The job is in a department store. When I get the call sheet I know it will involve rich people drinking cocktails and me standing on a wooden box wearing clothes I cannot afford. Yet. Clothes I cannot afford, yet. I tell myself I will one day be able to justify the purchase of Saint Laurent and Prada even though I have witnessed firsthand what a ridiculous thing said pursuit is. “Pretty clothes. Empty souls.” A friend once told me that.
Still, I would like to think that I am not just an indentured servant in the fashion trade — that I will one day be worthy of the clothes people hire me to look good in. I recognize there is something sick about using beauty and youth to sell clothes to the older, moneyed set, with their elderly bulges and sagging skin. It’s easier to sell a Chanel tweed suit off a thirteen-year-old with a tight, twenty-three-inch waist and stick legs; this is about the only thing tweed suits look good hanging off of. The dream is, of course, to be young and fabulous and outrageously wealthy, purchasing designer goods and traveling to Saint Tropez while you still had a tight ass and looked good in the stuff. You know, like Kate Moss.
We get our hair and makeup done: pink lips and a strong eyebrow, straight hair parted to the side. I sit on a chair and watch people on their way home from work, people working real jobs that require plain wool coats and dress shoes. They walk in the shadow of a giant gray church, these solemn little bugs. Cold radiates through the windows, old and thin and made before the day of double-paned insulation.
I listen to the girls talk about things I don’t care about over the blissful noise of a hairdryer. The one who just had her wedding talks about what they put in their goody bags. An engaged girl planning her own discusses the outrageous cost of engraved champagne flutes that no one will ever use once they take them home, glasses destined to end up in a Goodwill in the company of similar intentions with different names and dates. When I am done being made up I go hide in the dressing room with a rack full of designer clothes and color-blocked wedge sandals.
It is difficult to be a non-girl surrounded by “girls.” I don’t want to talk about your newest copy of US Weekly Magazine. I don’t care that your negligent boyfriend forgot to pick up your dry cleaning yesterday. And I really don’t want to hear about your audition tomorrow morning to play some dude’s silent girlfriend on a soap opera. This attitude inevitably makes me look like a nonparticipatory bitch, judgmental and harsh. But I am willing to come off this way in my work life if it means saving what few brain cells I have managed to retain over the course of my career modeling.
We are walked to our white boxes in different corners of a room. A fashion boxing ring filled with limp-armed featherweights. I heave myself upwards and prepare for the boredom to set in like drying concrete. The DJ is the same one they used last time, a hip chick with blonde hair and a matching entourage and an irritating inability to mix music together. We’re both just paid to look good.
The room begins to fill with people teetering on their shoes and wielding glasses of free champagne. It is a not-so-interesting mix, the fashion whores and the fashion bores. They crane their necks around, attempting to see if people are watching them or if anyone worthwhile has arrived.
Through the crowd a terrifyingly anorexic woman weaves, parting the seas in silent horror. Orange silk track shorts hang off the rattling bones of her protruding hips. Her legs are covered in tights likely made for an infant in order to utilize enough stretch to hug onto the nothing of her limbs. A blank tank top clings to her ribcage. Her skin is tan and her hair is short. She is, quite literally, skin and bone. Walking death.
The music screeches along and I change my outfits per the schedule. Strange women want pictures taken with me. Drunk women think I’m a mannequin. Older men wearing wool scarves and gray hair stare over their drinks, thinking they have a chance. And soon enough, we’re done. Off to put on our own cheap clothing and our ratty and salt-stained shoes, off to our real lives of MetroCards and dinners eaten at home.