It Happened at Barneys



Neighborhood: Upper East Side

In honor of the closing of iconic department store, Barneys, shuttering its doors, here is a tale of what happened to me there back in 2004. 


It was right after Thanksgiving. Christmastime. The streets had a distinct holiday chill to them; they were crowded with tired, overworked shoppers carrying store bags.

My boyfriend Chris decided he would get me a pair of Sevens for Xmas this year. I had never had a pair and just felt wrong about paying $130 for a pair of jeans, no matter how great. But the bargain hunter in me was silenced by my vanity and covetousness. Every time I saw how great my friend Sarah looked in hers, I felt a pang.

So it was decided. Chris told me to go to Barneys—ahhhh, Barneys—after work and pick out a pair and he’d reimburse me that night when we met for a fancy lobster dinner. 

While dressing that morning, I paid special attention to how I looked. I carefully put on a chic black wool turtleneck, demure and brand new black and white large checked pants, and donned pointy toed boots. Atop I wore my black knee-length shearling, put my hair up in a sophisticated bun, smeared on red lipstick, and headed to work. As soon as 5 o’clock hit, I literally ran to Barneys and headed straight to the jeans floor. They call it the “Denim Jeans Bar.” Everyone there looked so chic and made up, you’d naturally expect to sidle up to the cashier and ask for a Barneytini on the rocks. Racks and racks of Sevens and Paper Denim in glorious piles lined the area. I wasn’t sure of my size in Sevens, and picked about 5 different styles (all the same pocket design) and took one of each size 28, 29 and 30. I had at least 15 pairs in the fitting room.

The fitting room situation was chaotic. There were about 20 claustrophobic rooms, each about three feet by three feet, with only a mirror and a concrete, uncarpeted floor. It was hot. I was tired after a long day at work. Rushing out of the office and into the hectic crowds was not the worst of my problem. The fatigue was bad, the heat in the fitting room was worse, but the worst was that I needed to pee…..badly! But there was a long line of women waiting for a fitting room, and I was not going to give up my spot. There was no bathroom on the floor, the salespeople were crazed and unhelpful, and took forever to bring additional sizes. I was going to be late for my big dinner with Chris.

Jeans, jeans, jeans. Women reading will know that getting your jeans size right can be just as bad as finding a bathing suit that fits. The length must be right, the rise and color must be right, and with Sevens the stretch must be right. I swear that I tried on three different styles of them all in size 29 and all fit completely differently. Even 28s in the SAME style, each fit differently.

I had asked the salesperson several times for different pairs and each time she took forever, before she finally thrust about 20 extra pairs on top of the door.

So there I was doing a new form of aerobics—jeanbo, if you want to call it that. Bend knees, pull up jeans, squat, suck in gut, turn, turn, look, turn—all to the blaring hip hop beat in Club Barneys. And with each pair I tried on, the pressure in my bladder got worse and worse. The bending and stretching motions didn’t help. The tight denim thrusting against my urethra combined with my thong getting pulled further and further up made me feel like I was going to explode.

I was breaking out into a sweat, secretly hoping it would sweat away my fluids, so the pressure would lessen. The walls of my tiny fitting room felt like they were closing in and I was trapped with my mirror image. My own grimacing face stared back at me. I chided myself for scrunching up my forehead in dismay, realizing I was just a year or two away from needing Botox. I was in Barneys after all, and these things needed to be considered.

I had walked in feeling so sophisticated, so adult. Buying expensive jeans in a chi-chi department store, and here I was, my outing being ruined by an unsophisticated bodily function. There had to be a way to quickly address this annoying problem. At this point there was absolutely NO time to try to get re-dressed and find a bathroom. I needed a solution and needed it fast.

Survival instincts kicked in. I stared at my reflection; it stared back. I winked; I winked. I looked under the door, which only came down to my knees, and peered over the door and saw the line of frustrated and impatient women growing.

The pounding music sounded like it was getting louder and faster, but it was just my heartbeat. Things crossed my mind, unspeakable things. I looked around once again. To my left was a pile of jeans in the corner—the “no” pile. Also to my left was my big leather handbag. Next to it on the floor was my still unopened bottle of water. My big canvas and leather overnight bag crowded itself into the opposite corner. There was barely enough floor space for my sweaty socked feet. I had to find a receptacle, FAST.

I eyed the water bottle and pulled off my thong underwear to reduce pressure. The bottle was full. I thought of drinking some so I could possibly pee into it and, recap it. I gingerly picked it up and moved it towards my waiting urethra. The opening was so small. It would be impossible to aim it in and the thought of drinking even a sip of water seemed incomprehensible. Frustrated, I put the water bottle back in the corner.

Oh my God, I have to pee NOW! I said a small prayer, hoping it might somehow help me will myself out of my 3 x 3 hell. I picked up my purse. It was big and sturdy. It could hold pee. I could dump out the wallet and scraps of paper and makeup and…Wait, I thought, this purse was fine Italian leather. It cost about $80 on sale. What was I thinking? How could I pee into my purse? I was sophisticated, well-coifed and smelled of Chanel. I just couldn’t. I threw the purse back on the floor exasperated and stared into the mirror at the grimacing face that was growing ever wider.

I cursed nature, God, Barneys, all Mankind.

Little abbreviated gasps were coming out of me. Outside, I heard the impatient clicking of shoes back and forth, back and forth, outside my bathroom, I mean, fitting room. Naked from the waist down, pasty legs in black socks, hair rapidly wilting from chic to messy…I looked like a mental case. My red lipstick suggested a diabolical clown. I went through my overnight bag. Nothing. 

I could feel the warm urine traveling down.  I only had seconds left.

Throwing things out of my purse one by one, I came across a small brown prescription bottle, labeled with my name on it. Celexa, it read. 40 mgs. My antidepressants. Could this work? Was it possible?  I rationalized that I wasn’t really going to do it. Of course not. I was simply going to pour the few remaining tablets into my purse and just hold the bottle up to my crotch and….

Eyeing myself in the mirror, I was ashamed for the poor girl in the mirror standing sheepishly in falling socks. And then the floodgates opened.

For a few brief moments, all was right in the world. The relief was immense. I smiled, feeling resourceful, successful. I was peeing in the Barneys’ fitting room with people just feet, inches, away. The feeling of pride for being so quick thinking and sneaky filled me, and at the same time my urine filled the tiny bottle. And then it all too quickly reached the top. Almost suspended in time, I reached for the next bottle. Where was the next bottle? “Damn you, hand it to me!”” I screamed silently to the girl in the mirror. But sadly there was no next bottle. The urine overflowed onto me, onto my socks, onto the concrete floor, onto the Sevens. There was no stopping it.  The room spun and the urine splattered. The girl in the mirror was shocked.

Once the tidal wave ceased, I stood there mortified. I had just peed in Barneys.

I held the urine-filled prescription bottle in my right hand, standing cartoonishly on left foot,  while trying to reach down for the bottle top that I had thrown somewhere under piles of jeans. Finally finding it, I placed it back on and wondered if childproof caps were also leak proof and placed it neatly in the back corner.

Now for damage control. Hopping, I pulled off my socks and used them to mop the saturated floor. I used my panties too. Thongs and socks do not absorb enough though, so I used my black and white wool pants too. Wool doesn’t absorb liquid well either. I gathered them all up and tied them in a plastic bag that I kept in my overnight bag, and was careful to segregate them from the other articles. I kicked my overnight bag halfway out the door so it wouldn’t become saturated from the still-wet floor. I pulled on the sweat pants I had brought for the next day and put on my boots on sans socks.

The Sevens, poor pathetic pants, lay in the corner, at least 23 pant hems soaked.

I must act quickly. How soon does urine start to smell? I wasn’t sure, but wasn’t going to stick around to find out. I sniffed, but all I could smell was the starchy new clothing smell prevalent in retail shops. My still-wet feet squished in my boots. I told myself that surely it was just sweat. Then I stacked the jeans on top of the fitting room door with their hems tucked under. Pair after pair after pair.

I suddenly knew how it felt to commit an unfathomable crime and the need to cover it up. This was not premeditated. I had never planned on peeing in Barneys. It was all a mistake. It got away from me. Maybe it didn’t really happen. Surely, the liquid was just water. Yes, that was it. My water had spilled from my uncapped water bottle. By mistake. I then purposely spilled a bit of the water and left the bottle on its side.

I was formulating an escape plan. I would stage things to look like nothing more than a spilled bottle of Poland Spring. I put on my shearling, fixed my hair, put my heavy overnight bag over my shoulder, and carried the two dry and untouched pairs of Sevens I still intended on buying. This was sophisticated. I was buying not only one pair of $130 jeans, but two. I was fashionable and in control.

Peering over and under the door, I saw my chance and made a break for it leaving wet boot prints in a trail that went up to the cashier. I stood on a lengthy line nearly hyperventilating. I.must.get.out.before.I’m.discovered. Standing stone-faced as the cashier rung me up, I knew giving my credit card was an unfortunate mistake. No, they’d have my identity in their hands. But alas, I did not have $260 plus tax in cash. I signed convincing myself that I could later say someone had forged my signature. I am not that girl—the girl that pees in a classy department store. As the cashier took the slip from my hands, I told her that I had spilled a half a bottle of water in the fitting room and that she should have someone mop it up so the clothes don’t get wet and so that nobody would slip. And then I took off.

Once outside I felt victorious. Instead of shame, I felt great, as if I’d got away with the crime of the century. I was late to meet Chris and was suddenly ravenous. But I still had to throw out the socks, the thong and most of all, the prescription bottle that was still in my right hand and hidden in my pocket. Pushing and shoving through the crowded sidewalks, I thought of my little secret. “Hey you! Pretty lady. Bet you can’t guess what I have in my pocket,” I thought as I passed a shopper on the street and got to a public trashcan. I took out the plastic bag tucked into my overnight bag and opened it and threw the black socks into the trash, looking left and right to see if anyone had seen. The thong disposal would be harder, but at this point I was up for any challenge. Lastly, I threw in the bottle, as if I were tossing a coin into a fountain, and made a wish.

Then I hopped in a cab, ran to the table where a waiting Chris was seated and ready to order, and showed him my purchase.

I went to the restaurant bathroom and removed my boots and took paper towels with water and soap and scrubbed my feet and legs. I wiped off the underside of my bag and hurried back to a scrumptious lobster feast.

Later at Chris’ apartment, after dinner, I made a beeline for the tub and soaked and scrubbed. I fell asleep and the next day wore my Sevens happily.

It’s taken me a long time to confess this story and now I feel purged. This written excretion has made me feel relieved. At times I wonder how this happened and if maybe I lack certain boundaries and am missing crucial skills in judgment. When I finally broke my dam of silence and told a friend what had happened, she urged me tell the story. It was a gold mine, she said, and telling it would surely get me showered with accolades.

End note: I still have one pair of those jeans. They have since been cut into shorts, and I wear them often.


Kelly Kreth is a freelance writer who often feels trapped in a Seinfeldian Hell. She’d like people to love her for her flaws, not in spite of them. That rarely happens.

You can read more by her at:

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