When I was 15 I spent several smartly dressed Saturdays asking round any likely shop in the local high street if they were looking for a Saturday Girl. That’s how we did things then. No online applications and complicated forms. CVs were for “proper jobs”. If you could count, work a till and looked vaguely presentable, you were in. It helped if you knew someone’s mum or cousin who worked somewhere appropriate too.
One of my Saturday schleppings got me an interview with Clarkes Shoes. I didn’t get that job, but one of the ladies who interviewed me passed my details onto her daughter, who was the manageress of a young women's clothing concession in the local department store.
The department store was old and family run. It was before the days of Sunday opening of course, although I do remember it opening one Good Friday and one staff member saying it was tantamount to working on Christmas Day. The concession was totally out of place in this Grace Brothers-esque store and I wonder how it ever turned a profit to be honest (turns out it didn’t but we’ll come to that later). Tucked away on the first floor, in a store no self-respecting teen would be seen dead in, you had to walk through the lingerie department (think Mrs Slocomb rather than Miss Barnes) to get to it.
The ground floor had a shoe department and a haberdashery department. Squashed in the window section was the Men’s department (lots of tweed). On the first floor was all the ladies concessions you’d expect for the discerning [older] lady like Windsmoor, and Eastex. On the third floor was the furniture and carpet department, which I recall being mainly brown and beige, even in the 80s. Finally on the top floor was a café, also brown.
I was not the most fashionable of my group of friends. My mother had grown up with handmade everything and it looked for a while like I was going to end up the same way. The arguments we had when I wanted a “Frankie says Relax” tshirt… My teen years were a constant battle not to be 6/12 months behind my peers and the mortification I felt turning up in a ra-ra skirt at the local disco when everyone else had moved on to bleachwash denim minis is still real today.
The main point of the concession was to sell the owners own brand of clothing, but they were poor sellers and the alternative stock we got in was much more appealing.
It was a traditional sales environment in that you had to lurk outside the changing rooms and offer an opinion (remember that? I thank god for the faceless Top Shops and Dorothy Perkins that were steadily taking over) and, should they decide to buy something you were supposed to upsell accessories like jewellery. We played Madonna and Whitney Houston on a loop, sometimes swapping for George Benson.
The best thing about working there was that we were allowed to take things home “on approval”. Essentially this was to try things on at home and decide whether we wanted to buy them. In reality it meant that most people wore them, washed them, and returned them. With access to a “kimble gun” it was easy to reattach the labels in their original condition and everyone turned a blind eye. This was a a bonus for me as the pay I was getting was for a whole day was only £10.
It wasn't like this!
It certainly relieved me of the opinion that working in retail was glamorous.
It all came to an end as I approached my O levels. Mum didn’t like me working extra hours in the holidays when I should be studying, so she made me ask to change my hours during half term. They wouldn’t let me (which was fine by me because as far as I was concerned I needed the money more than I felt I needed the study) however when I was ill a few weeks later they thought I was playing hooky so they sacked me.
They never replaced me though and two months later the concession closed anyway, so draw your own conclusions where you will.
I swiftly moved on though, to the dizzy heights of waitressing at the local carvery, which turned out to be much better paid (plus tips) and had the added bonus of free entry to the nightclub downstairs on a Saturday night.