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Playing at Working

It’s holiday season, and there are new people at work.  Ugh…

Color me Scrooge, but I regard the holiday hires with steely skepticism.  I’m way over enlightening someone on how to take off sensors, and each new 18-year-old is a new obligation to explain my life story, which you know I detest.  Think of it as guilty until proven innocent.

(Of course, I’ve come to like many former and current holiday hires, but it’s a process.  They all earned their keep; others did not and are only a memory, although therefore obviously enviable.)

One of the new girls is, as I said, 18.  It is her first job, and she is quiet as a mouse (and about as helpful, but oh well – she’s harmless).  After informing me that this young lady is apparently afraid of me (perhaps rightly), the other managers entertained some discussion about her, as they are wont to do.  She “needs a lot of direction” (she stands around all the time) because it’s her first job and she’s “nervous” (oh please.)  But then they dove into one of their favorite praises for an employee: “But she always dresses so nice, very professional with her little blazers and bleehblahblurrblouhghghh….”  Sorry, the stuff my bosses say never works without the voice impressions.  You get the idea.  They love her style.

Now, this is a fine thing to care about.  We do work in a clothing store, after all.  And this refrain comes up time after time, always about the new people (and notably not the ones who have to lug boxes and shelves around the store) and I finally realized why.  Especially for young people, wardrobe is much about costumery.  You can go outside and toss a ball around, but once you put the uniform on, you are an Athlete.  I know I’ve tailored my travel wardrobes to the locations I’m visiting (stripes and sleek lines in Paris, floaty dresses in the Mediterranean, etc.)  Dressing the part is how young people (and probably many old people) make themselves feel like they belong somewhere, and when you’re young it can be at least half the fun.

So for the young guns coming in to their first job, dressing up makes the experience feel real, momentous, and important.  I assure you I dressed the same when I started at Banana back in 2010.  You’re A Working Woman, it’s a big deal!  Eventually you realize it’s not, and the blazers fall by the wayside.  Come into my store, and excepting the older women (for whom this is a similar Fun Excursion! instead of a soul-sucking necessity), you can tell how long someone has worked there by their outfit.  Leggings and cozy sweaters (let’s be real and call them schlumpy) are the vets; only newbs wear a suit jacket to fold sweaters.

It doesn’t mean anything bad about these young girls that they get dressed up to come to work, just that they still don’t get it.  It’s all still an experiment, a brevity.  When they start staring down the end of an indeterminate tenure at that same store, they will break, and they too will go buy a poncho, put their head down, and keep working.

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