Ready To Wear: Shop assistants are meant to be haughty

Susannah Frankel
Monday 16 January 2012 01:00

It's survey time.

The French marketing consultancy Presence hired mystery shoppers to grade some 400 stores and revealed last week that the attitude of sales assistants working at the gilded totems to capitalism lining Paris's Champs-Elysées were among the least helpful in the world. They ranked 16th out of 30 with New York's Fifth Avenue scoring more dismally still: it came in at number 26.

In fact, anyone brave enough to enter the more upscale boutiques in the French capital would be nothing short of disappointed were it any other way. In New York, similarly, while a polite (robotic?) veneer may be the order of the day, simmering just under the surface is the fact that sales assistants in that city apparently can't help but despise those foolhardy enough to enter their workplaces.

Perhaps, though, that is as it should be. Maybe employees in these proudly élitist spaces are simply meant to be thinner, more beautiful and more haughty than the humble likes of you and I. Were they anything less than dismissive, the effect might be disconcerting.

Who hasn't been made to feel like a shoplifter in such places, after all? Who hasn't been told something looks "great" when it's a size too small? And who hasn't considered buying something simply to spite the person serving them by proving that they're not some woeful pretender, thank you.

Might the same be the case, I wonder, were one to shop in a friendly city – in Sydney, for example. Would everyone there throw open the doors, beaming, and shouting "G'day!" before lavishing attention on those they are there to serve?

Although London wasn't included in the aforementioned market research, a frosty insouciance is often the order of the day in the British capital. There are notable exceptions. Balenciaga and Rick Owens in Mayfair, Matches in Notting Hill Gate, Margaret Howell in Wigmore Street, Prada in Bond and Sloane Street and Dover Street Market are, in my experience, staffed by men and women who prove that shopping for fashion may not necessarily feel like heading into battle.

More generally, however, it's small wonder that online shopping is increasingly appealing: no heavy-handed surveillance tactics the likes of which might make Inspector Clouseau blush, no disingenuous flattery, not even a curled lip.

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