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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
January marks the beginning of slow season for those of us working commission, which confirms that age-old adage about desperate times. But our desperate measures are different than you think, since we can't exactly lure customers into the store with a sweet phone call, asking them to shop the resort collections when it's finally hit twenty-degree temperatures.
This is the time of the year when everyone loses their dignity, straps up their Frye/Chloé/Chanel/Prada boots, and heads for the sales racks. There, with rehearsed smiles, we offer fitting rooms full of 70% off merchandise, and pray to God that nobody asks us to find them a size among the scattered racks.
It's around this time that we also start to promise each other, over lunch or post-work drinks, that we are finally going to get out of retail. While scouring the sales racks, we roll our eyes at each other, promising our New Year's resolution will be to quit this place once and for all and find a salary.
Commission, as you know, is a tricky thing. If you catch a sales associate in the middle of back-to-school or Christmas shopping, they're less likely to feed you the bullshit that inevitably comes during sale season. But there are a few unmistakable tell-tale signs that you are shopping with a shark. After careful observation, I've compiled a list of the six things your salesperson is (most likely) lying to you about.
1. "It's gonna stretch!" or, alternatively: "It'll shrink in the wash!"
Ever since skinny jeans and leggings (and their inexplicably popular hybrid, the jegging) made their way onto the scene, salespeople everywhere have misled women into buying sizes too small for them, insisting that these magical bottoms will expand to give them the perfect fit. It's important to recognize that a lot of denim has a significant amount of stretch: Joe's, Citizens of Humanity, AG, etc. But when you open the fitting room door and show your salesperson a pant that is pulling in the crotch and the backs of your thighs and the waistband is causing you to runneth over, do not buy the lie. If, at first, it feels quite tight in the waist, but isn't pulling elsewhere, it's a good fit. The same rule applies to leather pants and leggings.
A golden rule in denim is to always try the size you think you are, then the size up and down. With the cost of jeans nowadays, don't be afraid to ask for three sizes; make your associate work for her commission. In addition, while shopping for white jeans, all "stretch" rules are off. If it's too tight, do New York City (and the Hamptons) a favor: take them off and find a pair that fits you properly. The same rule applies to leather jackets—it will give, sure, but if the sleeve's too tight at first, it always will be.
2. "This is the last one."
If you're asking a sales associate to find you a $50 top among racks and racks of marked down clothes no longer organized by size or designer, you must be out of your mind to think they would actually go and look for it. I'm sorry to say it, but that's how it works. Ask for them to look it up in the computer, instead. Usually digital inventories give you a better idea of what's available, so you know what your odds are before you return to digging.
3. "Size up for layering!"
When selling coats—fur, cashmere, leather, and otherwise—it's a common myth that you should take the size larger to accommodate for bulky sweaters. This is a shame, because designer coats from Max Mara, Neil Barrett, Rick Owens, Burberry, Jil Sander, Aquascutum, et al are made with the intention of the perfect fit. These coats are designed with the right amount of room at the sleeve and the appropriate amount of space at the chest and waist. And, more often than not, they are warm enough without a fur vest and a chunky turtleneck to layer. To take a size larger than the perfect fit in these coats is, essentially, a waste of cash. Buy the right size, and save your heavy-duty layering for less serious outerwear.
4. "You'll wear this forever."
No, you won't. And if you do, you need to consider cleaning out your closet and donating to Goodwill. Anything billed as "timeless" is most likely a sham, especially in the contemporary section. There will come a day when that "timeless" oversized silk blouse will cycle out of fashion in favor of a more tailored, put-together look. And one day, fur will not be sold alongside jeans and cheap sequined tops, and it will return to its luxury status.
"Timeless" and "forever" are salespeople euphemisms for something that is otherwise entirely true: You will get a lot of mileage out of this, and will love wearing it. Sometimes we promise eternity as a gentle nudge in the right direction. Other times, it's a shove to sell an expensive item. Clothes, unfortunately, are not forever: they tear, lose shape, and fade in color (and so do their wearers). But your investment in a fabulous pair of work pants can save you years of strife and self-examination. In today' world, two or three years really can feel like forever. But, unfortunately, ladies, it's time to move away from the Theory Max-C pant. You two have had a good, long run.
5. "You can dress it up or dress it down!"
Ever since Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, "dressing up and down" has been a commonly used term, tossed around by Long Island sales girls and flashy gay men alike in fitting rooms all over New York. There's some truth to the concept: With modern fashion, getting properly done up could mean a fabulous cocktail dress or the right top with skinny jeans and heels. "Dressing up" in fact, has never been such a vague idea, especially not with girls everywhere swooning over (of all things!) Alexander Wang drop-crotch sweatpants. The truth is, you can make those sweatpants go from slob to chic with a great S&M-inspired heel, a leather jacket, and a low-cut tee, but most New Yorkers won't be able to figure that out when they go home to their cramped, chaotic closets.
Next time your salesperson uses this horribly trite catchphrase, make her bring you some options to show you how to put the two looks together. This way, you are allowing her to show you more product for you to potentially purchase, and you're decreasing the odds of returning the item after you get home and realize you cannot, in fact, figure out how to "dress up" sweatpants. In the end, it's a win-win.
6. "You can't return that here."
This is the biggest lie fed to customers by salespeople, who can spot three massive bags full of online merchandise from a mile away. You never have to return, say, an Acne tee to the "Acne section." That will never happen. You can return it while you're in shoes, handbags, designer, lingerie, etc. The only restrictions around returns are shoes, handbags, and jewelry. Everything else is fair game. If an associate sends you to another department for a return, kindly ask to speak to their manager. It's called luxury retail for a reason—we're here to service you, not inconvenience you.
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