Revelations & Life Hacks: The Reality of Working Retail

Retail jobs are associated with hellish bedlam. Rude customers, long hours, piles of clothes, and just general chaos are why so many people look upon me in awe when I mention my positive retail experience. Working in retail was an enlightening experience, I learned how clothes were supposed to fit, the abundance of body dysmorphia within society, and was even reminded how to use a landline. Though not every shift was a revelation, I gained a new perspective on the world, and helpful tricks and tips. This week three HC writers are sharing their unique retail experiences and the revelations and life hacks they picked up along the way.    

The Denim Guide - Hanna Bobrowicz ’20 

When I first started my job at Madewell the summer of my sophomore year I was battling my own body insecurities. Up until this point I had despised jeans on my body. Every time I had tried on a pair of denim I felt stout, lumpy and unfamiliar. On the first day of our training, we learned how the jeans were supposed to fit on our own bodies. It was at this moment that I realized that denim in the right style and size made me feel fantastic. I knew other people shared insecurities around denim shopping, but I didn’t realize just how apparent it was. 

Every day, someone would come into the store and lived an experience I had before. They hated jean shopping, they tried on the first pair in the largest size, relieved that it ‘fit’ they quickly bought them. It was my mission to show them that just because the jeans fit on your body, does not mean it is the right size. Most customers were actually trying on and buying jeans that were 1-2 sizes too big for them. The truth is, you are most likely 1-2 sizes smaller than you think you are! Should I say that again? 

I worked at Madewell for a year, I saw unique, beautiful women who came into the store plagued with feelings of inadequacy. It happened so often that I even began to doubt my own perception of myself but in a positive way. Maybe I look better in other people’s perspectives than my own?

 This experience also changed the way I shop, I am now determined to find the right size no matter how big or small it may be. Here are my 4 tips to finding the right size denim for you 

  1. Ask the retail workers about sizing, they are trained and being paid to help you! 
  2. Jeans are going to have different sizes dependent on the wash, cut, and quality 
  3. Look at the percentage of elastic vs. cotton, 100% cotton? These jeans are going to be stiff and then stretch out for good, elastic-they jeans are going to be super stretchy size way down! 
  4.  If they are comfy in the store, size down. You want them to be tight when you buy them so they are comfy later. 

Shopping for denim is difficult! Sizing is confusing and different depending on the store you go to. It is also time-consuming and emotionally exhausting. Keep in mind that your perception of yourself may not be accurate. And the person helping you find jeans? They probably think you look awesome.  

A Reflection on My Retail Experience - Elizabeth ‘21

After a summer in the food industry, I was determined to live soy lattes and almond croissants in the past for the exciting world of retail. I applied to various stores, but after speaking with Campus Correspondent Hanna ‘20 who works at Madewell, the store became my top choice. After I submitted my application, I received an email a few weeks later asking for me come in for an interview. One thing lead to another and suddenly I was ringing up women at the register and advise which of Madewell’s jeans would best fit a person’s figure. 

Not only did I learn how to return purchases, package orders, and attach hard tags to bags and leather jackets, but also life lessons like time management, multitasking, and budgeting money. I tried my very best not to spend all of my earnings on movie tickets and dairy-free ice cream, but nobody’s perfect (we live and we learn it!). 

During one shift, I was helping a new mom shop for basic tees and a pair of jeans, her first outing since having her newborn. As I went back and forth bringing her new sizes, determined to find a pair of black overalls she was keen on buying, I overheard her talking to her friend (another new mom) about how she just didn’t see the point in buying a $24 striped tank top. I couldn’t argue there. While I love Madewell clothes and populate my holiday wish list with items too expensive for me to justify buying on my own (#lifehacks #brokecollegestudent), interactions with customers such as these made me realize my privilege in not only being able to afford nice clothes, but also having a job that can feed my unhealthy obsession (shopaholic who?). 

More crucial to this realization is the unfortunate reality that so many girls and women struggle with body image. On countless occasions, shoppers would critique the way their hips or butt looked in pants or how flabby their arms were in a peasant top. Madewell jeans run big, and customers are often in denial when we inform them that they will probably need to size down at minimum one size, perhaps even down three. I personally believe this is a conspiracy theory created by Madewell to make women feel more confident in their bodies, and I don’t hate it. 

As someone who struggles with body image, working in retail was at times difficult as I would find myself comparing my body to that of someone who wears a size 23. However, by the end of the summer, I began to realize that I was not alone in struggling with body image. Instead of letting this stop me from wearing the clothes I love, I used my passion for fashion to help others (and myself) push back against these beauty norms.

Oh, The Wonderful World of Retail - Mary Sherwin ‘21

I am someone that loves working in retail. Meeting new people, learning everything there is to know about a brand, and reaching sales goals every day, I can’t get enough! However, store by store I have picked some tips and tricks up from working at retail. Here are just a few.

  1. Always follow your specific store’s social media pages. This will notify you when sales, gifts with purchases, or special promotions are happening in the store closest to you.
  2. Always ask if we have something in the back. We want to make your day and if you don’t tell us what size you need, then we can’t help you. The worst-case scenario is that we don’t have the size in stock, but I bet we can order it.
  3. If we don’t have an item in stock at our store, just ask about what other stores might have it. We can almost always find out for you.
  4. If you are on the shorter side like me, try on something from the kid's section. This heavily depends on what brand you are looking at but I have had success. My favorite pair of sweatpants are a size 14 from the boys' section.
  5. Lastly, if you want to get a job in retail, look online first. Your best bet with most brands to apply online and make your best first impression at the interview. Hopefully, these tips and tricks will help you this holiday shopping season!