Like many people (particularly those who major in the liberal or fine arts), I have had a bevy of jobs. Not careers, mind you, but jobs where I punched clocks for cash. Along the way I have learned some odd yet important skills that find themselves useful in my everyday life.
It was the summer of 1998 and I was an 18-year old working three jobs to fund a trip to Ireland with my new college bestie. I literally drove from teaching elementary kids theatre to sell khakis and practical polos at Eddie Bauer, ending my days with a quick change in the bathroom into a skirt and black blazer to fulfill lingerie needs at Victoria’s Secret. Aside from taking away a loathing of khakis, I learned little at Eddie Bauer, except how to exploit their return policy. Victoria’s Secret was a different animal (I would later work there after college too, calling into question why I interrupted my blossoming career with all that learning). Here are six things I learned. Sadly, none of them are the actual secret.
- Most women wear the wrong bra size. Victoria’s Secret taught me not just how a bra should fit, but how to measure to ensure a proper fit. I don’t know that they even do this at VS anymore. They seem more focused on selling sweats, make up, and sometimes borderline raunchy lingerie (crotchless!). If they don’t, find a locally owned lingerie store (every town has one). There will be an older woman there who will measure you. Suck up your embarrassment and let her do her job. Don’t get hung up on the size because no one will know but you. Your clothes will hang better and your back will feel better.
- There is no reason to own a white bra or underwear. “But wait,” you say. “What about my white shirts?” Go to your closet and get out a white shirt. Now get another piece of white cloth and layer it under the shirt. Rather than blending, you just get a more intense white, which clearly shows the outline. Same for white under light colors. Unless you just have to have Carnival colors, buy nude (as near to your skin tone as you can find) and black.
- Men spend more money when they are uncomfortable or embarrassed. My favorite VS customer was the Shy Guy. This poor guy, after years of his wife claiming he never bought her anything pretty, decided to suck it up and venture into the terrifying world of lace and satin. By the end of my second week I could spot these guys from the back of the store. They would enter and then stop about two feet inside the door, glancing around, sheer horror painted on their features. That was my cue to swoop in: “What can I help you find today?” (Please note the open ended question–I was good at shilling bras.) They would stammer something about an anniversary or birthday. I would smile and ask them questions they didn’t know the answer to: size, shape, fabric. No idea. Shy Guy didn’t know anything except that his wife liked Victoria’s Secret. Some VS associates hated these kind of guys; I adored them. The more clueless the better. I’d navigate them through the store like Sacagawea, keeping them from feeling lecherous. We’d talk about what music she liked, what kind of clothes she wore, and end with the obligatory comparison of women in the store to establish size. Then things got good. Because these guys never realized they could buy just one thing–they figured they had to buy whatever was shown together. You would not believe how easy it is to talk a man into a matching robe or garter belt and stockings. The clincher was my assurance that anything that didn’t fit or she didn’t like could be brought back with the gift receipt. Sold!
- People are animals. In the summer, VS runs a Semi-Annual Sale which is code for Grown Women Pawing Through Bins Like Pigs Rooting for Truffles. Neatly sorted bins would be turned upside down, things strewn all over, unwanted items discarded in the middle of the floor. We’d try to keep it picked up, but it was a losing battle. And forget about keeping the regular price panty tables neat. At the time, VS was using a technique called size and bunch on their tables. While this technique is striking when first done, it goes to hell with one browsing customer (I don’t think they do it anymore because it was so hard to maintain). Now, no matter what store I’m in, I try to return things exactly as I found them. Yes, it’s the sales associates job to fold the jeans and size the racks. But doing it twelve times an hour–they don’t get paid enough for that.
- People are animals, part two. Customers have sex in VS dressing rooms. Seriously. Then they leave whatever lingerie they were “trying on” tossed on the floor, usually slightly warm. Seriously. (Hopefully that’s the only parting gift; I had to use a sponge one time.) That’s why most of them have attendants now. Or should. Don’t have sex in dressing rooms. It’s not cool or thrilling. It’s just nasty. And some poor college student who only wants to have Guinness in Dublin with her friend will have to clean up after you.
- Most men love their women, no matter their size. I helped a number of husbands and boyfriends (not just Shy Guy) during my tenure at VS. Sometimes the woman was present, sometimes not. I sold everything from size 32A to 38DD, XS to XXL. One thing all of these men had in common was love of their partner’s bodies. There was never a mention of wishing for more or less of anything. My favorite customer ever was a man who wanted to buy something for his wife who had undergone a double mastectomy. His reasoning? “I know her body is beautiful. Most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. But I think I might need something to help me remind her.” I hope it worked.
What about you, Cakesters? What have you learned from your odd jobs?