There’s no free lunch in life — or fashion!

There are some old adages that truthfully, should be buried in history along with the ancestors who uttered them…..but this one seems to hold true. And sometimes in the most unlikely of circumstances.

When one walks into store, a sales associate is first to greet you. He/she may smile, welcome you to the store, inform you about any in-store promotions, and any new merchandise that has arrived since a last visit. A good salesperson will be attentive, help you find sizes, and/or suggest other similar pieces you might enjoy. They check in, and often times provide the affirmation our insecure selves desperately seek when we shop: “you look great in that.” Like a fashion mirage that draws us in, we buy the items — only to bring them home and realize that the desert oasis mirage is really just sand after all.

Now do not get me wrong. I believe that people are inherently good and honest. I also know that people generally work hard to do their jobs. Despite that, money motivates people– sometimes in good ways, sometimes not. Salespeople have one job: to sell. Most sales positions commission based to some degree; and if even they are salaried or hourly positions, there are almost always sales incentives involved. This means that their income is sales dependent — and sadly, more times than not, they will be more motivated by dollar signs than the whole truth.

How do I know this? I’ve experienced this first hand. Like most women, I’m self conscious about certain features of my body. I’m very petite, and top heavy; and my little pooch stomach, especially after two babies, is more pronounced. That said, I know how to dress myself, and I know what works and what does not on women’s body, and especially my own. It’s only when I really want something to work, when I know it won’t, that I let my guard down enough to be seduced by what I want to hear vs. what I know to be true.

I’m not the only one to fall prey to the free flowing compliments. Few of us receive enough of them because people these days are too busy to stop and think about it, let alone offer them. When we do, it’s like the clouds part, the light shines through, and for that moment, we feel radiant, like our best selves.

Alas, like a mirage, that radiant moment we felt in the dressing room, hearing praise from the sales person suddenly dissipates when we see ourselves in ordinary day light. The light shines in, and we see what is. If you are like me, we focus on the negatives, and begin to pick apart what we originally saw and disliked –and the buyers remorse slowly sets in. And that’s on a good day. What if the consequences were greater?

I want to share with you a story I recently overheard a sales person relaying to his colleague at a high end department store. He was bragging about how he convinced a customer, in search of a dress to wear (as a guest) to her friend’s wedding, to buy a white floor length gown. Yes, you read it right: he said he convinced this woman not only to buy the white dress to wear to her friend’s wedding, but that it was ok to wear white to another person’s wedding when one was attending, as a guest. At that point, as I often do, as I am incapable of keeping my mouth shut sometimes, piped in: “Excuse me, forgive me for eavesdropping, but I just overheard what you said. I am a personal stylist, and with all due respect, that is the biggest “no-no” ever. Like fashion suicide. You do know that as a guest, one is not supposed to wear white or off white to a wedding, unless you are the bride, right?” His response: Yes, but my job is to sell; it’s not to impart fashion rules. That’s your job.”

WOW. Once I got beyond the shock and chutzpah, I thought about it. Was he right? Is that really true? Maybe according to him – but not me. As a stylist (and quite frankly, a married woman), there only few cardinal fashion sins worse in life than wearing white, as a guest, to a wedding. For most of us, wearing a white dress is a once in a lifetime event (except maybe to a white party) reserved for one’s wedding day. To have a guest wear white to a wedding is akin to stealing the bride’s thunder. You might as well try to steal her groom while you are at it.

That very moment, however, defined for me the difference between what I want to do as a stylist vs. what a salesperson is hired by a store to do. Most people reasonably rely on salespeople not only to navigate the store itself and locate merchandise, but for fashion advice. They are of course hired by the store to help run its business and represent it in some way. Do all sales people just want to sell? Yes. Do all sales people want to sell at any cost? Not necessarily. There are diamonds in the rough who will impart solid advice. But the key to being a good salesperson is to know your client. Steered in the wrong direction once, clients may be less inclined to seek out that salesperson’s advice again. However, even if clients are set on something that may be a major fashion faux pas, the power of suggestion and choice reign. Steer the client elsewhere, offering comparable selections — or, if the client is set on a faux pas piece, perhaps offer ideas of other appropriate occasions in which to wear it – how to wear it casually, in an edgy way. etc. Then and only then has a sales person truly done his/her job, in my humble opinion.

My point is there’s no such thing as a free lunch – in business, in fashion, and in life. It seems free when being dispensed — but it always costs more in the long run. Go with your gut and do not allow yourself to be seduced. The seduction often results in clothes that don’t really fit, are rarely worn, and/or that you don’t really feel good in at best. Worse, it could render you the subject of urban “legend” — the guest who stole the bride’s thunder. Don’t underestimate the value of shopping with friends, or even working with an independent personal stylist (i.e. not someone who works in store as a stylist) whose interests are wholly aligned with yours. It will allow you to sit back and enjoy that lunch you worked hard to pay for — and that will be all worth it in the long run.

xo BFF Betina

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