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Department Store Dispatch: Two Salesgirls and a Funeral

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Welcome back to the Retail Diaries, in which an anonymous sales associate at a high-end Manhattan department store reveals what it's like on the other side of the cash register. Note: Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the innocent.

Photo by Bairachnyi Dmitry/Shutterstock

Maybe it's all the protesting on Wall Street, or the general fact that the economy sucks, but weekdays have been dismal for luxury retail lately. One of my co-workers gasped as she realized that the smashing Vince coyote fox fur vest she'd sold to a dapper English woman had been returned—despite the customer's insistence that she was going back to London the next day. How had she even found time before her flight?

"This sucks," my colleague declared, and went searching the floor for a group of people who would reaffirm her negative outlook on life over cheap margaritas at Chipotle. That meant that I was left alone in my section. Too bad it was a Wednesday afternoon.

I was about to check my phone when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a blonde woman pick up a pair of jeans, grimace, and put them back down.

"You should try them," I said half-heartedly, surveying her outfit: Cartier LOVE bracelet (with diamonds) on the wrist, Van Cleef on the neck, vintage Chanel on the shoulder. Something about a polite-looking blonde lady with expensive if boring taste sounded oddly refreshing. I'd bite.

"You think so?" she asked, with a southern twang. "I really shouldn't be shopping for jeans," she added, putting them back down. "My mother passed away and I don't have anything to wear to the funeral."

Instantly, sympathy kicked in. When I said a simple "I'm sorry," she responded with the entire story of her mother's fatal battle with cancer, and how horrible it had been, and how she'd lost so much weight because she'd been taking care of her, and how shopping was the last thing she could think of.

I told her to sit down in the fitting room with her thoughts—she clearly had many—while I pulled things in her size. Sometimes I think customers talk to salespeople because they don't feel judged. The amount of things seen and heard behind fitting room doors is a miracle.

I picked the best in black I could find: Theyskens Theory, Helmut Lang, Diane von Furstenberg, Tahari, and more. When I walked into the room, there were three Alice + Olivia dresses, all black with sequins, lining the walls. One of my co-workers was in the room, telling the woman that no, of course sequins weren't inappropriate for a funeral. Plus, she offered, think of how many ways you could re-wear the dress afterwards! "And you look so young in this," she added.

The client looked in the mirror and frowned. "That's what I'm afraid of," she said.

"Do you guys need help with anything?" I asked, putting my own dresses down.

"We're good for now, just trying on some of these things," the sales associate replied. I knew what she was doing. She was trying to make her month, and smelled opportunity with this poor woman.

"What do you think of this dress?" the southern belle asked, and I paused.

"It's a little...short. It's a little inappropriate, especially for the mood of the..." I paused, "occasion."

She nodded, and reached for a split-neck sheath dress in a lightweight wool from DVF instead. I motioned for the salesgirl to meet me outside of the room so we could give her privacy.

"I was helping her first," she said.

"I didn't know that," I answered honestly.

"Well, look, whatever she picks, she picks. But no telling her my stuff is worse than yours. Let her decide, she's a grown woman."

In the end, she picked the DVF. The Helmut, she said, was too fashion-forward. Her mom didn't care for things that were too trendy. I instantly regretted my snap judgment of her taste based on her accessories.

I thought my job was done, but the next day, the woman came back to thank me and brought her daughter. In higher spirits this time, they shopped (a lot) and even bought some slightly more daring things together. With them, I got to share a moment, which really made the job more than about just selling clothes.

And, thank God, they avoided the unfortunate fate of mourning in sequins.
· An Anonymous Luxury Department Store Staffer Tells All [Racked NY]