Sometimes, Appearance IS Everything

Despite the fact that I do not have a “boutique” bank account, I do enjoy occasional boutique shopping. Every now and then—even for a Budget Boutiquer like me—I find that they are often the perfect place to find well-made and unique items to spice up the wardrobe.

But boutiques can be tricky. Not because of their shameless overpricing but rather their interesting employee/customer dynamic. Just ask Julia Roberts’ character Vivian in Pretty Woman. Do you remember the iconic scene? She arrives in her (a-hem) “street clothes” at a high-end boutique on Rodeo Drive with Richard Gere’s limitless credit card in hand, only to be swiftly sized up and turned away by the store’s snotty staff.

Of course, the joke’s on them (and their commission checks) later in the day when Vivian returns to the same boutique dressed to the nines in couture and loaded down with bags and boxes after spending obscene amounts of money at OTHER retailers… showing (and telling) them what a HUGE mistake they’d made in judging her earlier.

Now, I don’t own an outfit like Vivian had at the beginning of the movie. Trust me, no one wants to see THAT on ME anyway… but I have experienced a watered-down version of some similar treatment. A year ago, I visited an adorable boutique in a nearby small town. And while I browsed, dressed in jeans, sneakers and a fleece pullover, gently sifting through the $400 cashmere sweaters and equally expensive accessories… not one person in the store spoke to me. I left without buying anything.

This past weekend my parents came for a visit. On one of our excursions, I decided to take my mother to the boutique. Although the items inside were far more expensive than she or I would normally spend… I thought she might enjoy picking over the pricey offerings. After all, it never hurts to browse and one never knows what one might find hiding on the sale rack.

However, before we went inside I warned her that, in my experience, the sales staff was not so friendly. “Apparently,” I told her, “I didn’t fit their ‘idea’ of who should be patronizing their business when I showed up the last time. Don’t be surprised if you feel like Julia Roberts when you go in here.” My mother just shrugged. Now that she’s retired, she doesn’t let things like the obnoxious dissing by snobbish retailers bother her. One can only hope that such an attitude will rub off on me one day.

Much to my surprise, when I walked through the doors of the place (bracing myself for another cool dismissal) the sales woman practically tackled me once I was inside. I was looking at some colorful, all-weather, rubber boots and admiring them when she pounced. She asked what size I wore, demanded that I remove the boots I was wearing and try these new ones on. “They’re Danish, you know.” She said launching feverishly into her sales pitch while jamming my stocking foot into one of them… “They are VERY well made and worth every penny!” And she went on and on pointing out all of the features of these super trendy boots.

“Uh-huh…” I muttered while half-listening to her and subtly turning a pair over in my hands to get a look at the price tag on the bottom. $300. Yikes. I thought. “That’s a little too rich for my blood. Especially for something not made from an animal.” I admitted to her, setting them back on the shelf. Yet I couldn’t help but wonder… What in the world was the difference between my treatment a year ago and today? And I continued to wonder… that is until she inquired about the boots I was currently wearing.

“Well, what kind of boots are THOSE?” She asked, accusatorily and aggressively thrusting her pointed index finger toward my feet. Even as I KNEW that SHE already KNEW what kind of boots I was wearing.

To which I sheepishly replied, “UGGs.”  Referring to my somewhat costly, tall, fold-over, cable-knit sweater boots. They are my favorite fall and winter wardrobe item — a brand name splurge I afforded myself last season and by far the most expensive footwear I own.

Irritated that I’d turned her down, she smacked her lips and quickly snapped at me with the following… “Well, if you can afford THOSE boots… surely you can afford THESE.” It was precisely at that moment that I walked away from her, stunned at such a brazen attempt to get me into her fancy, Danish rubbers! How dare she try and bully me with my very own boots.

I guess I learned what the difference was. No matter your backstory… Appearance (to some people) is not only everything… It is the ONLY thing.