People who have never worked in retail don’t realize how traumatizing it is. Or maybe they do? Because I’ve never been a waitress but I know how much that must suck. But that may also be because there are so many TV/movie characters that help me understand that kind of pain. There isn’t really anything like that for mall employees. I always used to tell my coworkers that I wanted to write a script and they’d all be famous one day—as my “made up” characters. Haven’t gotten around to that (add it to the list) BUT here’s a peek into how hilarious that TV show will one day be.
My first job was the summer after junior year in high school: Gap Outlet. Then I transferred to Old Navy Outlet (“sister companies”), where I worked through sophomore year of college. Finally, I worked at White House Black Market Outlet for the remainder of college. That’s about six years total that I spent slaving as a cashier/fashion consultant/therapist/custodian/professional liar/store manager/accountant/gossip queen/model. It was the best of times and the worst of times. More so the latter. Here’s what I learned:
- If you ever work at a large outlet mall store, you WILL spend hours being trained on how to properly fold a t-shirt table. Talk about torture—that water drip thing has nothing on this. It’s a damn t-shirt, does the way it’s folded actually have anything to do with the rate at which it’s sold?! It does, actually. What’s worse is when you’re “assigned” to that table. As in, your job for that day is to literally stand by or near the table, folding. You fantasize about one of those buses from Mexico coming and buying the whole stock. You think seriously about spending your entire paycheck on t-shirts so that there will be less but then you remember the trucks that seem to drop off boxes of more t-shirts daily. You brainstorm t-shirt ideas of your own because if the shitty, overpriced pieces of cloth on your table can sell, so can your designs. Anyone can stamp a graphic of fruit on a 25 cent Hanes tee.
- Customers are DIRTY. One day, after picking up a pair of white linen slacks that were left in the corner of a dressing room, I gasped in horror after realizing that there was blood in the crotch. What kind of disgusting person does that?! It’s sad that so many adults still need to watch those 5th grade menstrual cycle videos.
- Stores are dirtier than customers. You think that top you bought is clean enough to wear before washing? It’s not. It’s been all over the dusty floor, where multiple types of bugs live. You know what else has been on the floor? Sweaty feet, boogers, spit, blood, and who knows what else. You think we intensely clean every night? Ha! We mainly just hide the dirt under fixtures.
- When you work at a store for a certain amount of time, the clothing starts to appeal to you more and more. I blame this mostly on the employee discount, which the managers trick you into believing is SUCH a great deal. Your closet is soon taken over by your job. You begin to see that you are never NOT representing the store and you freak out and try to only wear other stuff but realize you have no other stuff and then you shrug and put on one of your ten black dresses (thanks a lot, WHBM). They still haunt me.
- If you have zero acting/lying skills—do not work in retail. On a daily basis, you will have to tell a woman that she looks great when she looks hideous. You will have to put together outfits that you would never wear or recommend in a million years. You will have to squeeze fat rolls into a corset top and use every ounce of your strength and concentration to zip it up—and then say it fits fine. This prepared me for teaching.
- I used to hide things that I wanted to buy later. People would stash stuff all over the damn store. You really find ways to be easily amused.
- Anything a cashier says they can’t do—they can. A few clicks on the keyboard can save hundreds of bucks. Pretty powerful feeling. This also means you can mess up, easily. One day, that idiot will be you. Your drawer will be short and managers will look you up and down, deciding if it was really an honest mistake. Screw them. Do you know how much those corporate companies make per year? More than I’ll ever have in a lifetime.
- Don’t crush on or date or hook up with a retail coworker. Wait, I think that goes for all jobs. Something about not pooping where you eat. It’s always disappointing and their clothes are just so predictable (you’ve put the exact outfit on a few mannequins).
- Black Friday is called Black Friday because everyone should wear black to the stores because it is the funeral for all retail employees. Doors open at midnight, who the fuck thought of that?! You are not saving that much money, you crazy bitches! Go home and sleep off the turkey!
- Be a good customer, please. Hang everything up correctly and ask whoever is helping you about their day (it’s the simple things, people). Don’t walk into a store ten minutes before closing and expect good service. Be courteous. Don’t leave makeup and deodorant on clothing.
I am beyond thrilled that I will never work in retail again—once you get out, it’s like you survived a tsunami and promptly moved inland. The money and boredom and bullshit is just…not at all worth it, unlike teaching, where I literally make almost the same amount but my job is super fulfilling. I will say, however, that those were also some of the most fun years. The people you meet are amazing. I have some pretty great memories from those stores. But absolutely none of that nostalgia comes from being a “fitting room specialist” and it sure as hell doesn’t come from folding.