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Aesthetic Jobs & Bad Jobs

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Exclusively good-looking vendors, shirtless greeting shoppers at Abercrombie & Fitch, and stylish teenagers at the till at Urban Outfitters, coincidence? I think not. As the service sector expands, sales assistants are becoming a fundamental ingredient of brands representativity to consumers. The new ‘key’ skill is apparence: hiring criteria are now based on how employees look and sound. With employees identified as “commercial utility[1]”, employers adopt methods of selection by the look, which leads to a social discrimination in high-end retail jobs. This discrimination leading to a domination of the middle-class in these upscale retail jobs deteriorates ‘bad jobs’, and anchors them in a never-ending cycle of bad conditions.

With employees becoming a key aspect for brands’ successes, aesthetics skills enter subtly jobs requirements in up-scale retail and “employers look for workers who already embody a particular habitus (refers to mannerisms acquired in childhood, difficult to alter later in life)” (Williams & Connell, 2010, p.358). To do so, they search for candidates with the right look, style and lifestyle, which is normally the one matching the brand. This is increasingly relevant, as with the new focus on lifestyle branding, consumers identify themselves to brands and their representatives: the employees.

Subtil selection methods are employed in order to hire the perfect fit; usually corresponding to a regular, young, middle-class and loyal customer. This leads to one of the selection practices, described by Williams & Connell: hire customers directly in the shop floor. In order to attract them, shops offer benefits that only the shop’s customers would find interesting and attractive, such as discounts on the products. This is a “win-win” practice for retail companies, as it excludes increasing wages and with the discounts, employees spend most of their earnings back into purchases. As a result, this method only attracts middle-class customers of high-end retail stores, since the benefits offered by the company do not correspond to the needs of those looking for a job providing them with a living salary.

In addition, numerous jobs in upscale retail are part-time and/or have an extremely flexible schedule. Employees are frequently told their working times and days within a short notice and, as Misra and Walters outlined, the lack of consistent hours provides an inconsistent income. Once more, characteristics of high-end retail jobs do not make it possible for people from the working-class whose job is the principal source of income to provide a decent livelihood. However, these conditions are ‘perfect’ for middle-class workers with the right habitus, i.e. students, who do not need the money, who have a light schedule at university, who are even disposed to miss classes to work, as mentioned by Besen-cassino. When mentioning people who do not ‘need their pay check’, I am referring to “employers’ preferences to hire associates who are primarily driven by consumer desires, not by labor interest” (Williams & Connell, 2010, p.360). Another method of segregation described by Warhurst & Nickson is through job advertisement. Employers publish job offers in the Sunday Times, through which they know they can reach the middle-class teenagers’ parents, and therefore the ideal prospective candidates. As Warhurst & Nickson said, “employers seek ‘middle classness’ in aesthetic labor” (2003, p.789). In addition, other processes of discrimination involve long applications processes, with several interviews and periods of waiting. These extended waiting periods retain applicants with other sources of financial support and eliminate those who cannot afford to stay on hold, forcing them to go toward low-end retail stores (eg.Walmart).



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