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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
It's my first-ever scheduled appointment, and I'm a little anxious. The good news is, my manager is very happy that I'm "wardrobe-ing the client" today, which is a verb that I'm fairly certain he invented that basically means planning a head-to-toe outfit.
My task isn't easy. The woman in question is unlike anyone I've dressed before: A sixty-something-year-old socialite who wears a size 12 (sometimes 14) and has a very important charity gala to attend. Her daughter shopped with me and liked my suggestions, and now her apparently very stubborn mother is trusting me with, essentially, her life.
So I rise early, grab a coffee, and begin the pulling process. Working in a multi-level department store is fabulous because there's so much selection, but carrying around arms full of product in heels is a little exhausting. I switch to the Vera Wang Lavender flats I bought last week (on super discount, mind you!) and make my way to the designer section.
I remember the daughter mentioned that her mother was pear-shaped, but I'm wondering how pear-shaped she is. Bigger bottoms are (generally speaking) a no-go for European designers. I grab a couple of prim options from Carolina Herrera, decide against Oscar (too much color for her), and then gravitate towards Donna.
I happen to be an avid admirer of Donna Karan Collection for a couple of reasons. It's literally designed for a woman, and that's no joke. Donna's stuff is fluid, flattering, and gorgeous. The truth is, though, most women are afraid of body-hugging materials, no matter how luxe they are. They don't realize that, with all the sinuous knots and twists, her dresses are some of the most complimentary a woman could buy. Plus, they usually cover the less-than-perfect parts: upper arms, lower back, thighs, etc.
I grab a couple of options in charcoal grey (a staple for a New York woman) and hope she likes. My last stop is St. John—also easy—who really debuted some cute new stuff after Kate Winslet became their ad girl. I stumble upon a Donna-esque dress in slate grey, with cap sleeves, in a fabulous silk material, and throw it on my pile. This is the one, I think.
My customer glances at my body-hugging options and shakes her head in disapproval. "I'm not her age anymore," she says, gesturing towards her daughter, who has come along as my moral support.
"They will look good, I promise," I beg.
"You two are both young and thin, you don't know what the word sag means. Do you have neck fat? Have you had children? No!"
"Mom, just shut up and try it," her daughter scolds, rolling her eyes.
The magic about daughters is simple: They can get their mothers to do anything.
Her mother concedes, and tries the St. John on first. She opens the door, and I slide her into a pair of matching python Jimmy Choos. Elevated, she examines herself in the mirror.
"I haven't worn something this tight since I had my first child," she says, holding her flattened belly with both her hands.
"You look beautiful," I say, and it's true. She does!
Any model would look elegant and sexy in that dress. But when a woman my client's age slips it on, it means something a bit different. The way it hugged her curves and showed her shape signified that this was an older woman who was confident in her own skin, not busy trying to hide it or (God forbid) dress twenty years younger. This was not a Real Housewife, this was a working woman and a mother who took herself seriously—enough to know the benefit of a sexy St. John dress.
"Fine. You win," she smiled, admiring herself, "but if I'm wearing this damned thing, I need Spanx."
And, of course, enough to know the miraculous benefits of shapewear.
· Department Store Dispatch: Pretty Woman in Léger and Loubs [Racked NY]
· Department Store Dispatch: Two Salesgirls and a Funeral [Racked NY]
· An Anonymous Luxury Department Store Staffer Tells All [Racked NY]