My obsession with clothes and styling amplified when I got hired for the store I am currently working in, not my first retail destination but definitely a step up from past establishments. For one the orientation was about three hours long. The first hour was about identifying a pieice of clothing or any item that is wearable that we could wear everyday and how that ties into who we are, then we dove into talking about customer service. I might be botching the transition into how we identify ourselves with matching into customer service. The point is, if we could identify with an item then we understand what it means to have an attachment to something that makes us feel like we are individuals. Since we understand our reason for attachment in our items then we should be able to assist customers and try to understand what could make them feel like indivuals and find things within the store that could help with their journey into materialistic identity.
The orientation was so informative and excessive to me, maybe because at past retail jobs I was just told to fix the clothes and ask customers if they need help. For this orientation, there was a video of people that are most likely going to be coming into the store and what age ranges to expect and how catering to a certain age range effects all ages beacuse of the relativity of the projected age range that we should expect or who we are servicing to…see excessive. Basically if we cater to a specific type of person we are catering to all.
The exciting part came once we were told what we couldn’t wear. If we are to wear any items that aren’t from the store, it shouldn’t be clear from where it is from. That means, if the stiching looks like its from American Eagle, thats a no. If you’re wearing any bright neons, thats a no. If you come in with plaid shorts that is above the knee, that is a no. It is preferred that we come in wearing jeans that are from the store that is paired with a short or long sleeve top.
Fast forwarding, I own thirteen pairs of denim jeans within the three months that I have been working at this store. I have given my life over to this fabric because it was inevitable, I breathe, eat, taste, sit and shit denim. As part of the associate team it was required of me to try on all the different types of jeans the store had to offer, which is a lot. I had to complete a work sheet on the comfort and rise and stretch of each pair that I tried on, every fitting and each tug of a pant leg had me sinking deeper into my new fabric world.
Customers entered into my world, they were all visitors but I lived at this store. My shifts were numbing after a point, 6pm to 3am four days a week. I had to look presentable, aesthetically pleasing for the store and I accomplished this. My manager assured me of this by placing me in the front of the store during rush hours to greet customers and occasionally yell out respectively our deals on the merchandise.
As an associate in the store its important to be comfortable in the space you’re working in and finding ways to adapt in it no matter how challenging. I developed a love for denim by understanding its different properties and the way it made me feel and the way I wore it and coaching customers into buying it or even trying it on solidified my understanding of it.
I took my obsession even further and constructed a rug made out of denim and a wall of denim. I don’t know exactly what I wanted to prove but to just work with a fabric I had to work with all the time. I was mesmerized by its durability and high demand. I bought 15 yards of it, sewed it into the rug and threw some denim over a clothes rack that acted as the wall. It was exhausting working on this project but it finally felt like this was something I could say was mine. It was something I couldn’t put on my body but that I could wear. Almost like I wore the store on me.
I asked some co workers from past stores I’ve worked at who also have online selling sites to model in the denim for me and tell me how they feel and to just be in it, to model how they wanted. I hired a photographer to capture these moments. And later in the week I had my installation up in Brooklyn where I’ve had people sit in the installation, talk to one another and one person slept in it. A few other people posed in it, made conscious decisions to transform their body into instagramable shapes. I saw my project differently.
I read this book called, “Clothing as Material Culture” by Susan Kuchler and Daniel Miller and I wanted to incorporate all the things I felt so close to in this book and not be a liar at the same time, but honestly this project felt more like me than any other thing I’ve worked on. I embodied my workplace, took it home and melded with denim. Kaori O’Connor an anthropologist in the book has a chapter called, ‘The Material Culture of New Fibres’ and in it they writes “Once viewed simply as mere artifacts, it is now recognized that cloth and clothing are culturally constructed commodities with complex symbolic properties, transmitting purity and pollution, linking past and present, transforming through belief, carrying fundamental values. Spanning worlds and time, a substantial anthropological record speaks eloquently of the ways in which cloth and clothing materialize social and political statuses, convey and consolidate identity, mediate social relations and not only reflect social change but also create it, acting as Schneider (1994) shows an agent of history by giving cultural form to innovative dynamic moments” O’connor, page 41. For some reason I thought this would simplify what I think the phonomena is with my work and denim and identity all mashed together.
Küchler, Susanne, and Daniel Miller. Clothing as Material Culture. Berg, 2010.