Q: You sold wedding dresses.
A: I worked at one of the more well-known, affordable chains that are common in my part of the country. It’s a huge warehouse. There is a small section of formalwear but the rest is racks and racks of wedding dresses. They cost from $99 to $1500.
Q: Do people just wander in?
A: We preferred if they’d make appointments, but we did have wanderers.
I got one woman who tried three dresses and bought $1300 worth of stuff within 30 minutes. Others were just trying on dresses for fun.
Q: Have you seen the TV show Say Yes to the Dress?
A: Yes. I did that same kind of work but it was way less glamorous. The people on that show are paying for that experience. I worked at the Walmart of bridal stores.
I was a new rep, so I wasn’t assigned as many brides as other people were. But there were times when I was juggling three or four customers (some were prom girls or bridesmaids) at the same time. For one bride, I would be getting a different bra, the other, shoes, and the other might be waiting to get into a dressing room. I was running around ragged, especially on Saturdays. Ideally if it was going well, I’d sit down for a quick consultation with the bride, asking what price range she wanted and what she was looking for.
Q: How did you find the right dresses for people?
A: I memorized the layout of the store pretty quick. It was do or die. I was severely undertrained, with little to no training. They gave me a generic employee handbook and were like, “Okay, go!” I was the new girl and I had to learn it myself because there was no one there who really had time to teach me.
I think the company felt they should not waste time training people more… The woman who interviewed me for the job was greeting people at the door — she didn’t even have 20 minutes to interview me privately.
Q: What kinds of things did you mess up because you didn’t have training?
A: There were times when I was saying things that may or may not have been accurate. Luckily I have always been interested in fashion, and a lot of women coming in had no knowledge of that sort of thing. I was able to use terminology about hemlines and silhouettes, like “this is flattering to this body type.” But I never wanted to trick or upsell anybody.
Q: How honest were you? What if a dress looked terrible?
A: A lot of the dresses that the store carried were, in my opinion, pretty hideous. Like I’m not into sequins, that kind of thing.
I had to physically get in the dressing room and help them get into the dress though, and I could tell whether or not they felt comfortable. Sometimes they wanted my opinion but sometimes they didn’t. I just wanted them to feel comfortable.
Q: What made you apply to this job?
A: Desperation. I had just finished college with an art degree and I realized I was screwed.
Q: How long were you there?
A: I worked there like two months. I was continuing to apply for other jobs the whole time I was there. It was stressful. Saturdays were our crazy day. That’s when their sister-in-law can come with them, when everybody’s off work…
There were a lot of lovely women that worked there. Everyone who worked there seemed unhappy though.
Q: Were the brides ever demanding or mean?
A: A lot of the customers had been married before or already had children. Most were realistic about what they wanted. They didn’t expect to be treated like queens, and I never had a bridezilla. Some women teared up and hugged me when they found the dress they wanted. And then they ring a bell…
Q: They ring a bell? Elaborate please.
A: Yes. We would get the attention of everyone in the whole store and then say something like, “Attention everyone! Barbara here has found the man of her dreams, and now she’s found the dress of her dreams. Now she’s going to make a wish for her wedding day, ring the bell, and her wish will come true!”
Everyone would applaud; some people would really get into it.
I also remember there was a constant soundtrack of the most typical love songs playing. Like Frank Sinatra, that kind of thing.
Q: Do you remember any of the brides specifically?
A: One woman I just loved because she could see through all the bullshit. We were supposed to encourage them to buy our undergarments — basically force them to put them on when they tried on the dress. This woman was kind of a hippie. She tried on a dress with the fancy bra underneath, but afterward, in the dressing room, she was like, “Can I just take this stupid thing off!?” Then she put back on her daisy dress with no bra and did a little spin around and said, “Oh! that feels so much better.”
I remember another customer who was really sweet. She was a schoolteacher. She put total faith in me and let me pick everything out—the shoes, the dress. She went with everything I said. She seemed so happy and excited about her wedding.
Q: Anything else about this job that you want to say?
A: I’m a bit of a feminist so I do want to say that it was the first time I worked with all women and I was impressed and happy with how we all supported each other. One woman was a schoolteacher full-time and did this job on evenings and weekends. These were really kind, really hard-working women. We should always treat the people who are working in these tough jobs with dignity.
Q: It sounds like it should be fun.
A: It sounds like it should be. It was like peeking behind the curtain of something I didn’t know existed.