Dress Code: The Language Of Sales Associates


Hi friends! Today on Dress Code, let’s talk about shopping. Specifically, how to interpret the coded words and phrases of the omnipresent shopgirl/girl.

I’ve worked a lot of retail in my time. When it was at its best, I loved it; in many ways, I think it’s what I was best at. For years I worked in the world’s best boutique, where we took a lot of pride in making people feel good without bullshitting them. Even now, I still try to fill in on an odd shift here or there. Maybe it’s because I took this job rather seriously that I’m extra annoyed when I feel like someone is playing me: giving me the hard sell, or flat-out lying, or using some of the retail code that — come on! — refuses to just flat-out say what they mean.

“It’s an investment piece.”
Translation: that’s really overpriced. For me, this always translates to “I can’t actually afford it.” And unless said purse or coat can miraculously morph into liquid cash, or you intend to keep it perfectly preserved in your closet, unworn, this is a very loose definition of “investing” indeed.

“That’s running small/large.”
Translation: that’s simply not your size. However, I sympathize with this one, as it’s a tricky situation. I recently had someone look me up and down and say, “why don’t you start with a larger size?” which also, somehow, wasn’t the solution.

“That’s a unique piece.”
Translation: I am amazed that anyone is putting that monstrosity on her body. No one has ever picked that up, let alone worn it, and it’s even worse than I could have expected and I have to say something. One friend, a veteran of a West Coast vintage boutique, had a particularly ingenious sound-byte for certain 70s apparel situations: “that’s a strong choice.”

“It doesn’t bother me.”
Translation: that doesn’t fit you, but it doesn’t bother me, because really, it’s not my problem. I had this happen recently on a vintage expedition. I came out of the dressing room in a polyester pants suit (just don’t ask) that was obviously several sizes too large. “I don’t think it fits,” I said politely. “Oh,” replied the owner, “it doesn’t bother me. You can get away with it.” Um…thanks? Good to know that my looking ridiculous isn’t causing you to lose sleep. However, it bothered me. I didn’t buy it.

“Can the following guest please step down?”
Translation: Hey, customer, time to pay up. It’s weird to be called a guest when you haven’t been invited somewhere, haven’t stayed there, and the words are being bellowed at you by a harassed-looking teenager.

“My name is _, just let me know if you need anything.”
Translation: I work on commission. You will need to know my name in order for me to receive the commission. Please don’t forget my name, k? Sorry, it’s company policy.

“it just needs a belt/to be taken in/to be hemmed/to be let out”
Translation: this is not your size. We don’t have your size. The other store doesn’t have your size. The website is out of your size. Let’s make this work, because we want you to buy it.

But for all of these go-to phrases, it’s a two-way street. I’m not just talking basic customer courtesy, like keeping a dressing room clean, not getting chocolate on clothes, keeping your kids in line, or letting a store know when you’ve ripped something, rather than slinking off in a furtive panic. But these folks know the clothes: it’s worth asking about fit, how things are sized (sometimes they really do just run oddly) — and whether the person helping you owns any of the designer/store’s stuff. This isn’t to entrap her, but rather to find out how things wear. Plus, I really do listen up when someone tells me she owns something herself. A shopgirl can be your greatest ally. Most of us really do want to help and take satisfaction in helping women feel good, and that’s not a bad skill to have.

And for those of you who try on clothes sans underpants: I think I speak for shopgirls — and guys — everywhere when I say that’s a strong choice.

For all of our handy Dress Code guides, go here.

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