Holiday Shopping: Tis' the season of the Nordstrom angel

Holiday Shopping Angel: Holiday shopping can be a major stress of the season, but one Nordstrom saleswoman brings joy to a weary shopper right when she needs it most.

Jae C. Hong/AP
A Nordstrom sign at a shopping mall in Brea, Calif. on May 9.

All the holiday shopping going on this month reminds me of my most memorable saleslady. And she wasn’t even helping me. She was helping someone in the next dressing room at Nordstrom. I simply overheard her. The customer came in for a bra, but went away with much more.

To begin with, the customer sounded none too happy with her looks. She felt that she had a little too much figure going on, and a few too many miles on it. Her saleswoman, I’d later see, was of a similarly generous age and size, and was much more confident about the beauty possibilities of her charge.

I sensed that the saleswoman went through her motions more slowly than usual, in deference to her clearly anxious customer.

“I’m going to have to measure you.” “And what do you want to wear this with?” “Ok, now let’s lift your arm” “Perfect.” “No, it’s ok, take your time.” As the saleswoman directed her charge to remove this and to move that, it became clear why the nerves.  

The customer – I almost want to say “the patient” – said she was going to her son’s wedding. Alone. Not only that, the wedding was in a place she’d never been, 1,500 miles away, with a bride she barely knew, a family she’d never met. Not only that, she’d resigned herself to the ultimate humiliation: looking frumpy. 

Sending a child off in marriage in the best of circumstances is traumatic; a role life little prepares us for. Trying to meld the etiquette of our mothers with the “oh mom” sensibilities of our children leaves parents in a no-man's land. Put yourself 1,500 miles away from your own turf and who knows what additional humiliation awaits? You could go over on your heel. You could get a crying jag. You could have lipstick on your teeth in all the photos because no one told you.

Given the mix of circumstances, this lady was a peripheral, at best, member of the wedding, and she knew and felt it. But her bra saleswoman was slowly fixing that. As her charge worried and whimpered, the saleswoman’s businesslike, can-do spirit insisted “stick with me.”

“Hold still…Try this…Let me tighten something…No this is not it...We’re going to find it...Trust me...Here: Do you see what this does for you?” By the end of the standing back, straightening, and smoothing, you could almost hear their smiles. They had a winner. It would anchor the mother-of-the-groom’s figure, but more than that, it would anchor her confidence, enable her to claim her rightful place in the upcoming events. Both of them knew that if you were going into such a situation feeling like you looked great it could blunt your fears considerably. “Yes,” the saleswoman had shown her: “You can do this” the “this” having more to do with giving away her son in marriage than with lingerie, of course.

Nordstrom, for its part, says they make sure bra fitters are certified, but offers no training in emotional care and feeding of customers. “We try to hire nice people … and then we get out of their way,” leaving them to do what they feel is best, says spokesman Colin Johnson.  

Maybe the mother of the groom never thought about her saleswoman again. And I doubt that the saleswoman goes to work every morning thinking, “I’m going to do some emotional first aid today.”

She probably doesn’t see herself as part of a great cadre of people out in the world who, just by going about their jobs, do a lot of ministering to the anxious and the weary. But surely such little dramas of goodness take place everywhere, every day, even during this busy season. Merry Christmas to all in the helping professions.

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