For the final 30 days of my twenties, I am writing one personal narrative a day that has impacted my life until now. To read more about my challenge, feel free to check out the first post.
Also, this 30 Day challenge is also to support a wonderful charity, Zara Aina. Please check out my fundraiser here and if you’re able, please consider throwing a few dollars toward this amazing cause. It would mean the world!
By the end of high school, I cared very little about trying to mesh with the popular or stylish crowd. It was freeing really, I saw college on the horizon and had no qualms about keeping to my trusty and supportive group of theatre friends. At the end of the day, I just wanted to graduate, lay low, and get out of there.
Nevertheless, I accompanied a friend to the Rockaway Mall one afternoon so she could interview for a position at Abercrombie. I’m pretty sure I had never bought anything from, or even walked into an Abercrombie before this, but wanted to be supportive (Abercrombie is the younger version of Abercrombie and Fitch–less shirtless models, more angsty pre-teens). But as we entered the store that day, the manager said we were all welcome to join in on the group interview if we wanted to–even me. And so I thought, I have nothing to lose! Why the hell not? I needed money and a job.
And so several young blonde girls and a manager named Fanta walked us outside the store, ponytails and an perfectly “distressed” flare jeans and all. It was relief to find respite from the overwhelming odor of men’s cologne that they spritzed around the store every half hour. The interview consisted of several spunky questions like, “If you could be any fruit or vegetable, what would you be?” When it came to my turn, I said that I would be a potato, because they can be cooked in so many versatile ways and have the ability to conduct electricity. To this, the manager said, with a squeal, “Oh yes! You can like, stick them in electrical sockets, right?” To which I responded, “Oh, no, please don’t try that.”
Somehow, I was hired. And since I was currently unemployed, I figured it was irresponsible to turn down the job. Unbeknownst to me, you were required to wear clothing either from the store or of a similar style. This was a slight issue because (other than the free pair of jeans you received from the JEANS MEETING–more on that later), I didn’t have any urge or money to purchase their preppy, mundane selections. But here I was, so I bought two shirts and rotated the best I could.
As for general clothing/appearance, this is what we were told:
-Absolutely no black anywhere on your outfit. I kid you not.
-No baggy clothing. In fact, if girls tried on jeans and the fabric remotely hung loose, we were told to advise them to buy the next size down. Gross.
-No visible tattoos of any sort. One of my favorite managers was fired for this.
In the beginning, I tried to keep a clear head about it. It was just for the few months before college, and I wasn’t expecting to make any friends from it, so I just wanted to get in and get out for a paycheck. Abercrombie was not having this. First of all, the disgusting social politics of the place seeped through ever crack in their bizarre system. I was warned on day one, that if our manager didn’t like us, we would be phased off the schedule without warning. People were rarely fired, they were just passive aggressively cut out. It was like slowly being shunned from their idea of a cool frat party–a cool party I had no interest in attending.
There was, however, one required event right after I started known as a “jeans meeting.” We all stayed at the mall after hours and watched employees waltz up and down the store to model the new jean styles. All the jeans had waspy girl’s names like Chelsea and Caitlin. “You can see how the Chelsea jeans hug the hips, while Caitlin’s are more distressed, and thus more expensive.” I received a pair of pants in exchange for these two hours of my life I will never get back.
We were also given a new branding training session that evening. Oh yes, it was hiiiilarious. The new phrase for welcoming each customer was, “Have you heard how good our jeans fit?” I think I audibly snorted, thinking they was kidding. Nope, not kidding. Grammar aside (!!), how is this a practical start of any conversation? How about, “Welcome” or “Good Afternoon”? You know, like how humans communicate. Next time you walk down the sidewalk and you see a friend, imagine them saying hello and you answering with this syntax-nightmare of a question. And how is a customer supposed to answer? “Yes, I have heard” or, “No I have not heard, please tell me how good they fit.”
I spent most shifts as the greeter, avoiding the welcome-phrase-of-the-year as much as possible, and counted the minutes by pacing between and male and female jeans wall. The approved soundtrack looped itself every two hours, so I knew I was nearing the end when we hit the third play of some sugary John Mayer song. The days would end with announcements of whatever social event the managers were all heading off to together, perhaps to talk about body spray or racism I imagined, but I was luckily never invited.
Anyway, I did not last long. After being told that I would never amount to anything in life because I couldn’t use a folding board, I stopped caring about climbing the social ladder enough to stay on the roster. A sexist male coworker also once told me to go ask a “hot teenager” if she wanted to apply to work at the store because she was good looking. Okay! Time to get out of there.
As my shifts dwindled, the cost of the trip/required clothing was not worth the $8 an hour. My final straw was when I got a flat tire on the way to work and was literally stranded on the side of the highway waiting for help. I called Fanta to explain my predicament, and she screamed into the phone that I shouldn’t even bother coming in, and hung up before I could respond. I took that as a hint and quit via phone the next day.
I was so shaken by this gross experience that I debated writing a letter about the sexist, unprofessional BS I encountered throughout my three long months working there. I scrapped the idea, realizing that one complaint would not bring down their system. Luckily, the company would eventually self-implode all on their own. And one day, something called blogging would be a thing, and I would blog about my far away memories of their baloney. And guess what? I probably still can’t use a folding board, I wear a heck of a lot of black, and I have never purchased anything from their stores again–and I am all the better for it.