Bloomingdale’s Celebrates 50 Years of Brown Bagging It
by Bill McCool on 09/18/2023 | 3 Minute Read
When I was a very young, a Bloomingdale's gift box sat atop my parent’s closet, the kind of glossy, rigid box that would fit a sweater, most likely gifted at Christmas some years before. Inside were important documents—birth certificates, some black and white photos, and other keepsakes. But you knew it was that box because of the “bloomingtype” on it. It was only taken down every so often and precious in its own way.
But I always wondered why that box. And, looking back, the answer is as simple—or seemingly simple—as the Bloomingdale's logo itself. It was too special to just throw away like any other box because the box itself had meaning.
That is also the story of Bloomingdale’s Big Brown Bag, something which celebrated its 50th birthday last week. “Bloomingtype,” of course, was courtesy of Massimo Vignelli, and it came about after the retail legend redesigned its logo in 1973, opting to move away from the handwritten signature in favor of something much more modern, but, in retrospect, utterly timeless. The lowercase san-serif typeface, resembling that of Herb Lubalin’s Avant Garde Extra Light, featured two mingled “o’s” and hasn’t been touched since it debuted.
That wordmark would also make its way on the store’s beloved bags, with the Big Brown Bag debuting in stores for customers needing to schlep oversized blankets and pillows. Then, it would further be adapted to Medium and Little Brown Bags for merchandise of appropriate size (because, no, Yardley Lip Licks don’t need a bag that goddam big). Ever since, the kraft paper behemoth has become a giant of the retail world, signaling the bag itself is nearly as important as what it holds inside.
To celebrate 50 years of brown-bagging it, Bloomingdales has announced a pop-up shop, the aptly named Big Brown Bazaar, with online and in-store activations and partnerships. Limited-edition releases inspired by the Big Brown Bag will celebrate its place in the fashion world with exclusive baubles from Helmet Lang and Stoney Clover Lane. There will also be a curated shop featuring things like a Polo Ralph Lauren sweatshirt—starring bear and bag—and even a pickleball paddle (and, yes, it says “Big Brown Paddle”). Hell, there's even a medium brown mug because why not?
"The Big Brown Bag has become an incredible Bloomingdale's marketing tool, and representing the first sustainable shopping bag, was truly ahead of its time," said Frank Berman, CMO at Bloomingdale's, in a press release. "We are a company that pushes to innovate and strives to be like none other, and the Big Brown Bag is an exemplary product of this ethos. It has become a historical part of pop culture moments and an icon of the luxury lifestyle. The bag itself is synonymous with fashion and the Bloomingdale's brand, and we are thrilled to be celebrating its 50th anniversary with the launch of our incredible pop-up shop, unique merchandise, exclusive customer experiences, and in-store animation."
If you want the snazzy version of the 50th-anniversary bag with the rope handles, you have until October. Don’t forget to put your most valuable and cherished things inside it, maybe at the back of a closet for safekeeping.
Images courtesy of Bloomingdale's.