Was the Row Sample Sale Worth It?
A dispatch from my DMs, plus an interview with the "Line Dude" people paid to wait for them.
Remember in my last newsletter when I was like, “for some reason I can’t get out of bed… Must be because my sheets are so nice!” Well, turns out I had COVID. So I wasn’t able to stalk the Row sample sale this week like I wanted to. But I was able to get on the horn and gab about it with a bunch of different people, including determined shoppers and the owner of a professional line sitting business, which over 30 Row fans used to have someone stand in line for them. Here’s what I was able to gather regarding the experience…
Given the frenzy of last fall’s Row sample sale, I was kind of surprised that the brand decided to do it again so publicly. Such a hyped-up, plebeian event seems antithetical (and maybe detrimental) to the Row’s whole thing, which is prohibitively expensive effortlessness. But it is a business, after all, and I guess they had enough inventory to justify it.
Beyond 75-percent markdowns, part of the sale’s appeal is its theoretical exclusivity. You have to be on a list to gain entry, and I heard there were even levels to VIP day. (“Nobody’s That Special at The Row Sample Sale” says Vogue.) But thanks in part to TikTok, information about how to get on these lists—who to email, where to show up, and when—is now easily accessible. A friend who shall remain anonymous texted me at 2:49 p.m. on Monday about wanting to get on Tuesday’s VIP list, and by 3:57 p.m. she’d finessed it. So if you were determined enough, it was possible. But was it worth it?
“Barren” and “picked over” were two separate dispatches I received afterwards. One person who waited almost three hours said of the pants they ended up buying: “I wanted them, I guess…?” I also saw a photo of a shopping bag with the caption, “Regrets,” and I’m pretty sure I know what it was in reference to.
When I asked my Instagram followers to write their review of the sale in one sentence, this is what they said:
I’m not surprised by the “over it” reaction this year. According to Newton’s First Law of Fashion, as soon as a lot of people like something, it’s not cool to like it anymore. (Thanks, Kendall Jenner.) “I would never stand in line for something oatmeal hued,” scoffed one person I texted with.
The thing about the Row, though, is that because it’s the ultimate “quiet luxury” brand, or whatever you want to call it, it’s more immune to trends than others. Some people buy it so they can say, “Oh, this? Yeah, it’s the Row.” But other people line up because they want to fill their closet with beige, well-designed, quality staples. And I get it. If you told me they’d have the ‘Fara’ combat boots in a size 39.5, I’d probably line up, too. I’ve done crazier things for the brand before.
Some Row fans drew a line, though, and it was that they would not stand in line. Period. Instead, they called the Same Ole Line Dudes, a company that employs a fleet of professional line “sitters,” who will hold your place for a fee of $50/hour. (For sample sales, a minimum 2.5 hours is required.) Many of them were hired by the Row’s shoppers this year, and could easily be spotted with their #LINEDUDES merch.
At 4:30 p.m. on Friday, I was finally able to get ahold of the original Line Dude: C.E.O. and founder, Robert Samuel. Robert has had a week. Well, actually, more like a month. Here’s what he told me about his experience…
An Interview With the Original #LineDude:
Emilia: Have you seen an uptick in sample sale business lately?
Robert: Yes! Yes. It started with Manolo Blahnik [in late September], and then there was Khaite [in the beginning of October]. Manolo Blahnik brought in the most number of requests we’ve ever had for any individual event. We had 44 customers. For the Row, I think we had 32 or 33. We would have had more, but we just didn’t have the staff to do it. We had to turn people down.
What kind of person is paying someone to wait in line for them at a sample sale like the Row?
It’s a lot of busy moms. You don’t want to choose between a sample sale and your kids. So if you can’t be two places at once, you call Line Dudes, and you can. We also get a lot of older women who don’t need or want to stand.
Was there more demand for the Row sample this year compared to last year?
Yes, definitely. The line went down 18th Street to 6th Avenue, up 6th Avenue, and then back west towards 7th Avenue. Maybe it was that long last year, but I don’t remember.
I read that people were lining up as early as 2 a.m.. How early did your sitters get there?
We were there at 10 p.m. the night before.
Yep. We had one woman there at 10 p.m. on Tuesday night, sitting until 6 a.m. on Wednesday morning. She was 60-plus-years-old. I said, “Are you sure you want to sit out there alone all night?” And she said, “Robert, I’m okay. It’s fine. I have something if anyone tries anything.” So I didn’t ask any other questions.
What was the energy like in line?
There was one person who gave us a bit of attitude because she thought we were skipping. Jimmy Choo, [which hosted a sample sale on the same day], had a line down the middle of the sidewalk, and the Row line was against the wall. She thought we were doing something unethical, and I was like, Girl. It wasn’t even like that. My supervisor had to tell her: This line is for Jimmy Choo, and this line is for the Row. We were talking to our friends because we all know each other, and we were figuring out what’s what before we set up our chairs. But other than that, everyone else was pretty cool, calm, and collected. I saw a lot of former customers, which was nice. I’d give them a hug. I didn’t get upset like, “Why didn’t you call me?” Because they’d be like, “I did, and you were booked.”
Did you sit for the Row sale this year?
Yes. Wait… Did I this year…? Sorry, give me a second. It’s been a long week. I also did Jimmy Choo. Yes. I did have one customer on Thursday who’d just had surgery, so she asked me to wait for her. In the past, I’ve always waited outside and swapped out. But there wasn’t really a line at 1 p.m. that day. I was going to give her a refund, but she was like, “No, come in with me!” I was trying to field all the calls and texts, and DMs coming in, but I was like, you know, this will be an experience. So I went in. She picked up a few things. I saw an exotic hide bag that was $900, and I was like, this is a sample sale?? I had sticker shock. And she bought one! It was ostrich, or something, and it was small. She shopped for her and her sister, and one of her bills came out to almost $2,400. I’m looking around like, where is the sale?? I’d hate to see what the full retail is.
Oh, it’s beyond. So what’s your take?
It’s excessively expensive, even for a sample sale.
Have you ever shopped at a sample sale for yourself?
Actually, I went to Jimmy Choo today. I figured I’d treat myself because we had such an amazing week. I’m a men’s 13, and I read online that the conversion was a 48. So I go upstairs and ask for a 48, and they’re like, “Oh, we don’t have anything in that size; the highest we go is 46.”
So I didn’t even bother to look. I ended up buying stuff for my mom and a few friends. But then I read later on the Jimmy Choo website that my size actually is a 46! So now I’m tempted to go back [laughs].
I try not to get caught up in sample sales, though, otherwise I’ll turn around and spend everything I made doing the job. It’s the vice that I have right now.
Believe me, I get it.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
P.S. - Someone dropped their Row ballerina flat on 71st and 3rd on Wednesday!