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