Yes, The Salespeople At Prada Are Silently Judging You

One of the most wonderful things about my tiny apartment is that it is located right down the street from one of my favorite places in New York: The Rem Koolhaas-designed Prada flagship store in Soho, which, had it been around in the late 1950s, would probably have taken the place of Tiffany's for the stylish, sad-sack Holly Golightly. As much as I love to loiter outside, fantasizing about the fashions on display behind the store's enormous picture windows, actually stepping foot inside unleashes my deepest sartorial insecurities: Not only can I not exactly afford the silken turbans of yesterday and the orange fuzzy coats of today on display, but apparently this fact is something known - intuited, at least? - by the store's severely-suited salespeople, who seem to regularly play retail Darwinism, casting disparaging glares at visitors who have "no reason" — meaning: no bank account — to justify being there. So I decided to embark on what I decided to call the Pretty Woman experiment: visiting the store in different states of dress to find out whether I would be treated differently based on my appearance.

1. On August 11th, I dropped by dressed, essentially, in my pajamas: Leggings from Target, oversized red flannel shirt, glasses on, matted "morning hair" tied up in a knot and nary a lick of makeup. Clad in this ensemble I did not garner negative attention, I immediately noticed, but no attention at all. No one said hello as I pushed the heavy door open myself, took a quick turn around the floor, and then proceeded down the stairs to the footwear level. Several salespeople mingled among the high-priced shoes: It was a Saturday afternoon and the fall/winter styles had just arrived in stores, so it was prime shopping season. I lingered for what seemed like forever before the display of the trend shoes of the season: The ombre patent Havana-heeled pumps, the multi-hued colorblocked sandals. I picked them up, examining their heels, their soles, their prices. And still, nothing. After a few minutes I gave up, headed back up the dizzying, seemingly floating blond wood stairs and headed on my merry way. I thought I heard one of the security guards mumble, "Have a good afternoon" as I stepped out the main door and into the midday sunshine, but that could've been wishful thinking.

2. Two days later, I returned, this time dressed to the eights (not nines: I was, uh, wearing Target flip-flops) with a long, creamy Vivienne Westwood skirt belted over a black, v-neck tee. I had on mascara, eyeliner, even blush: No grooming detail had been overlooked, and as I approached the store, the door opened for me, almost magically. I had hardly a moment to register the accompanying "good afternoon" when a sales clerk appeared and asked if there was anything she could help me with. (Success! Maybe I could leave?). I thanked her for asking and began strolling through the maze of clothing on the floor below, surrounded by knee socks and logo-stamped bags at every turn, taking my time (I was a "lady of leisure" after all!) and at each different clothing rack, it seemed, found another sincere, smartly-outfitted shopgirl. Eventually, I decided it was time to tackle footwear, and lo and behold, the second I stepped foot on the shiny, black floor of the department I heard a warm, welcoming voice, not unlike that of a fairy godmother. I asked the saleslady if I could see the object(s) of my desire: The season's new open-toed pink and black ombre Havana heels of earlier mention, with the thick elastic strap that sits across the front of the foot. "Do you have them in a 39?" I asked. Her face clouded with worry, "Ooh I'm not sure. Let me go check right away and see what I can do." She emerged moments later, looking practically crestfallen. "We only have them in a 7 1/2 and a 9 1/2. Do you want to try either of those? Maybe the 7 1/2 will work?" I asked after the 9 1/2 and before I could even blink, she emerged with a shiny black box. I slipped the shoes on: Magic. Pure magic. I walked, strutted, and skipped around the shoe floor. Every once in a while, my guardian angel peeped around the corner to check on me. "No rush! No rush at all!" she insisted, warmly. I pranced some more. And then the saleslady emerged again, informing me that she had just learned that these very shoes were 1 of 2 pairs (the other being the 7 1/2, naturally) left of this style in the entire city of New York.

Needless to say, I capitulated, and, for the first time in my life, bought something Prada. It was sick: At the checkout registers on the main floor, I simultaneously giggled like a schoolgirl and almost teared up. Hypnotized by the combination of shiny things and someone willing to give me the time of day, I had fallen under the luxury-market's spell, dropping dollars faster than you can say "The devil wears..." But I guess one could look at it this way: someone's gotta actually pay full price so Anna Wintour can continue to get her clothes for free, right? Was I duped? Possibly. But better-heeled? Certainly.

Earlier: The Devil Wears Prada Because Prada Is Hell