After a year of working as a sales associate at a well-known, fast fashion chain in downtown New York, I've had my fair share of good and bad customers. A good, appreciative, understanding customer can make even the most stressful, cramped, miserable days of retail (which, let's face it, are many and close between) feel like a stroll through a well aerated, uncrowded, naturally lit park. Well, almost.
I've had ladies shriek with delight when I've handed them the store's last pair of suspender tights that Rihanna wore. Or the flag-print hotpants Rihanna wore. Or anything Rihanna wore. Many customers have specifically requested my name following our interaction, so as to tell my higher-ups how helpful they found me (though sadly, I do not work on commission). One customer literally jumped up and down hugging me when I returned from an arduous journey to the stock room and back with last season's faded pink skinny jeans that were no longer on the sales floor. “I hope you're here next time I come,” she squealed, “I'm going to ask for you!” To which I replied, “For my sake, let's hope I'm not.”
So what, you ask, has caused this level of embitterment? Sure, I have first access to the latest in high street togs, get a decent discount on overpriced merch, and am often in close quarters with the stars of the Disney Channel and Gossip Girl. (For all of those wondering, Blake Lively and I share the same jean size and thus could technically become BFFs and share each other's clothes.) But I'm also the theoretical punching bag for all those miserable shoppers for whom 'retail therapy' doesn't quite seem to be doing the trick. I'm the under-appreciated, underpaid housekeeper for the many customers who see a day of shopping as a time to exercise their inner Blair Waldorf to my pathetic Dorota, minus the witty rapport. I'm a swollen-footed human labrador who never tires of fetching size after size of makeup stained skater dresses for the young girls with mothers sitting nearby, paralyzed by the comfort of their cushioned seats. Designer Donna Karan recently said that everyone with fashion industry ambitions should start out in retail, because "that’s where you really get to understand what you’re doing and what your job is." My job? More like my indentured servitude. I am the many, the humble, the retail worker.
But I'm not going to take it anymore! The time has come for us sales associates to rise from the trenches of the storage cellar and take a stand. I've comprised a short list of shopping rules for all of you who still prefer leaving the comfort of your laptops to venture out into the real world of retail. From proper shopping makeup to fitting room etiquette, it's all in there. My advice? Read it and memorize it. Better yet, forget about going green for just one second and print it out. Then pop it in your purse for future reference. You'll be amazed at how far a little courtesy towards us 'little people' can get you-- Hey, if you're really nice, we might even put that floral maxi on hold for more than twenty-four hours! Read on.
Rule No. 1: Hang up our clothes. That's right. Our clothes. Because, until you leave the register, receipt in hand, they still belong to us; Therefore, you should treat them as you would other people's clothes. So, that mullet maxi skirt, knock-off Versace blouse, impossibly tight floral print jeans and peplum skater dress didn't quite work out. I'm sorry. Honestly. I understand the frustration of waiting in line for an eternity, only to find that none of your eleven items fit properly. So what's a customer to do? Well, many women seem to think the appropriate reaction involves balling up the offending items while simultaneously scattering the naked hangers across the fitting room. This creates an unnecessary amount of excess work for us already swamped employees-- That whole time you were queuing? We were running back and forth, re-hanging up all the fallen, crumpled garments that the previous customers left in their fitting rooms. Hang up the clothes you don't want. Remove them from the fitting room and hand them to one of us. Please and thank you.
Rule No. 2: Don't sit on the stairs. Or the displays. Or the floor. This one might seem obvious to most people, but you'd be shocked at the number of customers (or more aptly, human remoras) who so casually, and sometimes defiantly, plant themselves on whichever flat surface they come across when their weary limbs can no longer commit. Some select responses I've received upon politely asking a floor/stair/display-sitter to please stand: "Why." "No." "Go get your manager." "Well where the hell am I supposed to sit?!" Look, if anyone understands how exhausting it gets walking slowly in a figure-eight pattern, it's us-- try doing it for eight hours at a time. But our sales floor isn't your living room, or a lounge. Therefore, it's not our duty to provide your lazy caboose with a couch. Sitting on a display could cause one of our fancy mannequins to topple. The floor is filthy-- see how dirty all our merch is after it's been dragged around? And sitting on an active staircase is pretty much the definition of a safety hazard. Do you honestly want people to die because you were blocking the fire exit??? Think about the children!
Rule No. 3: Leave your "face" at home. I get that wearing loads of bronzer, blush, and lipstick is a vital part of your every day life. You never know who you're going to run into, right? I mean, you're probably the next Chanel muse-- if ONLY Karl were wandering around your neighborhood right now. But if there were ever a time to leave your face paint at home, it's a shopping trip. Have you ever heard of a 'damages bin?' It's where all the soiled (read: makeup stained) garments go to crumple up and die, never to be seen on the sales floor again. So when you face-stain that $350 ivory colored party dress you were never actually intending to purchase, you're technically taking it away from that poor little pre-teen who was dying to wear that same size at her Bat Mitzvah-- subsequently denying her the right to enter womanhood in style. So not Kosher. Take a tip from the dragalicious Aubrey O'Day, who (along with her rainbow puppies) has popped into our shopping spot foundation-free on several occasions. Just look at her now-- she's on yet another reality show! A shining example of inner beauty showing through. Now that's an American success story if ever there was.
Rule No. 4: Sometimes, rules are just rules. I really can't explain why you aren't allowed to take photographs inside our store (or why you'd ever want to, but whatever). Nor can I justify the reason our bikini separates are annoyingly stuck together with a security sensor, making it virtually impossible to try on an entire swimsuit at once. Or the reason our jean sizes skip all the odd numbers, leaving about half of our customers (including Sofia Coppola-- sorry about that!) with an impossibly poor fit. But please, just oblige us when we kindly explain these rules to you. If you honestly think we lowly sales associates are asked to take any part in creating these guidelines, you have bigger problems than trying on a swimsuit in two go-rounds.
Rule No. 5: Don't leave your unwanted items on random racks. "Oh hi, did you not want those??" As a sales associate, one of our main objectives is to keep the sales floor tidy and manageable for you, Oh Faithful Custo, to swiftly maneuver during your shopping spree. But there's hardly anything more upsetting during an already hectic shift than watching you carelessly dump a hodgepodge of rejected merch over a totally irrelevant clothes rack. I know, I know: "It's our job." And no matter how recklessly you toss that trench coat, we will eventually retrieve and return it to its rightful rack. But think of it this way: What if, on a crowded Saturday afternoon, it was you in our store, looking for a Size 6 in those red leopard leggings you might just perish without. As far as any of us can tell, your size is sold out, and you leave empty-handed with suicidal thoughts. At the end of the night, we discover that elusive Size 6 hidden amongst the red high-waisted skinny jeans-- tucked away by some lazy, unthoughtful customer-- but it's too late. You're already gone, never to experience the joy of feeling that unnaturally-hued, animal-skin printed Polyester blend against your skin. I get chills just thinking about it. So what can you do to stop this terrifying trend? Simply hand your unwanted items to a sales associate, return it to the fitting room, or leave it at the register. Together, we can break the cycle.
Rule No. 6: Our fitting room isn't your trash can: Here's a startling statistic: When a customer walks into a fitting room holding a Starbucks cup or other various disposable bevvie, 9/10 times she's going to leave it in there. Is it garbage? Charity? Gratuity? If you're going to leave perishable goods for the employees to find in the fitting rooms, at least make it an unopened bag of Swedish Fish or something similar. And as for non-perishables? No more gently used sanitary napkins, please. Yes, that's happened.
Rule No. 7: The store is closed-- please, please leave. The music goes silent, the registers are counted, the floor is devoid of other customers, we employees are doing our best a cappella versions of Beyonce (trying to ward you off? Perhaps.) while frantically sizing and finger-spacing the racks, and you're still shopping. You might be pleading with us to let you back in the fitting room "just for ooone more minute!" because you "proooomise" you're going to purchase something. What's wrong with this picture? I'll tell you what: We're closed. Shockingly, that closing time listed on the door isn't merely a suggestion! Every time you hastily pull a piece of clothing out of its place, we have to space the hangers all over again. Plus, "I promise I'm buying" is basically code for "I'm shoplifting." And all we want is to go home... You know, that far-away place we return to briefly to recharge between our shop shifts. But to get there, we need you to go home. Or just... elsewhere. Think of that old Semisonic song: "Closing time/You don't have to go home /But you can't stay here." Oh, now that annoying song's stuck in your head? Good. Don't you forget it.
And finally, if you just so happen to be some sort of celebrity... Don't snub us. We're told by our management to approach you (and literally everyone else in the store) to ask if you're "doing alright." And if (Heaven forbid!) more than one sales associate says 'hello' to you and your 'discreet' bodyguard over the course of your extremely private/non-attention-seeking retail excursion? You're Demi Lovato-- we created you. (P.S. Dakota Fanning-- you rule!)