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Image / Fashion

Do department stores still judge a person’s wealth by what they wear?


by Marie Kelly
31st Jul 2018
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Although we were all horrified watching Julia Roberts as Vivienne get refused service in a Rodeo Drive boutique in the 1990 movie Pretty Woman, on some level we could understand how a woman dressed (in no uncertain terms) like a prostitute would be assumed to be out of her financial depth in a Beverley Hills designer store (remember, she had a safety pin holding up her boot). We didn’t like it, we knew there was no need for the shop assistant’s snooty attitude, but we got it.

This was the very start of the nineties, which followed on from a decade of excess, extravagance and gratuitous displays of wealth. People who had money and status displayed it, flaunted it even. These days, however, you can no longer judge a book by its cover. Tech companies worth billions of euro are owned by high-achieving twenty-somethings who think nothing of wearing a sweater and scruffy jeans to a company presentation, let alone a shopping mall. Today, you wouldn’t dream of judging an individual’s “standing” by how they look or dress. Don’t we all get that?

Apparently not. My very good friend visited a Dublin department store recently on a Sunday morning. She earns a six-figure salary and a five-figure bonus every year. But when, dressed in a pair of tracksuit bottoms and a T-shirt, she asked a young sales assistant if they had a particular pair of jeans in her size, the girl looked at her and replied, “These jeans are very expensive.” I was shocked, not just by her naiveté, but by her lack of training. My friend is exactly the kind of working woman with disposable income stores are continually trying to target, yet because of one staff member’s lack of awareness and training, she left not caring if she ever shopped there again. Thankfully, she has a strong sense of self, so the patronising comment left her fairly unscathed. I can vouch for the fact that she regularly looks as fabulous and as well-dressed as the best of them.

But really, aren’t we past making superficial judgements about people based simply on a cursory glance at what they’re wearing? If she had been sporting designer trainers, would that have made a difference? If a luxury handbag had been draped over her shoulder, would she have been treated as a valued customer? If the sales assistant had noticed the exquisite YSL wallet she carries or her impeccable manicure, would she have been afforded more respect?

Perhaps she would, but surely irrespective of how you look or what you’re wearing, you should receive the same customer service as a store’s most valued VIP. I’m pretty sure, that’s what they promise anyway. Unless, this is how said store treats all its customers… I might pay them a visit in a tracksuit on Sunday morning to find out.