It was becoming clearer that The Big Fancy was not the store I thought it would be. Sales came and went and we would barely break even. The customers were the same people for the most part. It made sense: if you wanted to shop in New York, you’d go to Manhattan, not White Plains. The mall was clearly catering to a certain type of customer, and it was super competitive. Many of the brands we carried in store also had their own stores and boutiques inside the mall. There was a Vince Camuto, an Eileen Fisher, M.A.C., Michael Kors, Kate Spade, and a Neiman’s, and our product did not compare to theirs.

For a good two week period the sales floor was almost bare. We had marked down a large amount of stock down for the sale and had no product to replace it. St. John was down to mostly basic pieces, and the product we still had on the sales floor was getting snagged, pulled and stretched on the racks. There was also a huge amount of dust that accumulated daily all over the department. When you have clothes, carpeting, people, and central air, there’s dust, and it got all over the clothes.

Of the few that shopped in my department, there was a very distinct population that knew and understood The Big Fancy culture by heart and expected elite treatment at all times. They wanted the complimentary water. They wanted it opened and poured. They wanted to set up a room. They wanted to put things on hold with extended times. They wanted to check another store just in case. And most importantly, they wanted a smile all the way through it.

People loved trying it on, touching it, feeling it, even taking it home. But then they would return it the next day, or complained they wanted a fresh one because the pieces we had on the sales floor were touched, tried on and felt by other people.

There was one weekend where Karolyn was out of town for a funeral and was completely unreachable. It was right after one of our nearly monthly sales started, and customers were coming in to pick up clothes they had pre-ordered and set aside. Even if  it was not my customer I had to help them.

A wrinkled leather bag on legs whom I recognized as a one of the personal shoppers’s customer came one night.  I was working by myself  and she wanted to pick up a top she had bought from Karolyn. I was happy for something to do went to the back to find it but couldn’t. Karolyn put her sales in a different spot than I put my sales, about two feet further from where I was looking. I went back out on the sales floor and told the customer that I couldn’t find her bag, but that I was new and was probably looking in the wrong place. I told her the moment I found it I would ship it to her home free of cost. She looked at me, made a face, and went, “I’m not happy,” with derision.

It just so happened that the manager in charge for the night had been standing right in my department and was able to diffuse the situation. Meaning: he told her the same exact thing I had, only in Manager voice. She left still somewhat annoyed, probably because she couldn’t make a scene like she’d wanted to, with the promise that the moment we found her bag, it would be shipped to her overnight.

The next day I received a call from Karolyn who told me where I could find the bag. I looked into it, and realized it was only one piece. An Erdem top that was originally priced under $150. This woman was giving me grief over a flower print tank top.

I called the customer and told her I had found the top and would be shipping it overnight it to her immediately, free of charge. She was still not happy and argued that if she wanted to wear it that night, she wouldn’t be able to.

She then asked if I could hand carry it to the her husbands office that same day. I agreed to go on my lunch break (because, you know, customer service first) and asked if he would be there to meet me. She told me she didn’t know. I asked her if she was fine with me leaving it outside. That’s when she decided to call her husband and asked.

She called back within minutes. Her husband was actually stopping by the store anyways to pick up a pair of pants he’d had hemmed and would just pick up the top himself. I asked her if she knew what time I should expect him, but she tried to ignore the question and said good bye. So I asked again. She said she didn’t know and got off the phone.

That was one customer over a two day period. And it wasn’t even a sale. 

Her husband came to grab her top and had a completely beginning attitude. After he left, however, it was my coworker, the same manager in charge from the night before that pointed out that this was a very different man our customer had shown up with the night before.

I had to get out of there. This was a completely culture shock from my old store. I had worked for the same mall in Connecticut for the better part of my adult life. I worked for The Big Fancy for two years, and while we had customers like the old leather bag mentioned above, they were the exception, not the rule. Customers knew to respect the people who were simply there to help them, not to be abused. And customers traveled to my old store, many from Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, to spend either half an afternoon or simply an hour updating their wardrobes, not giving a sales girl crap for a fucking tank top.

It was the difference between old money and new.

A date had been set to switch me from my department to another in the store. But that date just gave me an end date, and while that date was getting closer and closer, and I had still had not been switched.

I had made it clear that I liked Dresses. For one, it was a lower price point. And more often than not, customers that wandered into my department or asked for directions, asked for the dress department. I tried to maximize on this by offering to help customers from my department and fetching the clothes for them. I’d give them the designer treatment and maybe get a sale. This worked some times but it got me in trouble with Karolyn. She wanted me to sell our product, not another department’s.

It came down to about two weeks before I was due to leave designer, and I had not heard back yet. When I inquired, I was informed that the position in Dresses had been filled with someone else because there was still no manager in the department and they couldn’t hold the spot for me. Because I was new in the store, I Nicole explained that she and Karolyn supported the switch, but I still had to interview with the department manager.

I started thinking of other departments in the store. Nicole had suggested Petites, but I really didn’t see myself there, and I gravitated to the more savvy women’s department that was right across from designer and asked Nicole if I could interview for a spot there instead.

She set up the interview. I went to the department several times to meet the manager in person and to get a look at the product. I didn’t get to meet the manager until my interview however, and it was a complete disaster.

For starters, I didn’t prepare for a full on forensic interview. Karolyn hadn’t even bothered the first time around. She just looked at me, asked me why I liked designer clothes and I was in. This new manager asked me questions I couldn’t answer. She went right for the vein. She asked why my sales were so low. Why was I on the bottom of my team. Why had I not made it work in my current department. The answers were easy. We didn’t have enough product. I didn’t have my own customers. People kept returning pretty much everything, and those were the reasons I wanted to switch. If she didn’t believe me, she could have asked the two people that quit on my first week, and the numerous others that had come in for an interview, took a tour of the sales floor, and then never came back again.

But I couldn’t answer like that, and struggled to respond in a way that was honest but hopeful, and most importantly, didn’t place blame. It wasn’t easy. This went on for an hour, and what struck me was that this new manager even admitted during her take down that she never set foot or looked at my department and had no clue what went on there. She also didn’t care much for the clothes.

After the interview was over she took it down a few notches. She tried to ask about my day and offered me candy as if she was fully aware of the unfair beating she had given me. I had been told she was a hard manager, but this was on another lever, and I did not want to work under her. Not if it meant I would be berated for things she knew full well I had no control of.

I spoke to Karolyn. I told her it was a disaster and that maybe I could work for the back of house instead. I was already known to like cleaning, and at that point I just wanted to keep my job. Karolyn agreed that back of house was a good fit for me and called the manager.

I spoke to one of the few friends I had made in the store, Jennifer, who also worked for the back of house and worked under the same manager Karolyn had called. She told me she would like to work with me but informed me that there were only seasonal positions open. I didn’t want to take the risk so she suggested I consider lingerie. I hadn’t even thought about it, and slapped myself on the forehead for not thinking about it before. I had sold lingerie before, even had a part-time position with Victoria’s Secret for a while. I walked the sales floor and met the manager, and I liked her. I could tell immediately that Gabby was nice and only wanted the best for her staff. This was important.

It also got me in major trouble with Nicole. I was called into her office with Karolyn and was told off. Apparently going around and meeting managers before applying for positions in their departments was in bad form.When I told her that my interview had not gone well, Nicole told me plainly that it was she who had instructed the new manager to ask me those questions, and she was going to instruct the next manager to do so as well, because I needed to be able to answer them.

This didn’t make sense to me. Everyone knew designer was not the right fit for me, even my human resource manager back home agreed. Nicole seemed hell bent on putting me through the wringer and framing this as my fault, and I was not okay with that.

I remember thinking at the time that I only had eleven days to make sure I still had a job, and I still didn’t know anyone in the store. Meeting managers before applying made sense, and I couldn’t wait for Nicole to decide when one door was closed before opening the other, specially when I didn’t trust her.

Nicole told me that I had to wait for one door to open before the other closed, and that she now had three managers asking for me, and I had given her twice the work. So, I apologized, and told her I wanted lingerie for sure. She warned me I was not allowed to changed my mind, and instructed me not to approach Gabby again until she set up the interview.

I immediately ignored her and approached Gabby again, and told her very clearly that I wanted to be in her department. This got me called into Nicole’s office again, but it didn’t matter. As far as I was concerned, Nicole was trying to control me, and I had to protect my job. If I was really in trouble, she would’ve done more than just yell.