Things I Learned Working in Fashion Retail

When I was 19, after working in a kitchen for a short while, I got a job working for Monsoon and Accessorize. I worked in two branches, one that was just a Monsoon and one that had both Monsoon and Accessorize in the same premises. For the most part it was an enjoyable experience. Mostly.

working in fashion retail

I only worked there part-time, usually only doing four hour shifts, but I worked for the company on and off for over a year. So, if you're thinking of working in a clothes shop, or you already do, here are the things I learned working in fashion retail.

1. The wage doesn't add up to as much as it might seem

A lot of fashion retail stores will insist that you wear their clothes. There's a good chance that this will be hugely subsidised, but it's rare that they will cover the whole cost; chances are you'll need to pay for your "uniform". For me, that meant I had to wear Monsoon clothes and at least three items of Accessorize or Monsoon jewellery. This was heavily discounted, but I could only wear the same thing for as long as it was still available to buy in store, so I had to replace my outfits every couple of weeks. This did take a bit of a chunk out of my pay, and you may find the same applies to other fashion retailers.

2. Having staff discount will make everything else seem overpriced

The staff discount wasn't just for purchasing uniform; I could also use it to buy stuff for myself or as gifts. This came in super handy for Christmas and birthdays and meant I could buy items that would have been out of my budget at full price. Unfortunately now I have to pay full price for everything and, by comparison to the slashed prices I used to pay, it seems extortionate! Staff discount will kind of ruin shopping for you.

3. People shout loudest when they're in the wrong

In one of the store locations where I worked, we got a lot of people trying to launder money (sometimes counterfeit notes) by buying loads of clothes and returning them later. Typically they bought hundreds of pounds worth of expensive dresses, sometimes clearing out entire rails, with £50 notes. They weren't very bright. They also got very shouty and very offended if you checked the notes, especially if they turned out to be fakes. The number of times I had grown women scream in my face for refusing to accept their "money" is rather shocking.

4. Customers do not have a "right" to a refund, but they think they do

Loads of people seem to think that there's a legal or automatic right to a refund on clothes just because you change your mind. Well... there isn't. Different stores have different internal policies about refunds and exchanges, but this is just a courtesy, and the item will have to be in unworn, saleable condition to be eligible under any store's internal policy. You only have a right to a refund if the item is faulty/wears out quicker than it should. Even then, you'll probably need a receipt. I've had someone complain about my conduct to head office for refusing to give them a refund on a year-old dress with makeup all around the neck hole and muddy grass stains up the back. Don't be that person.

5. If you're told they don't have your size in the back, it's because they don't

Most sales assistants have targets to hit, so they want you to buy stuff. That means, if you want a size that's not on the shop floor and the sales assistant says they don't have more in the back, they mean it. Asking them to "go and look anyway" is kind of rude, and a waste of everyone's time.

6. Personal shopping can be great fun, or super awkward

Most Monsoon stores offer a personal shopper service where you can tell someone what you're shopping for, what your taste is like and what your budget is, and an assistant will help you find something to wear. This can be enormous fun, especially if the customer has a lot of money to play with. However, it does mean that you're more likely to get called in to literally help someone dress, and on one occasion that meant zipping up a dress for a lady wearing no form of undergarments, so I saw her bare butt. Not what I was expecting. 

7. If you walk into a store within minutes of closing just to browse, you're a dick

A lot of time if you work in retail and end up getting caught up in helping with closing you'll end up working anything from 10-45 minutes for free. Yes, you heard, for free. Most of the time, helping with cashing up is just one of those annoying things you have to do, and won't necessarily get overtime for. The quicker you can start cashing up, the quicker you go home. So it's little wonder that store workers get a bit frustrated when people walk in at 4.59, especially if it's just for the sake of it and they don't actually want to buy anything. 

8. Asking to speak to the manager won't make any difference

99% of the time, the manager will tell you exactly the same thing as the shop assistant. The other 1% they might just do whatever they need to do to get you to shove off.

9. We can't haggle on price

Most branches of chain clothing stores have no power to give out discounts or adjust pricing. It doesn't matter if you're a loyal cutomer or buying lots of stuff at once. If you want a discount, wait until the sales. And speaking of sales...

10. Sales may be fun for shoppers but they're shit for shop assistants

Christmas and summer sales are absolute hell if you work in fashion retail. People are ruder and more demanding, everything is messy and there's more stock moving at all times. It's great for helping us meet our targets, but it's stressful and exhausting. Be nice to shop workers during sale season - they're working five times as hard as usual but not getting paid any more for it.

I've said more than once that I'd rather starve than work in a clothes shop again, but that doesn't mean it's totally unbearable. I'm really not a "people person" so that didn't help, as even on quiet days, working in a shop means having to at least interact with your coworkers, because god can a shop be a boring place on dead days. If you're particularly into clothes and/or enjoy working with people then you might absolutely love it. Would I do it again? Well, I guess so. But only if I really couldn't find anything else.