Retail Therapy: Confessions of a Former Shop Girl

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I've paid my dues for working the retail job.

Working retail -- specifically fashion retail -- definitely helped make me a better customer. I always hang up my clothes after trying them on, right side out, buttoned up if needed, because I've been the one who has to hang stuff back up. I was already doing it anyway, but having the experience of working fashion retail solidified it. I don't want to be That Customer, because I've dealt with That Customer, and I don't want to do that to someone else.

Both of my first non-babysitting jobs were retail. I started out as back of house for a kitchen goods store. I still can't giftwrap to save my life, but at one point, I was a Professional Giftwrapper. My second non-babysitting job was working for a small boutique in my hometown; the entire set-up was a little ... shall we say, sketchy ... but needless to say there were days where I was there from open to close, twelve hours a day, with no supervision. Just 18-year-old freshly-graduated me and the store. And all its stock.

And I will confess -- sometimes I would invite my friends over to come hang out with me at the store while I was working. If it was a quiet day (which it tended to be), we'd try on hats and sunglasses, look at the jewelry, just hang out. It was summer, we'd just graduated, we were going to college in the fall. Obviously if a customer came in they were my priority, but it was fun to say, for the first time, "yes, come visit me at work!"

My favorite thing to show my friends and urge them to try on for the hell of it? The Heatherette dress that my predecessor had convinced my boss to order... and no one ever bought. It was a Carrie Bradshaw dress -- metallic pink, raw edges, flowers and glitter, strapless and miniskirt. Thing is, in the midst of One-Dot-Oh, there weren't many Carrie Bradshaws running around Silicon Valley. That dress was permanently in the "on sale!" selection. In fact, it might still be there.

And so I have a sympathetic bent for those still working in retail: The employees who have to be the face of Awful Corporate Policy, who have to do things like shred the "damaged clothes" at H&M, or tell an autistic girl she can't have help in the dressing room. The ones who get nailed by mobs of customers on Limited Edition launch days. The ones who have to follow corporate dress codes to have the "right look" on the floor.

For more bonus reading:

Delusions of Grandeur writes about being the buyer at a resale shop, and the (swearing, shoplifting, tag-switching, haggling) customers she encounters.

Still interested in working a retail position? How about at LUSH Cosmetics? Gala Darling, former LUSH employee and current International Playgirl shares her tips on how to get a job at LUSH.

Or how about some Sephora Secrets, from Jezebel's Sephora Spy column?

Have you ever worked a fashion or beauty retail position? What kind of things did you have to deal with on a regular basis? Any horror stories? Any confessions? (Because believe me, I've got plenty of both...)

Jeanne also blogs at The Periodic Elements of Style.

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