Beth Dolinar

Column Beth Dolinar

Beth Dolinar has been writing her column about life, both hers and the rest of ours, for over 20 years. When not on the page, she produces Emmy-winning documentaries for public television, teaches writing to university students, and enjoys her two growing children.

Mistaken retail identity

July 24, 2014

I must have one of those faces, because people are always coming up to me in department stores and asking whether the jeans are on sale or where to find the dressing rooms. This phenomenon is most pronounced during clearance sale time, when I must display a certain saleswoman-like authority while picking through the bargain underwear bin.

That’s just one theory, of course; I’ve never known exactly why people think I work there, and I’ve often wondered if this happens to everybody else. But my recent shopping trips shed a new light on the question.

While at Macy’s, looking for some professional clothing to wear to class when the fall semester starts, I kept having to bend down to pick up garments I knocked off hangers. I would be paging through a rack of shirts, maybe pausing to look at one of them more closely, and the thing would slide off the hanger and onto the floor. When I’d pull out a garment to hold it up to me, three adjacent hangers would jump aboard, leaving me holding a clumpy shirt tree.

This is not just an occasional thing. It happens over and over again, so often, in fact, that the simple process of looking at the merchandise becomes an aerobic workout similar to that P90X thing they’re always selling on TV.

I looked around for customers suffering the frustration of garment slippage. Every other woman was staying erect while browsing. Either the clothes were falling off the hanger for them, too, and they were leaving them on the floor, or I’m special.

Am I too rough? Although I do shop with a purposeful vigor, I don’t get aggressive with the duds until later, when I’m my usual despondent mess in the dressing room. Or, is the cheap polyester content making clothing more slippery? Are hangers just not doing their job? I leaf through my closet at home every day without dropping anything. I have those Velcro hangers, which tend to grip.

So the plastic store hangers are to blame. All I want is a new blouse or two, and they are just jumping out at me left and right, like they are spring loaded. Maybe the clothes are like orphan puppies in the shelter, trying to follow me home.

Wanting to be a responsible shopper, I always pick up the shirt and put it back on the hanger. The first few times I even button the top button so it doesn’t happen to the next shopper.

So there I am, an adult moseying through the misses department, putting dresses on hangers and zipping them up. I guess that’s what an employee looks like. But really, people, I’m carrying bags from other stores and have a big, floppy purse slung over my shoulder and, most of the year, I’m wearing a coat.

Still, right as I’m putting a blouse back on a hanger, a woman approaches me.

“Where are the skirts that go with this jacket?” she asked.

I could have told her I don’t work there. But, knowing the answer to her question, I pointed to a rack across the way. She thanked me and headed down the aisle. If I actually worked there, I might have told her she’s much too short to wear that jacket. But I don’t work there – I just look like it.

Beth Dolinar can be reached at



blog comments powered by Disqus