I feel pretty

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One of the most famous shopping scenes in cinematic history is Julia Roberts going from streetwalker to chic walker in Pretty Woman. It epitomizes the goal of every clothes-shopping experience: feeling special, feeling pretty. Any retailer who lets the customer feel less than beautiful is making, as Ms. Roberts would say, a BIG mistake.

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In the black

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An Anthropologie storefront

As planned, I went to the new Anthropologie a block from my house yesterday. I hadn’t realized their 50% deal only lasted until 11 am and had started at 6 in the morning. And I was glad I hadn’t known–perhaps I would have woken up painfully early, fueled by the worry that everything might be gone later. When I arrived at 10, though, the store was still packed, with clothing and people. I waited 10 minutes in line to try on a few shirts and dresses, and then waited another 20 or so minutes to purchase them. And then I went home. All in all, I bought three items for about 25% of their original price and felt successful.

At home I read the status updates of my friends who had braved much more unpleasant conditions–Walmarts and Best Buys and Targets at 4 in the morning or midnight on Thanksgiving. All but one was sorry for having gone. Many bemoaned the fate of humanity after seeing the mad rush on electronics and toys. Many said they went for the experience and, having had it, would never seek it out again.

We all know of the 2008 death of a Walmart employee trampled by consumers. The stampede did not let up even for police officers trying to help the man; a pregnant woman was hospitalized due to the same event. Apparently, Black Friday has reached new levels of crazy every year in the past decade; before that, it was not quite as insane of an event. The term originated in the late 1960s when the Philadelphia police complained of the overwhelming traffic jams the day after Thanksgiving brought to the city center. Only in the past few years, though, has it been the expectation of major retailers to open their stores earlier and earlier. This year was the first that Walmart officially began their sale at 10 pm on Thanksgiving night. Who can say how early sales will be pushed, and to what level the insanity will rise until consumers have had enough?

There are always those Cassandras who can foretell tragedies; in the case of Black Friday violence I present Sinbad and Arnold Schwarzenegger:

How to be in retail

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What you’ll need: patience, perma-smile

Songlist: Money Can’t Buy Me Love by the Beatles

Further reading: Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail by Caitlin Kelly, Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

As I was thinking about this week’s theme, I considered all the things that mean Thanksgiving to me–family, gratitude, travel, food. I’ve kind of done those all already, though. And then I remembered the other Great American Holiday happening this week: Black Friday.

I’ve never gone shopping on Black Friday intentionally. One year we accidentally scheduled getting a family picture taken at the mall the day after Thanksgiving. Chaos. And last year my family from Wyoming was visiting, and we went looking for a wedding dress for my newly-engaged cousin on Black Friday. As she tried on gorgeous dresses, another bride-to-be was exclaiming on the lines she’d waited in at 3 am that morning in front of Best Buy. Madness.

Helping America, one boot at a time

But I can’t deny my consumerist instincts. Whenever I go to a mall I always feel better after I’ve bought something so I can walk around with the bag–proof of my economic influence. Not only did I just purchase a pair of leather boots, I helped America, man. And if I happen not to buy anything, I leave defeated, knowing I’ve let my country down.

I love beautiful clothing, but rarely have the money for it, and thus working retail at my favorite stores always held that employee discount allure. Sure, you end up spending way too much of the minimum wage you earn on clothes that are still expensive after the discount, but…at least you have the clothes? An Anthropologie store is opening just two blocks from my house this coming Friday and when the interview notices went up earlier this summer I considered, for the briefest of moments, quitting my two jobs to be a cashmere cashier.

Alas, I did not apply to Anthropologie. Because the truth, as far as I can tell, is that retail sucks. I’ve only worked at one store, a gay and lesbian bookshop in Provincetown. The only stressful part of that job was having to lie about which new lesbian spy thrillers I was excited about (“umm…all of them?”) Retail in general, though, sounds exhausting. One of my good friends, Elsie, has worked at J. Crew stores for the last 3 or 4 years, and used to regale us with stories–good and bad–from her days there.

Sometimes at the Mall of America store she acted as a moving clothes rack for foreign dignitaries’ wives–she said some women spent a few thousand dollars in a matter of minutes, piling cardigans and jumpers high in Elsie’s arms. Meanwhile, the visiting Japanese women never seemed to realize that they could lock their dressing room doors; Elsie walked in on at least one confused woman per day. And yet the women she had the most problems with were the bored suburban wives who had nothing better to do with themselves than see if there was anything new at J. Crew. She swore there were many mothers who’d come in to find clothing for their children without said children in tow, but would still ask Elsie, Would this look good on Billy? Inevitably, when Elsie asked about Billy’s size, the mother would just shrug.

While Elsie somehow maintains her energy for all these shoppers and looks good while doing it, I know it would kill me. So I probably won’t apply to any retail jobs in my future. And I probably won’t be waking up at 2 am this Friday to take part in one of the most bizarre of American traditions. But will I be making a trip to the newest Anthropologie at Grand and Milton this Friday? Oh yes, most definitely. And I’ll probably feel proud of myself if I leave with a shopping bag in hand.