Retail Realities

 By Kirsty

Collage by Rachel D
Collage by Rachel D

I was going to write a piece about expectations, and the subsequent, disappointing realities for the next school year, because we’re all going back soon and facing new challenges etc., but then I realised I was misled by everyone to think it’s close to when I start school again, when, as a British person, really I’ve only just finished. And writing that piece would completely prevent me from going into standard summer holiday denial of the looming September start-date, so. To fuel that denial, I’m going to instead talk about the work experience I did in a retail clothing store (no specifics here), and compare the reality of retail work to what I expected it to be like. I didn’t think I had too many disillusions as to what it would be like- I wasn’t expecting anything movie-like and glamorous, in fact, I was almost expecting it to be very boring (which it was, excruciatingly so sometimes), but there was a lot more to the job than I had originally anticipated, and if I previously hadn’t properly respected sales assistants, I definitely would now.

Work: Although I had no illusions about the excitement involved in the work, I gravely underestimated how much sales assistants actually have to do. Like, really. I expected it was mostly just working on the shop floor, tidying clothes, working on the till and changing rooms, and honestly I’m not entirely sure what else. The reality of it was that even that alone was tiring, and harder than you’d think- being stood up all day. I worked 9:30 until 5, and on my first day especially I wanted nothing more than just take a nap as soon as I got home. Shout out to the teachers who gave us homework on top of that, thanks. This isn’t even half of the work, however: I also had to unwrap, tag and hang new deliveries, change the mannequins and displays around the shop/in the windows, and many other small jobs that can build into something so tiring. Plus I found out I could have been paid like, £500 for the hours of work I did if I was an actual employee.

Clothes: First I need to share that I totally overthink outfits for most things. But honestly, I was expecting what I wore to be a much bigger concern than it turned out to be, considering, you know, it was a clothing store. Obviously I didn’t actually work there, so they didn’t expect me to always wear clothes by that brand, and all I really knew beforehand was that I couldn’t wear things with logos, or open toe-shoes. It was briefly mentioned that I should try to wear colours similar to what they had in, or clothes of a similar style; I would fit in better and look like I worked there, which completely freaked me out because my wardrobe consists of mostly red plaid, black, and a couple of white shirts. What they had in store was hot pink, pastels, and various tones of blue (it sounds like a weird combination but it was all separate and brought together by other, more neutral colours). I managed to convince my parents to give me some extra money to buy more suitable things to wear, and bought a couple (really cute) sweaters, a skirt, and a crop top. Not exactly enough for two weeks, so I ended up borrowing a couple of things from my sister and got super creative with things I owned. Who knew I could have a capsule wardrobe? There never really turned out to be that big a deal about what I wore, because I didn’t wear anything super inappropriate (obviously), and I always overreact. That doesn’t mean I didn’t freak out in the mornings when I hadn’t pre-planned an outfit, though.

Staff: Honestly I’m not sure what I expected the staff to be like, or how I would be treated. I’m not sure if I expected them to be like a close family who took me under their wing and taught me the secrets of surviving retail, like a teen movie, or if I thought it would be something completely different. Although maybe it wasn’t the former to such an exaggerated state, it did have elements of that: the staff were sort of like a family- partially due to the fact a lot of them had got each other the job there, and so were already friends- and I did get on with most of them really well; we shared social networks to keep in touch by the end of the second week. Many of the girls there had even got their jobs through doing work experience there first, so I wasn’t treated like I was super young and (wait for it) inexperienced. I mean, I was even offered a job for when I’m 16, so they must have liked me, right?

I guess what I’m trying to say is: be nice to retail workers because they do a lot more than you realise, as well as being real people who deserve respect, and clothes are not as important as we all hope and fear.

1 Comment

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  1. I work in a grocery store as a cashier and the standing thing got to me too. I go through sneakers really fast and I had to adjust how much I run around like “how much foot pain do I want today” so the whole thing is exhausting.

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