Working in retail in the early 2000s was a two-fold experience ⚖️
On the surface, it was a lot of fun. From joking around in stock rooms and trying on the latest Diesel jeans, to gossiping on lunch breaks about who fancied who, and whether they were going to hook up on the next staff night out 👀
I was 16 and my eyes were being opened to a whole new world of people. These were serious people. Grown-ups, who worked for a living 💪
It was a far cry from the bitchy common room and it felt great. Like I was starting a new chapter. I saw it as an opportunity to re-invent myself, in an attempt to counteract and forget about my solitary days at senior school 🙈
As you can imagine, I threw myself in to the job and worked really hard - just like I did at school. I signed up for extra shifts, covered holidays and worked until the early hours to prep for the end of seasons sales. Before I knew it, I was trained on all parts of the job, from replenishing stock to handling refunds.
I had a spring in my step and it felt like I was thriving in this new environment. Consequently, my priorities began to shift 🤔
College was no longer a place I wanted to be. I was so much happier in work. So balancing my studies became trickier and getting a good result in a test wasn’t as important to me. I now wanted to impress the weekend supervisor, not my English teacher.
And for the first time, I was earning my own money. That feeling of choosing what to spend it on was so liberating. At sixteen, my hourly rate was £3.77 😅 so who knows what I could afford back then - but even ordering a Frappuccino from Starbucks for my bus ride home felt completely awesome 🥤
I distinctly remember signing my first contract of employment with the store manager. I was so excited to get the job 😝
Why? Because USC was one of the coolest place to work in the new Bullring Shopping Centre 😎
Reflecting now, the job represented so much more to me. It meant that the girls who left me out at school were wrong. This job meant I wasn’t an outsider. I was cool. Whatever that means, right? 🙄
USC was in a prime location, right at the entrance of the centre, behind the statue of the bull 🛍
The exterior was entirely glass-fronted with window displays that took weeks of planning with top visual merchandisers from London, whilst the interior was always super-shiny and squeaky clean 🤩
T-shirts were folded meticulously and every single coat-hanger was evenly spaced with precision. Standards were everything!
So you can imagine, as a member of staff, you completely embodied that feeling too. Bad hair day? You may as well call in sick.
Everyone seemed effortlessly pristine and extremely cool - which is a pretty hard balance to achieve…😕
I remember my first day and I was so nervous 😬 I had planned my outfit to the finest detail, even knowing that I was going to be given a uniform allowance straight away to change out of my clothes, into something the store sold. So even those few minutes mattered 🕰️
Everyone who worked there caught your eye 👀 Whether it was their physique, sense of style, cuteness or hair colour - they got the job because of how they looked.
At first it was terrifying but after some time, I became one of them. I was obsessed about how I looked because how you looked was a big part of the job 😶
I experienced first-hand CVs being ripped up, alongside smirks from managers as soon as people had turned their backs. I vividly remember that making me feel sad and confused. Skills and experience didn’t matter. You just had to look a certain way...🙈
Simple right? Or maybe a recipes for disaster. Only time would tell…