You Can Call Me Shithead


First, some background – I am a fat lady. I am okay with being a fat lady, but like everyone, I need clothing. I am lucky in that I work from home, so I can spend my days in cheap yoga pants and t-shirts, and don’t need a lot of “work clothes”. I’m also lucky in that I sew reasonably well, and make about half of the clothing that I do need for functions outside of the house.

Occasionally, though, I need to buy an item of clothing from a store. And Toronto has a mere 17 places where a woman wearing plus sizes can do that. Ruling out the ones that are beyond my budget, or that cater to certain demographics (office wear, club wear), the number of places I have to choose from is very small. Which is why I do, occasionally, much against my will, end up at Addition Elle.

I don’t have an issue with the clothes at Addition Elle. They’re decently made, decently priced, and for the most part, are on trend. (As an old punk lady, this isn’t something that appeals to me personally, but for the majority of people, that would be a positive thing.) But I will do my damndest to avoid going into an Addition Elle store.

This wasn’t always the case, but in the past year or so, the chain has started a practice of asking a customer’s name as they are escorted to a change room. The customer’s name is then written on a small chalk board on the door of the change room, and the salespeople all make a point of addressing each customer by name… frequently.

“How are those pants fitting, Sheryl?”

“Did you know those also come in blue, Sheryl?”

“Sheryl, did anyone tell you that all our lingerie is on sale today only?”

This practice quickly becomes grating and invasive.

I presume the tactic is meant to influence the customer by creating a false sense of camaraderie between customer and salesperson. If I feel like the gal bringing me a different size skirt is my BFF, then maybe I’ll buy more, right? Except that this tactic has been shown to backfire. It turns out most of us prefer salespeople who are a wee bit snooty.

For my part, as an introverted misanthrope, my ideal salesperson is one who is there when I need them, but who stays out of my way otherwise. I don’t need opinions or feedback or suggestions. And if my best shopping buddy (my husband Greg) is actually with me, I’ll be looking for his opinion, not a salesclerk’s.

The last time this occurred at an Addition Elle, I was so weirded out by the experience I wrote to the company, explaining that the salespeople came off as pushy and invasive, and that the tactic made me uncomfortable. I got a weird reply to the effect that the “offending employees” would be “dealt with”. Except this appears to be a store policy, not something that the individual salespeople have taken upon themselves.

Last week, I had to go back into an Addition Elle store and it happened again. Except that when the salesperson asked my name, I said, “No thank you, I’d rather you just call me Lady or Ma’am or Hey You.” She was unimpressed, glaring at me, but not pushing the issue, but keeping her distance for the rest of the transaction.

I’ve worked fashion retail before. I know that regular customers build a camaraderie with sales staff and those relationships can result in better sales – but only if it results in better scores and deals for the customer. We could do this in the tiny vintage boutique where I worked; we could set aside stuff for regulars who had a certain style we were familiar with. It also works in high-end boutiques with regular clientele. But that relationship doesn’t really happen in a chain store where clerks don’t have the authority to offer a discount or throw in a freebie to sweeten a deal.

In a high street store format, the fake camaraderie comes off as… fake. Also inappropriate. Even if the clerk were to add something like, “My name is Janet, ask for me if you need anything.” after asking the customer’s name, that would put things on a more even keel, but the name asking, and especially writing on the change room door, is just a weird control tactic that is very invasive. Unless these gals are going to come meet me for a coffee on their break, they don’t need to know my name. They definitely don’t need to know my name in order to go get me a different size in those black pants.

On Facebook, when I discussed this issue with friends, I joked that the next time I was in Addition Elle, I’d just insist that my name was Shithead, and demand that they write it on the change room door. I didn’t have the nerve to do it, although I’m not sure why. Probably because they’d have refused.

But I really, really need these ladies – who are otherwise very nice and are only doing their jobs and following corporate’s orders – to stop using my name. It’s turning me off of shopping there so much that I’m going to start taking my money elsewhere. Given the plus size shopping situation, that means more mail-order and sending back stuff that doesn’t fit, and more trekking to small boutiques that are inconvenient to get to. (And yes, I know I should be supporting small boutiques before I ever consider buying from a chain store, but they don’t always have what I’m looking for, are inconvenient to get to, and are often out of my price range.)

On the other hand, maybe I just need to make up an outrageous fake name and insist that they use it until it becomes clear to everybody that Shithead has it right and this palsy-walsy stuff is a really creepy, poorly executed idea.