i drove to my first job in a 1983 naval base blue chevette scooter. in addition to working off the car loan from my parents, i was also working towards my first investment piece of fashion: a black denim, acid washed, leather trimmed jacket made by the highly coveted* designer label bongo.
the bongo jacket was waiting for me at wet seal, but my favorite store at the mall was the limited. i was very familiar with the merchandise and the staff at the limited. i already shopped there, so working there seemed like an obvious and seamless transition. and by shopped, i mean it was my favorite store; i didn’t actually buy anything, because i didn’t have any money yet-- that’s why i needed a job. the limited was a good job for a teenager in an unsophisticated cow-town. i had aspirations. i wanted fashion, i wanted elegance. i wanted a fully coordinated wardrobe of stir-up pants and shoulder padded tunics.
my first employee purchase from the limited included knit stir-up pants in the cutest oversized hounds-tooth print of black and white, paired with a black bell shaped turtleneck tunic. the pants were securely stir-up'd and tucked into black cowboy boots. i loaded silver rings onto all of my fingers and added giant janet “mz.” jackson hoop earrings. a thick black headband held back my curly hair, carefully and painfully styled into a large mall-friendly silhouette favored by certain girls in 1990-- girls with aspirations as big as their hair.
i was able to leverage the retail experience from the limited when i moved to los angeles and got a job at laura ashley in the century city shopping center. laura ashley was a coup, a luxury lifestyle brand composed of tasteful floral prints and all the charms of the well-mannered english countryside. laura ashley was so classy that company policy provided one ensemble per employee each season. i was given a pinwale corduroy drop-waist sailor dress in teal green with black velvet piping on the collar and cuffs. i styled the laura ashley sailor dress with the same black cowboy boots, silver rings on every finger, and janet “mz.” jackson hoops.
laura ashley was a savvy business lady and she understood the power of coordinated lady accoutrement long before ladies like martha stewart got to work. with laura ashley, a lady could purchase her wedding and bridesmaid dresses, a honeymoon wardrobe, and register for numerous household items such as towels, wallpaper, window coverings, and bed linens, and it would all match beautifully. even a lady's baby could be coordinated in matching little laura ashley bits and pieces.** so in addition to the teal green sailor dress, i also acquired a coordinated bramble print jewelry box and bed linens, and a fervent dedication to laura ashley's [discontinued] fragrance dilys.***
laura ashley was in an upscale mall and we often had celebrity sightings. we told kevin bacon where to find ralph lauren (not at century city, dude; try beverly center). we sold dresses to susan day (c’mon, get happy—l.a. law was a huge hit, so just eat something!). mz. elizabeth taylor’s assistant insisted that our sizing was off. after all, ms. taylor was a size 6, and the dresses simply didn't fit. at laura ashley, we made customers for life, so all returns were handled with grace and elegance.
one of my fondest memories was unintentionally offending suzanne pleshette as i helped her assemble a hostess gift of scented drawer liners and matching stationary. i thought maybe she played cards with my grandmother. i said, “y’know, you look familiar to me.”
mz. pleshette took a deep breath, threw her shoulders back and said icily in her smoker's voice, “i should certainly hope so."
dang. well, excuse me lady.
*highly coveted by 10th graders in rural-ish ag towns.
.** the mother-child matching rompers had a freaky following; we often made fun of the romper ladies.
.***bring back dilys; it's delicious.