If you’ve got a creative habit to support, your revenue stream may come down to waiting tables, tending bar, or stripping. Then there’s retail, which tends to pay less than the above but typically has the added enticement of an employee discount. Which retail stores offer their entry-level staff the best concoction of pay and discount alongside unquantifiables like fun vibes, a lenient tardiness policy or a lax dress code?
From the best-paying gigs to the store with the highest bar for employee looks, here is what you can expect at five major fashion retailers and Trader Joe’s (hibiscus shirts are sort of fashion, right?). The info was culled from present and former employees and confirmed to the best of our ability with the retailers (ie, via unreturned emails to their PR departments). Got your own retail survival tales? Spill ‘em in the comments.
Retailer: American Apparel
Who they hire: Quirkily sexy, doe-eyed ingénues and their male counterparts.
Pay: $9-10/ hour to start as a cashier; assistant managers only make a dollar more.
Employee benefits: 50% off for everyone. There are specific discounts to create style incentives, such as $10 for a velvet skirt, plus occasional merch allowances that range anywhere from $150-215. Commission can be up to an extra $100 a week. Full-time employees receive benefits.
Dress Code: “Obviously they won’t know whether or not you’re wearing AA underwear, but they’d make you if they could,” says one employee about the notoriously strict policy of all AA, all the time. “You were hired because you were a hipster and you were beautiful, so you have to be styled appropriately.” Also, “if Dov is in town, you are expected to look a certain way.”
Pros: Our interviewees were mostly fond of working at AA. “It’s like hipster day camp,” jokes one. “I have the time of my life working there.”
Cons: Spandex, sexual harassment allegations against the company’s CEO, also… spandex.
Retailer: Victoria’s Secret
Pay: Minimum wage (state dependent)
Employee demeanor: Groomed, bubbly and trying hard.
Employee benefits: 20% discount to start which increases to 30% after two months.
Dress Code: Wearing all black is the only true requirement, though “many of the women opt for stripper-face makeup,” says one employee.
Pros: A more interesting underwear drawer; loose dress code.
Cons: “Every Sunday night we had to come in UNPAID to see the new products that we MIGHT be able to take home.”
Who they hire: Bohemian-chic post-makeover cat ladies who will stick around. High schoolers and college students shouldn’t come-a-knockin’ for summer jobs.
Pay: Sales associates start at $9-11/hour depending on experience, and may receive a $1 raise when promoted.
Employee benefits: 40% on apparel, 25% on home, and no discount on sale items, except for on “employee appreciation” days, during which you receive 40% off all home and sale items as well. Same discount applies to Urban Outfitters, Free People, and Terrain. All employees get discount cards for their immediate family and one for a spouse, or whomever you like if you’re not married. Family discount cards are 25% off of apparel and home, and during employee appreciation they also receive a 40% discount on everything. An employee adds, “There are five to ten items each month that the company really stands behind. If you purchase, you get 60 percent off that item.”
Dress Code: Technically nothing HAS to be from the store, but everything should look like it COULD be. “No sneakers, no ripped jeans, nothing too risqué, and skirts need to be a little bit longer.”
Pros: See “Employee benefits.”
Cons: If you aren’t drooling all over yourself from the seemingly limitless perks, know that job stability isn’t their strong suit. Our sources said non-management employees are paid from each individual store’s individual revenue, so if the store isn’t prospering, employees’ hours may be cut.
Retailer: Abercrombie & Fitch
Who they hire: Effortlessly flawless beachy / preppy types
Pay: Sales associates make minimum wage
Employee benefits: 40% for full time, 30% for part time. To encourage associates to buy/wear the clothing, select outfits can be purchased for 50% off. Managers have surprisingly great benefits including medical, full dental, and vision.
Dress Code: Specific, yes, but not the strictest of the bunch. “Currently for women the ‘style’ is dark skinny jeans cuffed, leather flip flops, navy cardigan with either navy or white shirt underneath,” says a manager from one A&F location. If makeup is worn at all it mustn’t show: “Eyeliner is a huge no-no,” as are fake nails, visible piercings (“except for one small stud per ear”), and unnatural looking hair color.
Pros: Decent discount and smooth sailing, so long as you fit the part.
Cons: No matter how much they try to hide it, A&F is all about looks. “We hire naturally beautiful and handsome faces,” says one manager.
Retailer: Brooklyn Industries
Who they hire: Edgy yet polished fashion functionalists
Pay: Sales starts out at $9/hour
Discount/deals/benefits: 50% on full-price merchandise, 25% on accessories (including bags), 0% on sale, and once a month for seven days a list of 70%-off items is released. Usually this is new merchandise the company is encouraging employees to wear. If you consistently work more than 30 hours per week you are eligible for health benefits, but according to one disgruntled source, “you never get scheduled for more than 20.”
Dress Code: Firm and hard to afford. All tops and all denim must be from BKI. Employees are permitted to wear completely non-branded bottoms (ie: plain black skirt), but it is not encouraged.
Pros: There’s a 7-minute grace period for lateness. Also, provided your clothes are from the store, the company encourages “opposite sexed” clothing and alterations.
Cons: The pay is at odds with the dress code, even with the discount and 70% list. “They do give you a $25 gift card when you start, but that doesn’t even cover one of their $38 tee shirts. Most everyone buys 1 or 2 tees and wears them every single shift.”
Retailer: Trader Joe’s
Who they hire: Excruciatingly friendly; sometimes flirtatious. First-hand small talk with one beardly cashier: “What are YOU doing with your onion trio later this week?”
Pay: Usually starts between $9-12/hour. Raises seem to come often, and all employees have the opportunity to get a $2/hour raise per year. It does end at some point, says one Crew Member, “The hourly cap varies by state, but hovers around $18.50-19.75. After you’re capped out, TJ’s gives you bi-annual cost of living adjustments.”
Employee benefits: 10% off, plus health insurance to all employees who work at least 20 hours/week and who’ve been with the company for at least 3 months. One worker describes the deal as “the bombest” insurance he’s ever had: medical, dental, and vision included, “with some sort of retirement plan I don’t pay attention to.” There is also a regular allotment of free food.
Dress Code: With celebrated low standards for employee neatness, one worker describes the look as varying “from disheveled to fashionable, with most people falling somewhere in between.” Another crew member concludes: “As long as you don’t have super ripped jeans, you can look as stoned as you want.”
Pros: The environment seems pretty laid-back, well-staffed, and of generally of high morale.
Cons: At the Brooklyn location they’re quite fond of cutesy TJ’s jargon that includes “the Captain’s Court” (the office), and “Grande Finale” (register). Bosses are called captains. “There are first mates, second mates, merchants, novitiates, even the occasional commodore here or there,” says a mole.