I have spent the past six months working in retail and have encountered both positive and not-so-positive experiences and lessons. As I dedicated many years of my life to the fashion industry from modelling school to New York fashion week, I enjoy deeply the lessons in colour patterns, fashion statements, new cuts, styles, looks and most importantly what fits who and why. I also enjoy playing with fashion, trying on styles and innovating (oh the guilty pleasure of consumerism!) my closet with the newest trends in town. Yet I justify my summer’s need to shop, since I am becoming more of a woman, my clothes and styles have also changed and grown and need proper adjustment, ahem…
In any case, I have felt shame when I am asked by an overweight woman “is there anything in this store my size?” because our size “Large” fits women with curves, who are tall, and have perhaps broad shoulders or shorter women who are voluptuous, but it sure is not for women who are overweight, or women who are six feet tall, you get the idea. Similarly, there comes the skinny women who are less than size 0 and have bodies of women but sizes of teenagers, women who have difficulty finding clothes that make them feel like women and not girls. I often also find women who are uncomfortable with wearing short dresses but have challenges finding beautiful, classy and feminine dresses that hover just above their knees. This tends to be the case with women who are tall, or women who are above 30, or women who have thicker thighs. Personally, I find that I have ticker thighs myself and I am also tall, which is why I have experienced short dresses and even shorts as having a negative impact from the social glance. Just last night, I told my co-worker that I felt discriminated against, because my shorts were not any shorter than the average size woman, I am just taller, so there’s longer legs to see! It’s all about perspective. In any case, I recommend women to forget the social expectations and to find their true comfort level, and by comfort I do not necessarily mean pyjama pants and t-shirts, but what makes you feel beautiful, carefree, and magical. I liberated myself from the social gaze last year when I decided to chop off my hair and drop the need to show off my body (read about it here: http://thetruthbehindthemindofagirl.blogspot.ca/2012/07/hairless.html).
I also find women in the store who are feminine icons of beauty, confidence, and freedom. Women who are above 50 that love our funky leggings and hipster FreePeople clothing, women who buy the shortest dresses and have the best bodies over 40, and women who are simple, classy and fun who carry their babies around the store while shopping for Paige jeans, hip dresses and comfortable long-sleeved shirts with images of Led Zeppelin in them.
There are also women who force their bodies into jeans, dresses, and shirts that are not for their body type, but are what they seem to believe “sexy” or “beautiful” in women. Those women I call the absolute consequence of mass images of what beauty is. Yet the rest are not too far away from that feeling, besides the really cool women mentioned in the paragraph above, most of the women still have some kind of personal effect from fashion. They either have difficulty finding what they need, or follow absolute ideal regardless of their bodies’ needs or personal taste, or become numb to the criticism and shopping becomes an embarrassing experience. And please, I don’t even want to get started on those who have limited resources and have to limit themselves to the 75% off rack. Women who watch from the sale corner, as us, fashion elves, run around pulling the ultimate tops, bottoms and accessories for the wealthy or indebted women who will actually make us a good sale. The retail industry is indeed a place of opposites, it’s hell and heaven all in one.
I am woman of self-security and self-assurance, and I am well aware of the physical, psychological and economical characteristics that have shaped and allowed me to feel this way, including, and most importantly, the wonderful parents that always made me feel like the most beautiful girl. As a sociologist, I have the tendency to visualize a person or group and have a list of things that can define them or situate them, and that leads to whole other load of historical, gender, political and economic developments, consequences and thoughts. I am good at what I do, I am good at reading people and I am good at being an equilibrium in spaces where opposites take place. I have always been this way, and my education only gives me facts, knowledge and more understanding.
This said, in every space where women gather magic has the opportunity to emerge. I have been blessed by universe to find women who are absolutely honest about the way they feel about their bodies and the insecurities that haunt them. Women who have approached me in fear of buying a dress and women who would never buy a pair of jeans. It is these women that make my days and job be filled with love. When I can spend 20 minutes in their dressing room telling them how beautiful they are, and how much I understand, and how they need to free themselves and then they leave smiling, whether they bought a pice or not, they smile at me and thank me for my “sweetness/time/advice”. I smile back and thank them, for having the courage to speak their minds, share their fears and allow me the opportunity to talk them into seeing themselves differently, seeing themselves with love and appreciation.
I would like to see shops filled with women designers in which women would come and explain what they want, how they want it and why. A place where both designers and buyers can create pieces that define them, pieces that speak of a revolution against the mass production and consumption, against the stereotypes of beauty in mass media and advertising, against the overpricing that fills the pockets of already rich individuals leaving women with low resources with few choices to feel and dress creatively. Working in retail has its moments of bullshit and shame, but it allows me to work hand-in-hand with everyday women, it allows me to see beauty firsthand.
Thank you to all the women that ask for my advice, help and allow me to show them a different perspective of themselves.