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Posts Tagged ‘neiman marcus’

“Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” now out in paperback

In blogging, books, business, journalism, life, Media, women, work on August 9, 2012 at 1:44 am

Some Broadside readers know that I’m also the author of a memoir of working retail. From September 2007 to December 2009, I worked as a part-time sales associate selling outdoor clothing and accessories for The North Face, a multi-national brand.

I never set out to write a book about this, even though several writer friends insisted from the outset that I should.

When the recession hit, I suddenly needed a steady, even small, part-time income to supplement my writing.

When a new store opened up, a 10-minute drive from my home in a suburban New York town, I applied — being athletic and a world traveler, I knew I could easily relate to North Face’s products and shoppers.

I earned $11/hour, with no bonuses or commissions.

I was 50, had been laid off from the U.S.’s 6th.-largest newspaper with a healthy salary, and had never worked a sales floor. My manager, a former military man who had served in Mogadishu, was five years younger, and the assistant manager was half my age.

It was, in every way, a whole new world.

But I proved to be good at it, and sold well. When I asked my boss for a raise, he looked embarrassed and told me he’d already given me one.

How can you get a raise you don’t notice?

When it’s 30 cents an hour.

So “Malled” — which includes many interviews with retail veterans nationwide — is also a book about working for poverty-level wages in the U.S. during the worst recession since the 1930s, in an era of growing income inequality. Our store was close to the homes of some of this country’s wealthiest people, the hedge fund managers and I-bankers who live in Greenwich, Darien and Westport, Connecticut.

From a recent piece in The New York Times:

If we’re to get people out of poverty [we need] more jobs that pay decent wages. There aren’t enough of these in our current economy…

This isn’t a problem specific to the current moment. We’ve been drowning in a flood of low-wage jobs for the last 40 years. Most of the income of people in poverty comes from work. According to the most recent data available from the Census Bureau, 104 million people — a third of the population — have annual incomes below twice the poverty line, less than $38,000 for a family of three. They struggle to make ends meet every month.

Half the jobs in the nation pay less than $34,000 a year, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

“Malled” has won some nice reviews: Entertainment Weekly called it “an excellent memoir” and USA Today said “a bargain, even at full price.” It’s in bookstores and for sale on amazon, where its 78 reviews are deeply divided. (If you enjoy it, please add a positive review!) It’s also available, of course, as an e-book.

Many retail veterans, both managers and associates, have since written to thank me for telling their story, saying that “Malled” echoes their experience.

Retail is the U.S.’s third-largest industry, largest source of new jobs in this recession, but typically offers only poverty-level wages for part-time work.

One of the reasons it’s so poorly paid is that the skills required — which include patience, empathy, compassion, humor, attentiveness and a good memory — are often dismissed, by shoppers amd by senior retail managers, as not being skills at all.

In fact, retail workers perform emotional labor.  Their ability to relate quickly and easily to strangers, and to convert them from browsers to shoppers, isn’t something everyone can do well. And studies have shown that great salespeople move merch, not fancy ads, celebrity spokespeople, cool store design or deafening music.

“Malled” was nominated for the Hillman Award, given annually to works of journalism “in the service of the common good,” and tells many stories, from the Foxconn workers making Apple products committing suicide in China due to terrible work conditions to the CFO of Costco explaining how his company pays some of the nation’s highest wages, typically $15 to $18/hour.

I’ll be speaking about the book, and selling copies, at 2:30 Sept. 2 at the Decatur Conference Center Auditorium, at the Decatur Literary Festival, the nation’s largest independent book festival, in Georgia and at 6:00 p.m. at Neiman-Marcus in White Plains, N. Y., on Sept. 6.

On October 30, I’m addressing a retail conference at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

Here’s a radio interview I did for WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show, replayed last September as one of the year’s best and here are the the first two chapters, free.  If you like what you find, I hope you’ll also “like” its Facebook page, “Malled the Book”.

If you’re a blogger, I’d love to do  a guest post or a Q and A about any aspect of book-writing/publishing, with a book giveaway!

Have you ever worked retail?

How did you like it?

The Secrets Of Ageless Style

In aging, beauty, Fashion, life, Style on October 21, 2011 at 3:16 am
Emblem from Symbolicarum quaestionum.

However appealing, naked is rarely a practical option! Image via Wikipedia

Any woman over the age of 40 (and it starts younger for many) knows the feeling of utter dread.

What do I wear now?

I  work in New York, surrounded by skinny, wealthy women with a lot more time and money to spend on their appearance, grooming, accessories and wardrobe. My mother was a model for a while and my skinny, elegant late step-mother had entire garment racks filled with very costly clothing, so I had beautiful and terrifyingly confident women around me as role models visually — but advice on how to look as great as they did?

Not so much.

I read all the fashion magazines for ideas and guidance, but can’t afford $1,500 handbags and $900 shoes. Nor am I a 15-year-old from Lithuania, on whom all clothes look amazing…

Here’s a video link to an interview with my favorite fashionista, Stacy London, of the TLC show “What Not To Wear”, who says, wisely: “Fear is a real detriment to great style.”

(She even has her own stylists. No wonder she looks so damn great!)

Here are some of the ways I dress well, at 54, on a budget:

A la francaise

French women think long and hard before adding something to their wardrobe. Is it chic? Flattering? Well-made? Americans have too many stores, are overwhelmed by too much choice and keep buying poorly made garments. Having lived in Paris and returned many times, I stick to French-style shopping — buying, and keeping for many years, fewer and better-made pieces.

Accessories

The simplest black T (well-cut!) and trousers (ditto) can look totally different, thanks to accessories. I look for sales, vintage, antiques and, when possible, buy the very best I can afford at the time. I shop high when possible (Hermes, Manolos) but often low. Two chain necklaces from a super-cheap store in New York have won me multiple compliments. I buy cord and ribbon to make my own necklaces with lockets and other things I’ve picked up along the way, from an Atlanta boutique to a Toronto flea market; this New York store is a treasure trove of gorgeous ribbon.

Men can always up their game with great socks, beautifully maintained classic shoes (penny loafers, brogues), a silk pocket square, a fabulous tie. Fit matters! Watch the break in your trousers and the length of your sleeves. Details, gentlemen!

A tailor

Never forget how much good a good tailor can do. When I needed a black-tie outfit, I scored a gorgeous teal taffeta floor-length skirt at Loehmann’s, a local discount chain, for $80. A tailor removed the waist and altered it to fit beautifully. Very few clothes come in the exact size and shape that we do, especially as we age.

Men, too! “What Not To Wear’s” male star, Clinton Kelly, swears by them — and is opening a new set of retail stores.

Consignment shops

Rich ladies (and men) wear their silk and cashmere for about 20 minutes. They get bored. Or they never even wear it once. I have a few shops in a nearby town that have helped fill my closets with Ferragamo loafers, triple-ply cashmere and never-worn sandals from Prada and Sigerson Morrison. No one needs to know where your clothes and accessories come from.

Vintage

This is a tricky area, as so much vintage clothing reads costume-y or fits poorly. But you can add a huge hit of style with the right choices, with styles, materials and workmanship often now priced out of reach. I love my fab black mohair hat from the 40s and a silk Genny dress I scored at this amazing Manhattan shop. It wasn’t cheap, but I’m in my fourth year of wearing it year-round and loving it.

Grooming!

Cut and color. Manicures and pedicures. I’m not fan of obsessive age-fighters like Botox or Restylane, but paying consistent attention to detail really matters as you age. I see far too many women my age simply give up, sliding into matronhood with horrible hair color, choppy cuts and dumpy, unflattering clothing.

Men — nose and ear hair trimming is crucial. Pluck those caterpillar eyebrows. Stylish women love the company of equally stylish men. My Dad, at 82, still dresses with panache and care, as does his partner.

Check out these photos from Seth Cohen’s fab blog Advanced Style, of super-stylish women in their 60s, 70s and beyond for inspiration.

Confidence

I’m a size 16, hoping get back to a 12. In the meantime, I still have toned legs, strong and shapely shoulders, pretty feet and a waist still clearly defined. That’s enough to keep me from despair.

I was recently photographed (!) for the cover (!!) of a magazine, (oh, all right, Arthrtitis Today),  with 750,000 readers, which was crazy. A crew of five people: makeup/hair, wardrobe stylist, art director, photographer and assistant came to my small New York apartment from New York City, Atlanta and Chicago to take my photo. It required four hours’ standing, posing, smiling, high energy.

But I was told my confidence was appealing and unusual. I know what they meant — for my size.

A personal shopper

Every department store has one, and you don’t have to drop a fortune. Having total strangers examine your shape and offer you some fresh new choices can boost your confidence and blast you out of your style ruts. This happened to me twice in the past six months, and it’s made a big difference in how I think about my appearance.

Here’s an interesting blog post on this vexing issue of how to change your style as you head north of 50 — although the comments are much more interesting! — from the British newspaper The Guardian.

And you, o stylish ones around the world — dish!

Mirdles? Men Discover The Joys Of Shapewear

In Fashion, men on May 30, 2010 at 10:12 am
girdle

Image via Wikipedia

It had to happen — men and Spandex have become best buds thanks to ‘shapewear’, a tidy euphemism for girdles, corsets, anything you wear beneath your clothing that sucks you in, holds you tight and makes you look sleek, trim and smooth.

Until the moment of truth when it all has to come off. Reports today’s New York Times:

“We are selling them as quickly as Spanx can make them,” said Nickelson Wooster, the men’s fashion director at Neiman Marcus, which was until recently the only department store carrying them. (This month Spanx for Men arrived in Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom, and at Web sites like freshpair.com.) “Men may not be talking about it, but they’re buying it.”

Men’s “shapewear” is “the next big thing,” declared Michael Kleinmann, the president of Freshpair, which sells underwear to both sexes. Already, compression garments from brands like Equmen and Sculptees, to name two, have been selling briskly.

Eighteen months ago, when Freshpair got Equmen’s compression T-shirts, “we sold out,” Mr. Kleinmann said. Men’s torso-enhancing T-shirts are part of a revolution in men’s underwear that has been taking place over the last decade, he said. Another popular but hush-hush product is profile-enhancing underwear, which he called “the equivalent of a push-up bra” for men.

The success of Equmen, an Australian label, is one reason department stores and online retailers have been eagerly awaiting Spanx for Men. At Saks Fifth Avenue, Equmen has been sold for less than a year and has already become one of the store’s best-selling underwear, said Eric Jennings, vice president for men’s fashion at Saks.

Women who wear Spanx know the ins and outs of a garment that squooshes all the jiggly bits into a likeness of someone who actually hits the gym more than the remote. They do work magic, but try getting into one! Then…..try getting out again.

The dilemma, for those who are single and dating, is whether or not to wear Spanx on a date you think might end up with the removal of clothing for frisky purposes. A pretty bra, front-closing — cha-ching! A pretty bra, easily unhooked from the back with one hand, workable. Shapewear? Not so much. Even being seen in acres of flesh-colored nylon and its shimmering sausage effect — deeply unerotic.

It’s hard enough  to peel yourself out of this stuff, but someone else? Someone new, breathless at the very thought of the encounter to come….and now it’s wrestling with Lycra time.

Best to disappear for a few discreet minutes. Remember the moment when Bridget Jones is discovered wearing granny pants?

An Alphabet of Holiday Gift Ideas, Alpaca to Zanzibar

In Uncategorized on December 4, 2009 at 5:32 pm
iPhone Alphabet

Image by schnaars via Flickr

Twenty more shopping days ’til Christmas. I’ve already mailed my mom’s presents and still have no clue what to get my Dad.

Here’s my alphabet of non-mall, somewhat unstandard ideas:

A: Antiques. Not everyone is as crazy about them as I, but this time of year there are antique shows all over the country, from small, affordable local shows to the glossiest, vetted international events. If someone you love is a collector — of magnifying glasses, or walking sticks or majolica or Depression glass, an antique show is a fun, efficient place to find all sorts of good things and high-quality surprises. Auctions: again, many smaller, regional auction houses have extremely affordable possibilities, much of it viewable on-line and biddable by phone or email, from crystal decanters to prints. One of my favorites, William Smith, recently offered lovely 200+ year-old Japanese woodblocks, some estimated as low as $150 apiece. Alpaca: is light, warm, lovely change from cashmere. One of my favorite sources with sweaters and shawls of alpaca is the 33-year-old company Peruvian Connection.

Baked Goods. If you can afford a loaf pan, some flour, eggs, sugar and fruit, you can make banana, lemon or cranberry loaves. They’re quick, easy and delicious. Delicate cookies are impressive indeed, but anything home-made with love (and some skill!) is a treat.

Charity: For the person who already has everything, make a donation in their name. Camera: My sweetie, a professional photographer, gave me the Canon G7 Power Shot, a tiny digital camera that fits in the palm of my hand and takes fantastic images. I started my career shooting with Nikons. This is just as good — I’ve sold my images shot with it to The New York Times and Toronto Star, so far.

Duvet: It’s a European thing, but the best! Not cheap, but a great lifetime luxury. Light, warm, comfortable year-round. Cuddledown has good choices.

Elephants: I love elephants. I even rode one in Thailand, best travel experience ever. Here’s a great list of terrific non-fiction books about these creatures. If you don’t know and love the 78-year-old children’s storybook classic Babar, about an elephant family, check it out.

Fountain pen. I know, some people think they’re pretentious. Nuts. Using my Lamy makes even writing out my quarterly tax payments a little less painful. Filofax. Equally old school, equally elegant and sensual way to stay organized. Mine is a decade old, fuchsia leather. I love all its accessories — yeah, pre-Iphone apps — like a ruler in metric and Imperial, map of the world with time zones, NYC subway map and notepaper for jotting down random ideas.

Glasses. Champagne flutes, martini glasses, fun juice glasses. Crystal or glass, antique or new. I like these, with bees embossed in them.

Hermes scarf. Oh, go on. $300. Gorgeous. Their silk twill has a lovely crispness and feels like no other. The patterns can be spectacular and come in wonderful color combinations. Their site has perfume (Caleche is a crisp classic), men’s and even baby gifts.The orange box is heaven and so is the chocolate brown twill ribbon printed with their name; I wear an antique locket on mine.

Isamo Noguchi lamp. I love his simple, quirky white paper lamps, like this one, at $105.

Jacquard pillow covers. Great paisleys.

Kitchen timer. Boring? Not if you have a crummy old stove or oven and/or you do a lot of cooking. Helpful to have several to coordinate the chaos at dinner party time. Affordable, cute, stocking stuffer: chickens or cow, $7.99 each.

Lillet. My favorite French aperitif: light, a little bit citrusy, not too sweet. $18 a bottle. Serve over ice. Yum!

Massage. Give one, get one. Or give a gift certificate for one.

Notecards. I’m crazy for beautiful stationery and recently discovered this great national chain, Paper Source. How about a set of personalized cards? A nice touch for all those thank-yous you have to send out while job-hunting.

Osa Martin’s biography, I Married Adventure, published in 1940. One of the first and most daring women adventurers in Africa.

Paperwhites. A perfect fragrant addition to any winter-bound home.

Queen Anne upholstered chair. Simple, elegant, comfortable.

Rwandan-made baskets. I love these affordable and gorgeous bowls, $40, woven in Rwanda by local women.

Soap. Few affordable presents beat a hard-milled, long-lasting (like a month) fragrant bar of soap. Here’s all-natural, woman-owned Sarva soaps. Sephora carries Fresh soaps, $14 each, and anything by Roger & Gallet, three to a box, is a do-able luxury at about $16.

Toile de Jouy. (Twal de Jwee, for the non-Francophiles!) This is one of my favorite things in the whole world, a fabric design that dates back centuries. Pottery Barn has lovely cosmetic bags, two for $36, as well as bed linens and shower curtains, in this pattern.

Umbrella. I like this one, cheetah-print, that you can monogram in red, $36.

Vintage. Anything! Jewelry, vest, hats, handbags, tableware, napkins. EBay, thrift and consignment shops.

Woolrich’s Civil War artillery blanket, $119. Cozy and historic!

XKCD. Check out this fun comic website, xkcd.

Yaktrax. I love to walk outdoors even in ice and snow. These things , $17.95, strap on over your sneakers or light boots, allowing safe year-round treks.

Zanzibar. If you can find the time and money, go for me. It’s near the top of my wish list!

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