Fashion Role Models: The Price Staff Pay to Work in Retail

Evidence of sexist dress codes for women have caused uproar in the media recently, but what about retail jobs where staff are required to pay for the privilege of being a walking talking mannequin for the brand?

It can’t be denied that dress codes and general appearance at work are important. No one wants to be served by a sales assistant whose personal hygiene would be greatly improved by a bath in the Thames, but for retail, there is pressure on employees to buy the brands latest collection as part of company policy.

Retailers use staff to advertise their clothing, getting more of it through the till, into a 5p bag and out the door.  Some sales assistants are expected to buy at least five pieces of uniform (slightly discounted), every three months. But with zero-hours contracts, low wages and rising rent, this is not an easy ask, especially when most struggle to even find the money to buy lunch.

“I remember being given a disciplinary by my manager when I worked in retail,” says graphic designer Ellie*, 26. “He was a bit of an arsehole anyway and demanded to know why I hadn’t bought any uniform in the last three months.” At the time Ellie* was a student, living in London, working part time in a successful women’s clothing shop. The girl barely had two pennies to rub together, let alone buy the latest pair of jeans and ‘it’ jumper. “I don’t feel like I turned up to work looking a mess. I’m a fashion conscious person, I do take a lot of pride in my appearance, I just couldn’t prioritise buying clothes at that time.”

In organisations like the NHS, staff uniform is given to workers. Faye*, 25, a nurse at a Southern County hospital said she gets three pairs of basic scrubs for free, “We can pay if we want a decent pair, but I’d be annoyed if I had to pay for the standard uniform as we have to buy our PIN number every year.”

Faye* believes that a company should provide uniform if they want you to look  a certain way while at work, “It’s a scam, retail staff shouldn’t have to pay, they work hard enough for very little money anyway.”

Buying new pieces every season is an expensive business, whether the employee is passionate about the brand or not. Jack*, 25, is a sales assistant in a fashion retail store, central London. He feels a pressure to look more than presentable when dressing for work, “I do feel I have to look different to my usual blasé style.”

Jack* realises staff need to be an asset to the brand in some way, whether that’s by wearing the latest collections or looking on trend, but feels there is less stress for him to comply as a guy, “Menswear is so cyclical I can get away with wearing t-shirt and jeans. I certainly couldn’t handle the constant changes I see within women’s fashion.”

When it comes to buying clothes Jack* would rather support local, independently owned stores. “As a skateboarder, they are integral to our entire community. Topshop and other retailers don’t need an 8-hour part-timer to dress for them.”

*Names have been changed for confidentiality

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