Thursday, January 6, 2022

Shopgirl - What To Wear?


There was a time when department store "shopgirls" dressed to an impeccable standard. The dress code was strict; dresses, skirts, silk blouses, pearls, and the ever-present heels. The standard was high and the outfits had to represent the quality, look, and perceived image of the your department.  It was like a uniform of good taste. I could imagine many of the girls spending their meager salaries maintaining the dress code.  

Crowley-Milner Department Store
Detroit, Michigan, 1941

I loved shopping with my mother and seeing the outfits and my mother loved to shop. We would park in the back of our one downtown department store (Leggett) and  enter into the shoe department. A round of shopping there before going up the magical stairs (escalator). The second floor is where the women's section resided. I am sure that I may have passively complained but remember those excursions fondly. This was something my mother and I did together

There is no question that I remember how the sales associates dressed. Otherwise, I only got to see those dresses on Sunday at church.  Here everything was, all on display to make me only wish and wish.

I also remember Kim Knovak in the 1958 movie Vertigo.  Scottie (Jimmy Stuart) obsessed with a woman he thinks he saw commit suicide, searches. He finally finds someone that looks her: 

Kim Novak as Judy in Vertigo 1958

She tells him her name is Judy Barton, she works at a department store, and she's from Salina, Kansas. Growing agitated, she pulls out her identification and shows it to him.


I love the way Kim Novak looked in that movie. She was a strikingly beautiful woman in both of the parts.  Especially the transformation when she want from being Judy (shopgirl) back to the beautiful Madeline. The swept-back platinum hair, and the grey pencil skirt suit with heels.     

Sorry, I have regressed down memory lane.  What do sales associates wear now? I was told during orientation that almost anything goes; pants encourage, tops modest, comfortable shoes "a must" and hair and make-up stylish (not extreme). I learned to comply after one day in modest heels paying the price after an eight-hour "on-your-feet" day. Sneaker, like above, became a must from then on. The outfit above is my typical go-to-work look, which also included skinny blue jeans. Distressed jeans were specifically discouraged. Not much different from my everyday look.  

The decision on what to wear is easy.  Choose a simple outfit, do my hair, makeup, and out the door in about 20 minutes.  So much for my 50's "shopgirl" fantasy.      

The above "Lauren Ralph Lauren Stretch Boatneck Top" was a recent addition and will be a wear-to-work top.  

Next time in a retail store (not Walmart or Costco) take a look at the sales staff.  Times have changed.   

Kim Knovak as Madeline
Photo from the site 
"The Vintage Woman"



  1. An SA at Macy’s told me several years ago that they have a dress code. The most prominent part of it is they wear black as the dominant color in any outfit. Their top is usually black though their pants or skirt may or may not be black. I checked that out for a while. My observation is that it is true. Macy’s SAs wear black primarily.

    Others, Target for example, have a company tee shirt or vest.


    1. I do remember the black outfits. This was especially true at Bloomingdale, another federated store.

  2. times have truly changed across the board re: dress standards-for the worse in my opinion-emily

  3. The slovenly way I see shop assistants, all in unflattering black leggings, does not inspire me when it comes to the clothes the shop is selling. I would have thought the store management would have staff wearing the present ranges as examples of what is available & how it looks on a body, not left draped on a hanger on a rail.

    1. Part of is the pay is so low many working cannot afford what they are selling even at employee discounts. I went for lunch at the food court a few weeks back a mentioned it when I got back. One of the girls at my store said "I can not afford that". I did the numbers in my head and realized I had spent 1 1/2 hours pay on just lunch. Very sad.

      Our prices went up last week - retail wages stay the same.