Every time I walk into a Gap, I have the urge to tuck tags into shirts and fold sweaters that have been messily discarded by shoppers. The Gap was once a major part of my life in a time when I was falling apart at the seams. (Insert joke here.) Now the retailer is closing a quarter of its stores, maybe even the one I worked in.
It was the late nineties, spring, and I had just graduated from journalism school. This was degree #2. Confident I would get a reporting job in Toronto, where I had been living for two years and where my boyfriend was, I stayed in the big city. That’s where all the opportunities would be anyway. Right?
There was a recession during that time and it slowed down the job market. No one was hiring a green journalist right out of school. No matter how much I made my resume stand out. (I had seen job seeker experts who told me to do something different with my CV. So I put a photo of me rock climbing.) The eye-catching picture along with the aspirational headline about no challenge being too tough, did not net me any work.
In early September, I was finding life a little more difficult than I thought it would be. My boyfriend broke up with me and I hadn’t realized my dream of becoming a globetrotting journo. I also only had $4 to my name and I couldn’t even take it out of the bank machine because withdrawals had to be at least $5. There was no way I was asking my parents for money. I’m an adult now, I thought. Independent. Independent adults look for any way to make a buck. Not just in their fields.
After a week of terrible one-day jobs like shilling bulk tickets to a comedy show, I was wilting. Who knew being grown-up was so hard? A friend saw my distress and helped me. His sister worked at a temp agency and she hooked me up with work. My first placement was on Bay Street with a well-known investment firm.
The night before work, a woman from the firm called me and told me to dress appropriately. I was to wear nice trousers and a nice blouse and nice shoes.
“Oh, and don’t forget to accessorise. Wear a scarf,” she suggested.
That wouldn’t be a problem. I always got compliments on my fashion sense. I’m sure that I’ll blend in with the rest of the corporate employees. In the morning, I left feeling fine and dandy and ready to work. Here I come working world!
My day on Bay Street revolved around putting mail in people’s inboxes. That’s the extent I remember. It wasn’t the best job but it wasn’t the worst. I was getting paid.
I went home that evening and my roommate and I celebrated my new job by getting lost walking around Toronto trying to find a Dairy Queen. Later that night, around 10 p.m., the investors woman called me and asked what I had worn to my new job that almost-done-day. I told her and emphasized I had even put on a scarf. This didn’t impress her.
“They told me you looked like you worked at the Gap,” is what she said to me. “Don’t come back.”
My Bay Street days were over. Now what was I going to do? Even though the investment company woman was incredibly rude and kind of hurt my feelings, she gave me an idea. I was going to apply to work at the Gap: and I did.
I was a “sales associate” at a shop on Queen Street West. It wasn’t a great job but it paid me and I got a clothing discount. Besides that, I leaned some valuable customer service lessons that I use to this day. The Gap was a weird anchor for me in a time that was frustrating and sad. While it was a time I don’t want to re-live, it was a time that gave me lots of perspective and now, funny stories.