Spending and Saving in New York City: Part Five

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Editor’s Note: This is part five of Noel’s ongoing series about her adventures navigating the NYC fashion world as a college student, adjusting to life without total financial support from her parents, and learning where to spend and save! In case you missed them, see Spending and Saving in New York City: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four.

Brooklyn Indie Market

Photo Credit: Noel Duan

Last Sunday morning, I took a one-hour subway ride to the Brooklyn Indie Market, partly because I was writing an article about the venue for the Columbia Daily Spectator and partly because I needed to buy Christmas gifts for all of my friends and family. Also, partly because I had been cooped up behind my textbooks for the entire weekend and I wanted to get out of there — even though I promptly returned to Manhattan and immediately settled down in the library. For twelve straight hours without food. Really, there are times when shopping is crucial to one’s health, especially when it forces one to get fresh air.

So, there I was, at the design and product market. I checked out some vendors, such as The Message Mat and folfolle. However, as delightful as the products were, I was more interested in chatting with the vendors than I was in purchasing a leather cuff bracelet. The only thing I ended up buying at the market was a $2 pumpkin blondie with brown butter frosting and white chocolate chunks from Bullfrog EATS. Delicious, but I was still without presents for my friends.

See, everyone was so warm and friendly at the market. All the vendors were willing to chat with me without shoving their products in my face, and I could not but think back to my traumatizing childhood experiences with sales associates.

Case in point: In seventh grade, I desired a Paul Frank sweatshirt from PacSun (which, by the way, has changed its aesthetics immensely throughout the years). Don’t ask me why I wanted a cartoon monkey on my chest — it was the trend back then and I bought into it like any insecure middle school student would have. So, I took myself into the store at my local mall, and the sales associate behind the counter laughed at me and said, “Is this, like, your first time here or something? No offense, but only the cool kids shop here.”

I, horrified at what had just happened, bought my Paul Frank sweatshirt, mumbled something about monkeys, and left the store. Twelve-year-old me wasn’t ready to confront The Snotty Sales Associate. Twelve-year-old me just wanted a Paul Frank sweatshirt.

But nowadays, I’ve figured out a few key points to making the most out of your sales associate experience — maybe it’s because I’ve been frequenting Henri Bendel and Bergdorf Goodman on Fifth Avenue too often, but at least something good came out of it:

  1. It’s a fact: you get more attention if you already have a few shopping bags, proving that you’re there to shop and not peruse. It makes sense, doesn’t it? When you try out on clothes without buying anything, sales associates still have to pick them up and refold them for you.
  2. No sweat if you don’t have four Bloomingdale’s bags with you before you walk into Neiman Marcus — really, you just need to act confident and not out-of-place. That is, put yourself in the mindset of someone who can afford to buy $500 Lanvin flats and ask if you can try on the Miu Miu coat (the answer is always “yes”). Don’t feel guilty if you think you’re “tricking” the sales associates into thinking you can actually afford the coat. In my experience, I always make something productive out of it — I examine the stitches, fabric, cut, and print in order to understand the craftsmanship better.
  3. Dress to the nines. Have you ever seen Clueless, where Cher needs to go shopping for clothes to shop in? Well, I used to think that was stupid, but now I understand (somewhat) what she meant — appearances do matter. I used to wear comfortable clothes when I went shopping, but now I end up looking like I’m going to a party in my best clothes. Is it worth it? I really don’t know, but sales associates are a lot warmer to me.

In any case, I’m still looking for Christmas presents for friends and family, but it’s nice to know that the retail world is not out to get me. Worst case scenario, online shopping has never done me harm (except when I look at my bank account).

Have you ever had any bad store experiences? Do you dress up to go shopping?

P.S. I was wandering around the West Village with fellow blogger, Dara Adeeyo of Secretista, when we saw the fantastic Cynthia Rowley in her own boutique!

Cynthia Rowley

Photo Credit: Dara Adeeyo

She kindly obliged for a photo with my starstruck self — really, she was the sweetest person ever. Where else but in New York City can you meet a favorite designer while on a study break?

25 thoughts on “Spending and Saving in New York City: Part Five”

  1. I also dress up when I go shopping. I wear my cute clothes and my high heels. People may think its weird but I see that the sale associates treat you a lot better that way. I had the same experience you did when I was 12 but it was in Old Navy. Not a good experience.
    Great article. Hope you find all the gifts you are looking for 🙂

  2. It’s disgusting the way sales people will treat young customers, so incredibly disrespectful. I understand that many shoplifters etc are teenage girls but they show no tact. My friends and I have been refused from a store because there were four of us together, and they had an unoffical rule about the number of schoolchildren allowed. We weren’t in school uniform, and we were in COLLEGE. Eventually the manager apologised for the guard and let us in. The guard was clearly just some loser trying to exert whatever little power he had. We’ve also been refused a bottle of wine in a resturant (drinking age here is 18) WHILE the middleaged waiter and chef were coming onto us and rubbing themselves against us. I think the trick is just conducting youself with confidence, dignity and authority. And always ask to speak to the manager if the service is appaling.

  3. Denise: I was wearing my new favorite Alice Ritter coat, BCBG Mendel booties (amazingly comfortable for 6 inches), and ear muffs because I was FREEZING in the late afternoon while walking around the city. What would you have worn? Let me know! I’d love to hear more.

  4. Interesting article. I have to admit that there are a number of stores in the city that intimidate me so I’ve never been inside. A part of it is due to the fact that I feel as though I shouldn’t waste the associate’s time if I can’t afford to buy anything. Hopefully one day I will have enough money and can walk inside confidently.

    I do like to look presentable wherever I go. My mom actually teases me about it because quite a few times, I franctically run around the house saying “I look like shit!” before I leave to go somewhere at the last minute. I’m not one to feel comfortable going out in sweatpants with my hair up in a ponytail. At the same time, I’m not someone to overdress just to go shopping. Nice jeans, boots or flats (depending on the weather), and a cute top that’s easy to take on and off (since I’ll be trying on clothes). If it’s summer, a sundress and sandals. I have noticed that I wear does depend on where I’m going shopping though. If I’m going into the city, I’ll wear my nicer DKNY peacoat whereas if I’m going to the local shopping area, I may just wear my wintery Guess coat that I’ve had for a while now.

  5. I work retail, and while I try very hard to treat all of my customers the same, it’s often true that you’ll get better attention at a store if you’re dressed nicer. It shows the sales associates that you have money to look nice, and therefore money to potentially buy the merchandise. Of course, also if you’re wearing something from the store you’re shopping in, that’s a clear giveaway to the sales associates that you’re likely to buy something again. I really like this post!

  6. Sales associates can be pure evil. Or they´re like glue and don´t let you breath alone or they just ignore you. grrr.

    Christmas gifs, oh my, they are hard to find >.<

    I love you NYC series *_* I´m going January so I´m paying closed attention. I need to know the best spots to buy gifts and a b-day present for my boyfriend LOL

  7. I worked in retail at a store that was insistent on giving the same customer service to everyone in the store. I don’t recall a time when I treated anyone differently because of the way they dressed, how old they were, etc. I annoyed everyone with “HAVE YOU SEEN OUR NEW ITEM IT’S REALLY FANTASTIC WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR” completely equally. 🙂

  8. It seems that the sale associates are acting the same all around the globe 🙂 I live in Romania and it’s basically a “who are you/ what are you wearing and why?” attitude contest. I don’t feel offended but sometimes you’re just not in the mood to dress up so lighten up people. Noel, your writing style is charming, I always find myself wondering when the next part will appear. And I hope we all find the best possible gifts :).

  9. Another outstanding article. Noel, I love your contributions to this site!
    I am appalled to hear that you where treated that way at the age of 12. I find most shopping, in stores, unbearable. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE to shop, but I go either to the stores that “know me,” privately owned boutiques where the people have a passion for what they do, or I shop online.

    Occasionally, I will go to Urban Outfitters or H&M, even American Apparel, solely for the reason that they leave you alone, Shopping is best done, I find, alone. It is easier to focus when you’re not getting fake cheerfully greeted by an overtly perky, Hollister/Abercrombie employee, who chirps “Hi! How are youuuuuu!” without really caring to hear your reply. Without getting items shoved in your face.

    Markets, like the one you went to, are a great example of people who love what they do. In the warmer weather, my mother and I will head down to the farmer’s market for our favorite berry pies. The farm that these berries come from is owned by a family in rural PA. The people that sell to us are always cheerful, rain or shine. It makes for a better experience when I’ve lost all faith in the retail system.

  10. Great read 🙂

    It’s like When a Hermes store wouldn’t let Oprah (Yes, THE Oprah) come
    in because well… she wasn’t looking like her usual fabulous self and they said they failed to recognize her.

    If it happens to one of the most successful women of all time, then yeah, it’s going to happen to all of us!

    Personally, I like to dress presentable yet comfortable when I shop. Vneck, cardigan, dark wash skinny jeans, and suede boots. I also wear my hair and makeup as I want to look my best because you should always do that when you’re trying on clothes!

    I dislike salespeople stalkers and I agree with one of the posts above, I really like shopping by myself to find things myself. If i need help, I will ask a hopefully friendly person 🙂

    My favorite people are the Sephora salespeople 🙂

  11. Yesssss! It’s part of my personal style. I don’t understand why it’s okay to wear sweats to go shopping when sweats make me feel lazy and uninteresting half of the time.

    I always dress up to go shopping. Sales associates are much warmer to me too because they realize this is someone who puts effort into her look and will take good care of whatever she buys!

  12. OMG yesterday I had the worst shopping experience ever! I entered what seemed to be a nice store, with some beautiful dresses in their display windows. Just in the second I started looking at some tunics, a saleswoman came to me and asked if I needed any help. I kindly rejected it and continued looking around. She began “stalking” me and getting really close to me every time I touched any garments, making me feel really uncomfortable. She even suggested me to go outside and look at the clothes in their windows instead of being inside! I felt so frustrated and mistreated that I immediately left the place. No salesperson had ever been so mean to me before! :/
    But I have to admit I don’t feel thaaat bad after looking at the previous posts. At least I’m not the only one that’s been through something like that! 🙂

  13. Although you seem to have some interesting experiences in the City, I feel your entries are more of a pretentious announcement of your life–e.g. the fact that you went 12 hrs without food is completely irrelevant. You mentioned the Brooklyn Market but it was just something that you went to, but obviously you weren’t excited about anything there except for the people so why mention it as a part of the NYC shopping tips? Then you end off your blog entry with getting presents online, and my question is, what is the point of your so-called “Saving and Spending in NYC” if the ultimate solution at the end of the day is ONLINE shopping?

  14. Denise – maybe you were confused as to who is who in that photo. Noel is the girl on the picture’s left. And I think she looks great! Very cozy but chic getup for wandering around NYC.

  15. I have to disagree with this post. While it’s obviously good to be respectful in all areas of life, I don’t think anyone should dress or act in different ways in order to be treated nicely by sales associates. It’s their job to treat people nicely, period.

  16. I visit your blog and I’m so jealous! I agree you should hit up Soho and walk around there if you want to do some shopping. I think this blog covers the all aspects of fashion. I like this very much.


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