Thursday, November 18, 2010

Selling Myself

I’ve been thinking* a bit lately about working in fashion retail, and what it actually means to sell someone something. I guess this sounds fairly innocuous/pedantic, because for all intents and purposes I’m selling them a cute little party frock, or a sparkly headband, or a pair of frilly socks, and wrapping it in pink tissue, and then we both go about our days and everything is fine and dandy. But what is it that I’m really selling them? (cue dramatic music) …

Last year, at school, I remember talking to a girl in my English class who worked at Australia’s favourite nightclub young lady’s fashion emporium, Supre; about how she felt like her job as a ‘Supre Stylist’ (that’s their actual job title, apparently) was actually about selling young girls an identity, cleverly disguised as an itty bitty clubbing dress or a sparkly boob tube. In what was a rare moment of clarity for the both of us, this seemed to make perfect sense. The most common conversation she overheard at work was young girls conspiring to wear leggings under their dress (/top) before heading out in front of their parents, and then ditching them in the garden on their way out the gate. I guess the identity that one can pick up at Supre for $15 a pop is not one I closely relate to, but I suspect its greatest advantage is that it’s a popular one – popular for being popular? I’m not quite sure if that works out, but I think for young girls (okay, for everyone), being popular is being safe. Wearing what everyone else is wearing virtually guarantees you few problems: a girl wearing a Supre tshirt can’t (logically) give you shit for wearing the exact same one. You’ve bought into the same identity (“vibrant, glam and up-beat” according to their website… okay then).

So what then, in turn, am I selling when I’m peddling my wares at The Hill**? Our brand is pretty much known for one thing: uber femininity. Flowers, colours, ruffles, bows (SO MANY BOWS), sparkles, etc etc etc. And then you have the sales assistants – all dolled up, red lipstick and heels compulsory. It’s fairly obvious from the outset that we’re as much selling ourselves (or the character we’re performing) as we are selling a sequinned cardigan. This leads me to the conclusion, if I’m selling our clothes, and our clothes are absolute femininity; am I selling women their femininity? (shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit.)

If this theory holds any water at all (it possibly doesn’t), that presents a few more moral dilemmas for me to dwell over:
1.     Should a teenager be selling femininity (or whatever) to older women? (the average age of our customers being 40)
2.      Should someone who doesn’t believe in gender conformity be working in a place that is girly girly girly?
3.     Does it matter that I only started dressing like this to be ‘kind of ironic’? (forgive me, I was 16 at the time) (more on this later)

No, maybe, probably not

Does anyone else have any thoughts to share on the matter?

*An affectionate term for, lying in bed awake all night.
**Also known as Alannah Hill


  1. What does ironic dressing even mean? i would really like to know. i know hipsters wear ugly clothes to be "ironic". but this whole issue is confusing to me.

  2. and to answer your question: i shop at AH and i buy *clothes* from you, but not my identity or my fememninity, or whatever. that's something that i can't buy.

  3. I guess I feel like I personally dress ironically, because how I dress on the outside is the opposite of who I feel I am on the inside. I'll probably do a post on that later.

    As for buying identity - I do agree with you, but I think it depends on what extent to which you feel your clothes are an extension/part of your identity. For me, it's quite a bit.

  4. Yay! What a wonderful post. I sort of understand what you mean about dressing ironically — I don't, as such, but I consider my style 'hyperfeminine': amazingly, self-consciously, OTT femininity. I like doing it because it is a gendered costume, and sometimes it makes people think.

    People will appropriate what they like from Alannah Hill. Everyone is buying into constructed femininity at some point (whether it's hair removal from legs/armpits/upper lip), makeup, or the explicitly feminine Alannah Hill.

    Think you've inspired me to do a blog post -- if you don't mind? Would like to link it to this post, too. :)

    (Quintessence from Vogue)

  5. Aw, thank you dear! Yeah, I was thinking about hair removal as being one of the most obvious examples of 'buying femininity'. I might do a post on all of that later. I agree with you that I kind of like the overly gendered costume aspect, I have issues with how hyper femininity doesn't seem to fit under the 'genderfuck' umbrella and all of that business (probably something else to write about).

    Go right ahead, I'd love to read your post! love love :)

  6. 'lo, lovely; I've done a post and linked you up. It's at if you'd like to read it. Not as articulate as I'd like so any feedback would be awesome. :)

  7. hey there
    i don't think identity can be bought or sold; there's an important distinction between 'selling an identity' and selling something which allows expression of identity.
    identity is not what somebody looks like to others but who somebody is or identifies as (not really a commodity)
    i take your point about clothes being an extension of identity but that's exactly the point; clothes (or whatever else for that matter) arise from identity, not the other way round.
    ps i like semi-colons too :)