On Strange Men and Regretful Statements: The art of finding self-confidence through a retail job


Art by Georgia Moore.

Everyone’s least favorite task working at Uptown Cheapskate is the dressing rooms. Once you’re picked to do dressing rooms, war begins. Dinner, breaks, and even shifts are exchanged for this horrid position, and it just so happened on a busy summer Saturday, that the task was thrown at me by another employee.

The store slowly grew crowded. The narrow dressing rooms choked me as people passed by and handed me clothing. My neck grew sore, and my feet swelled up. It was 11 a.m. and I was already tired. As I pitied myself, a man walked in, a middle to older aged guy, eager to try on two shirts. I directed him to a dressing room.

Like I said, it was busy as heck. All sorts of people came in, and I did my best to help them out. The man with the two shirts came out of his room, wearing a mustard yellow shirt that clung tightly to his body, making his belly apparent. It wasn’t a good look.

He waits.

As I lead  a young woman with bundles of maxi dresses to her room, the man eyes me. He is still waiting. I walk back to my original position, and he taps my shoulder.

“Hey, what do you think of this shirt?”

It’s an ugly shirt. I’m not going to repeat myself. As much as I want him to get a better shirt, I am sleepy, and I’m ready to go on my lunch break. I give him my best retail smile and say, “That shirt looks great on you! It matches your hat perfectly!”

He mumbles his thanks and tells me he thinks he will buy it. I congratulate him, marking the end of the conversation and he stands there, looking at me. I pretend I don’t see and hope he will disappear.

As I go back to what I was doing, my heart begins beating fast, and my anxiety picks up. I usually love with people ask me for my opinion, why am I so nervous? I tell myself he’s not acting weird, and black out my thoughts. Going to an all girls school, I think to myself it’s safe to assume all people of the male specimen make me nervous.

And so he returns. This time he’s wearing a blue polo, one that still looks extremely tight on him. He, once again, taps my shoulder, and asks me about his blue top.

Retail smile: On. “I like this one a lot more than your other top. It suits you.”

“Great, you don’t think it’s too tight or anything?” He flexes in the mirror, making his muscles (I’m hoping?) bulge, nearly ripping the shirt.

Oh, yes. It’s extremely tight. Stop lying to yourself. You’re a large, not a small.

“Nope! It looks good.”

He ventures to his room, this time not staring me down. And the cycle of thoughts resume. Why does he look at you like that? Why did he flex? Why can’t he decide for himself whether he likes a blue polo or an ugly puke one?

“Hey, I think I’m going to take this yellow shirt,” He said, handing me the blue polo.

“Aw, sorry to hear that!” I turn my back, hoping it’s all done. To my content, he walks away.

“Oh! I forgot to ask you…” He whips around and jogs over to me. My anxiety reaches a whole new level. I slowly put the blue polo on the rack, bracing myself for anything.

“Have you ever gone to Baby A’s and tried those margaritas? I want to take you there.”

My mind goes blank. There’s nothing anyone could’ve told me that would have prepared me for this. This guy looks 40 years old. His white hair is growing at a rapid pace, he looks as if he hasn’t shaved in 10 years, he is buying a urine colored shirt, and he asks me out on a date? To get alcoholic drinks? Where do I start?

I know. I could tell him off. How dare you? What makes you think you can get with me? I’m Gucci, for Christ’s Sake! No. I could tell him I have a boyfriend, we’re almost engaged, we bought plane tickets to Vienna and we’re having a Kimye wedding. The Kardashians will all applaud me. Even better, I could tell him I’m actually gay. Tell him I’m the first person I’ve come out too. Thank him. Cry a little. Freak him out.

“I’m…I’m actually underaged.” I squeak out. I chuckle nervously, just for the dramatic effect. His face turns white and his eyes bulge, almost like his muscles in the blue polo. He looks to see if anyone else was a witness to this awkward proposal before muttering, “Well…never mind yet!”

I watch him scurry off.

I tell this story to my mom when she picks me up from work. She tells her friends. Everyone says the same thing.

“You should’ve said this!”

“Why did you tell him that? You could’ve said this instead.”

“Next time he comes, say this.”

I laugh and agree. What else am I supposed to do? Yes, saying I was taken would’ve been a great alternative. It’s not easy being the confident girl I am inside when I am put on the spot like this, especially by a man just a few years over the legal limit. If things went the way we planned, the world would either be crazy perfect, or crazy awful. If I would’ve told him some dumb excuse, it could’ve either left him speechless, or maybe it wouldn’t stop him. I have discovered since then that critiquing my actions is a waste of my time when I could’ve spent that time making more stupid decisions.

Now hitting the 6 month mark since I started working there, I look back and think of all the old men that have hit on me. Just a few weeks ago, a guy with his two year old kid winked at me. A month ago, someone asked for my number. As I learn to combat men, I see my confidence start to build up. It’s easier to say “no” and to stand up for myself. I guess I could say retail has changed me for the better.

Though last Saturday afternoon, we did see him again. When we asked for his phone number, like we do with all of our customers, his reply was, “Sorry, I’m in a relationship.”

At least he has moved on from flirting with 16 year old girls.