the men’s department – at least the suits and work-type clothes – are fine (and he had an excellent stylist assist him). But I was completely uninspired by looking at the departments for me. There are barely any shoes on display, and there weren’t even any clothes I wanted to try on.
The quality has changed, the selection has changed, and certainly my spending at Nordstrom has changed over the years. I’m glad to see that you are optimistic that there may be some changes for the good recently . . . I look forward to digging into items linked in this post!
You capture the magical feel that Nordstrom used to have when I walked in to the store years ago. I loved those earlier brands, and makeup counters! Now, I don’t buy much from Nordstrom. It’s mainly just jeans and bags. We’ve been disappointed with the clothing quality and selection. For the anniversary sale only 12 pairs of women’s wide shoes-really? The preteen/teen section is abysmal, and the staple clothing and clothing for work or normal events are few and far between. I miss the clothing choices and quality. I’ll be following your suggestions with the hope that Nordstrom can swing back.
Oof, yes. I actually worked at Nordstrom one Christmas in the early 90’s for extra cash, they were hyper-focused on customer service (and had those beautiful silver boxes!) and I remained a fan for years. Now, not so much. The only thing I routinely buy from them are Wit & Wisdom jeans.
I went to the grand opening of the Nordstrom on Market Street in San Francisco in 1987. As I recall, you needed an invitation and somehow one of my work besties at my first ever corporate job had one with a +1. We sipped champagne and bought Amalfi pumps.
Over the next several years I bought a lot of my work wardrobe from the clearance racks of Women’s Tailored Clothing. It was shockingly expensive for me and I only bought one item once in a while (the opposite of fast fashion!) but the price included alterations – even on clearance – and that’s why they called it tailored, I suppose. I wore a size 16 then, the top size they carried. I think that would be about a 10-12 in today’s sizing.
When I decided I needed to have a more grown up way of putting on makeup, I booked a free appointment with the cosmetics manager and she took me around and showed me different brands, which is how I found out about Trish McEvoy and her makeup planners. I was very loyal to that brand for 20+ years.
I used to get very excited about the anniversary sale and save up my clothing money all year for it. I even booked a personal shopper a couple of times and bought things that I still have and would never have picked out for myself.
I am less impressed by them now, and they have nothing like the 100% tropical weight wool suiting that they used to sell in Women’s Tailored Clothing, sadly, but they’re still the #1 place I shop, not least because of their easy return policy.
They have brands now that I believe are on par with Kohl’s house brands, which I find disappointing, as they’re charging way above Kohl’s pricing. But if I stick with brands I know, I can still find pieces I really like.
I’m feeling all the nostalgia for Classiques Entier … it was my favorite
Thanks for posting this—you may have helped me find a dress for an outdoor graduation in May, in the South! That long navy gauze dress seems like it might be perfect. Oh, and I am enjoying the colors showing back up there & in other places—but I tend to go fairly neutral with dresses because I just don’t buy many anymore.
As for Nordstrom’s— would you believe I’d never heard of it until I found your blog years ago? Living in Arkansas means I’m in Dillard’s country (the family is here, headquarters is here), so we don’t have other department stores. Well, we do have a Belks. Anyway, I think Nordstrom’s website is still easy to use & search, and their free shipping & free returns makes them my usual first choice when searching for clothes & shoes. Dillard’s is here in person if I want to go there, but I don’t really enjoy the store as much as I used to. Of course, the few actual Nordstroms I’ve been in were not so great either. Not a lot of choices & often highlighting the super expensive items. I’ve fallen for the Nordy-sale hype a few times but try to be pickier now. Plus, a lot of the moderately priced items I’m interested in are sold out before I ever get a chance to shop. It’s kind of annoying that the “influencers” buy tons of the same stuff first, hype it up, & then it’s gone. Your attitude towards the sale these last few years has been spot-on.
‘Influencers’ (I don’t consider you an influencer in this sense – you are a professional and a writer among many other talents! ) & social media have truly ruined the world.
Most of these ‘ influencers’ are a flash in the pan. What you do could not be any more different! I cannot stand the effect they have had on ‘society’
I canceled my Nordstrom card. I don’t even go there anymore. I don’t like color much at all but there has been nothing inspirational about them recently.
I agree with everyone who has posted here… Nordstrom has gone so far down hill in the past few years. It’s very sad when t-shirts from Lands End are a better quality (and much less expensive!) than the ones from Nordstrom. However, a couple weeks ago I was looking for a colorful blazer to wear over black pants and top. I found a hot pink one in Macys but wasn’t thrilled with the fit. Then I fell in love with a Halogen turquoise blazer at Nordstrom that just flowed over the parts of me that I’d rather hide and fit where I wanted it to fit. I was thrilled. And it was only $10.00 more than the one from Macys. You’d better believe it came home with me. Maybe there is hope for Nordstrom. I do wish we had Dillard’s here in the PNW.
I started shopping at Nordstrom in Seattle in 1986, because they carried (and were known for) high quality shoes in large sizes. When I became pregnant later that year, I again went straight to the downtown Seattle Nordstrom and a personal shopper helped me pick a few pieces that fit perfectly, including several non-maternity styles she thought I’d like that were actually my favorites. Wow. Those days are so over.
Nowadays, Nordstom online (I no longer live near a brick and mortar store) carries almost nothing I want or need. When I do order, I’m at the post office mailing back within the month. What really annoys me is the paltry selection of larger sized shoes, which was Nordstrom’s early niche.
I know this might be hitting too close to home, but I believe influencers and social media are the primary reasons for Nordstrom’s decline. I’d love to see a post on the state of influencing (with the caveat that I consider your work, Alison, to be more than influencing. It’s education, and I appreciate it).
“quality that made you realize these were subpar pieces made specifically for the sale.” Yes! This resonates so much with me. I am also a person who also worked a LOT of retail after college (I miss it sometimes so much, but had to leave for a steady 9-5 with a much better paycheck). Outlet stores, Macy’s Backstage, TJ Maxx, etc now have much of their inventory made especially for them, instead of having true “outlet” merchandise. This is just adding to our problems of over production and landfill waste.
I was a loyal Macy’s shopper for so, so long and became a Nordy girl, thanks to your recommendations. I was rarely disappointed! I loved their selection in shoes and boots, dresses for all occasions, work wear, winter coats and my handbag collection was on point. My closet was filled with quality items! And, I too have a Nordy girl tee! However, in the last few years, I can’t seem to find anything I like! I spend more time running to the post office returning stuff then I do shopping. It’s so frustrating! I miss the Nordstrom of the past.
Traci Swanson says
Loved this post and the validation that I am not alone in my thoughts on the changes at nordstroms. I hardly ever shop at Nordstroms any more and I live in Seattle the home of Nordstroms. I remember shopping the anniversary sale when it was an event that you waited outside the doors for them to open early on the first day. There was an energy in the store. Now the items are sold on line prior to the actual in store sale and everything that is any good in gone. The clothing is made especially for the sale and the quality is cheap and boring. I think they should make a return to the department store of the past, take a hint from the still thriving department stores in Europe.
My daughter – a faculty librarian at a large university – went to N’s last year for work pants. She met with a personal shopper. When my daughter requested at the waist/wide leg pants (she is tall and slim), the shopper brought her faux leather leggings. The reason? “We don’t carry the pants you want”. ???. Thanks for clearing up this retail mystery!
Alison Gary says
How ridiculous! If my 14 year old wants pants like that and my mom wants pants like that, it makes no sense to have a department store not carry such a wardrobe staple!
This is such an interesting post! I went from being an Icon member to barely finding anything at Nordstrom that I want to wear. The annual anniversary sale has been a huge disappointment for years. I completely agree with you about the lack of quality and the sameness of the offerings. It’s been hard for me to tell if this was due to the general direction of fashion in the last few years or specific to Nordstrom, but the change has been significant. I hope you’re right about the pendulum starting to swing back.
Nordstrom has decimated their petite offerings. It’s rare to find a classic-style blouse or sweater in petite sizing. Although believe me I’ve tried, regular-sized tops don’t work for my narrow shoulders and short arms. And Nic and Zoe, which Nordstrom does carry in petites, just isn’t my style. I occasionally order shoes or jeans, but that’s about it. Thank goodness for Talbots!
Here’s hoping Cohen does something to help the brand. They are definitely flailing and need reinforcement that following endless trends doesn’t work–please bring back the beautiful sales, the sleek merchandising. Get the damn rounders and displays out of the walkways again so there’s flow and grace in the stores.
I loved Nordstrom SO much in the same period as you did, Ali–and the last two decades, it’s been like going to ANY department store. Nothing I can wear, cheap quality, tawdry merchandising. We were loyal for a reason. Bring it back.
Except for shoes, I rarely shop Nordstroms anymore. It’s difficult to find clothes that fit my shape there, most styles I find are designed for women with no shape – stick straight. The prices are high and the annual sale is uninspiring. Sigh…..
Carolyn Graf says
I remember when the Nordstrom in Towson opened in Fall 1992, I got my make up done at the Clinique counter before my junior ring dance that fall- my first department store make up counter experience. The Clinique counter sent actual paper invitations to all 100+ girls in my class inviting us to have our makeup done for the occasion, it was exciting! I remember shopping there for my fall college wardrobe in the Brass Plum and BP shoes departments. Now I visit the same store with my HS age daughter and it is decidedly a little more down market. The BP shoe department has been eliminated and the actual Brass Plum juniors department is definitely more Forever 21 than Nordstrom. The service doesn’t seem to be the same either, but at least the store is busy?
Krista Alexander says
It’s not just me. I fully discovered Nordstrom about 8 years ago. I was able to find great quality and style. And while I still get things from Nordstrom, I find myself shopping at other retailers (Dillards, Macys) more often. For the very reasons you mentioned. I just returned yet another item because the quality was awful. I love these capsules you put together. Fingers crossed they’re on the upswing.
This expresses exactly how I’ve been feeling! From 2000-2010 90% of my wardrobe came from Nordstrom and I hit the store once or twice a month on a Saturday and rarely left empty handed. I’m still wearing make + model sleepwear that is threadbare but I just can’t say goodbye. It was great to stop for lunch with my bags beside me feeling excited with my new purchases. Since then if I can find something worth trying I’m usually disappointed with quality or fit and no store has replaced Nordstrom and my wardrobe shows it. Recently they brought back a version of my favorite underwear and they are a win! I’m hoping for more wins in the future!