Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Shop Girls

Not too long ago, I admitted to myself that I dislike shopping very much these days.  Being in a mall imparts the same blue feeling that use to wash over me while visiting our town's annual carnival.  All the bright lights and noise jarred my quiet sensibility and I found I could not stop reflecting on the lives of the carnival workers who seemed to lead sad transient lives.  That, on top of the rapid exchange of cheap goods and money, left me waiting alone in the parking lot for Dad to come collect me while my friends were still screaming from the Tilt-A-Whirl.  It isn't really surprising to me that being in a mall today would feel the same. The grasping carnival gamers remind me a lot of some mall sales associates and now I shop online mostly.  It wasn't always this way and as I have been lost in a nostalgic aura since I wrote about winter coat shopping...I give you this:

What 22 year old doesn't want to look her best?  I was entranced with finding beautiful creams and unguents to protect my skin from future wrinkles.  I loved the ads in my Glamour and Mademoiselle magazines showing Calvin Klein's China red cosmetic cases - so chic and unusual.  I took Clinique's Dramatically Different Moisturizer dramatically seriously in its frosted clinical bottle.  I wanted Princess Marcella Borghese's rich brown swirling lipstick cases filled with 1978's lush rosewood shades.  I vividly recall my sister and I going to the mall for Christian Dior lip gloss in Raisin. More than anything, I wanted White Linen, the fresh new Estee Lauder fragrance and I really wanted the pretty white dress Estee's model Karen Graham wore on the billboard outside my apartment.  It was a heady time to be female, and educating and supplying me with all these lovely things were a group of well-trained salesgirls at the department store near where I worked.

These shopgirls always looked lovely in fetching blouses and full wool skirts, some with fitted jackets worn with thin belts on the outside.  Hair, shiny and bouncy...nails, glossy in colors to match their lipsticks - they weren't afraid to look pretty.  And they generously handed out small samples (one never had to ask - even if not making a purchase that day) and there were plenty of pamphlets and literature that was slipped into my bag so that I could "read up" and perhaps be enticed to make another purchase later. Their aim was to make sure I was happy and whether they knew it or not, they inspired me to smell nice and look as pretty as they did.  It was never a grasping hard sell but more like a gentle persuasion, girlfriend to girlfriend.  Afterall, they were working girls too and they knew what someone my age wanted and what would be an aid to all young women's birthright of beauty.  There was no mention of who would ring up the sale to receive "credit".  They constantly crossed party lines and cared not a whit. 

In those days, I spent way more than I would ever dare admit.  Now, I know exactly what works for me and I do a pretty good job of making online selections.  But recently, I did visit a trendy makeup counter to look at a product for my style column.  The throbbing music wreaked havoc with my peace of mind and the salesgirl was miffed she had to leave another counter to look for the brow pencil I inquired about.  Her garish outfit bordered on vulgar and I wouldn't have dreamed of asking what lipstick she was wearing for it was deeper than the purplest purple. I sure do miss the shopgirls who conspiratorially leaned in and told me which line had what I wanted and then generously led me there. And how their gentle ways, helpfulness, and thoroughly feminine style inspired me. 

(Credit: The Shop Girl, James Tissot)

1 comment:

  1. I remember those shopgirls, Donna, and loved them, too. One older attendent showed me her supple right hand, then displayed her more wrinkled left hand, telling me she'd used her cosmetics company's hand cream on the right, and nothing on the left. You can bet I bought some! She wasn't pushy or obnoxious, just helpful and, as you said, girl to girl. I loved shopping back in the day and really miss it. Occasionally, one encounters the old-school shopkeeper and they are a treasure! Thanks for sharing this memory and inspiration. If only shopgirls knew the power they had!