Saturday, April 23, 2011

An Appreciation of Department Store Clerks

They were the arbiters of style. At the high end, they still are. They used to help everyone look good. They are the reason for the vintage clothing boom. The rise and fall of the department store corresponds with the decades in which everyone looked good. Before the 1920s, people either looked ragged or stiff. Since the early 70s, colors and cuts have gone to various extremes. As department stores rose to their high tide in the 1960s, it was often written that one couldn't tell who was a clerk and who was a company chairman.

Today's market is much more fragmented. Like society itself, it is very tribal. It is not only possible to tell a lot about someone by their clothes, but many go out of their way to plaster themselves with logos and turn themselves into billboards. Along with many categories and subcategories, identities vary in level from poseur to hardcore. Judgment is invited and encouraged.

Department store clerks knew a lot. They knew what was in style, along with what was on the way in, and what was on the way out and why. They also knew what looked good on whom. As sizes gave way to small, medium and large, they faded away. Clothing became a commodity, and for the most part, they were no longer needed.

I miss department store clerks, and I wonder where they went. I suppose there is a book in there somewhere, with narratives by those tossed aside along with them over the years. One could read about whatever happened to earlier casualties, like ice men, along with more recent ones, such as secretaries and corporate accountants replaced by software and outsourcing.

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