The other day I was escorted out of Victoria’s Secret by security.
Let me back up. For a visual, I’m not tallish, more smallish, and don’t even use my hands when talking.
Let me back up. I had purchased five pairs of panties for twenty-five dollars and wanted to return them. Unused. Tags still on. Three black, and because they didn’t have more black in my size, and I don’t care for words on my butt, one eager red and one muddy blue. Not very interesting, but I don’t get out much. I needed to buy five because that's the deal, five for twenty-five, otherwise one for ten. Something along those margins.
Let me back up. My building doesn't have a laundry room so I have to drop off my clothing. When I recently picked up my bag of clean clothes I noticed there were only thirteen pairs of panties. Didn’t I own more underwear? How long had it been since I purchased underwear? If I couldn't recall was that too long? Maybe, maybe not. There aren't "use by" dates on the inside. However, thirteen was too few. A lady should at least own two weeks of underwear. Thus, fourteen is my bottom limit on bottoms. It was time to go underwear shopping. Wherever that other pair went, good luck to you, I thought. Or maybe it didn't end up in a stranger’s pile. Perhaps the launderer whose job it is to place my unmentionables into a pile held up one to the light and could see straight through to her other colleagues folding laundry. This was her attempt at inspiring me to move my life forward, from the crotch. My launderer was telling me something about myself I wish I hadn’t unintentionally shared.
However, no sooner had I bought five new pairs when I realized my original counting was off. I forgot the pair I was wearing. That made fourteen, two-weeks worth. Well then, no reason to make an unnecessary purchase. I could wait another couple of years. There are many laundromats in the city. Or I can move to a building that has machines and make this a private affair. I grabbed my receipt, the panties, and back to Victoria Secret I went.
When I presented everything to Victoria she requested my Driver’s License to process the return. Whatever for, I asked. She explained it is policy at Victoria Secret, whether exchanging, or returning, to take the customers Driver’s License and swipe it into a machine. Then, a Third Party stores your Drivers License and all its information, like date of birth, address and how you photograph in overhead fluorescent lighting, in a National Database. This is to keep track of repeat returners. It’s also illegal in California and I believe Iowa. Iowa?
I said, no thank you, let’s just skip the intrusion. Victoria held firm. No-Go. Thus, began a great debate. My first point was how the receipt did not mention in the returns policy printed repetitively on the back anything about swiping and a database. It merely states a form of ID is required. No-Go. My second point was about Identity Theft which I had experienced in the nineties and wasn't apt to repeat ever again. Who has access to this stored information, how is it being used, what protections are in place to prevent a hack? I tried to foment empathy by showing how threadbare, vulnerable and illusionary the assumed security of the system really was, not so dissimilar to my old underwear. Victoria was uninspired. By now there were two Victorias, both equally disinterested in Identity Theft. Double No-Go. My third resolution, twenty minutes in, was to be obnoxious. This involved alerting customers making a purchase of the Driver’s License policy. No-Go — and I was asked to leave the store. Sure, I said, after my return is completed.
Security was called. Not really phoned but done in such a manner that I had a moment when it felt like I was in a hidden camera segment. Fearing this, I reviewed my behavior, which had been earnest and naive to the gravitas of denying handing over the thing that allows me to drive a car and has nothing to do with panties. The version of myself that is indignant and unpleasant stayed hidden like the underwire in an overpriced modern corset until I let my inner kraken out and the light inside my heart dimmed. Perhaps I wasn't someone either of the Victorias would go shopping with, but I was not using hostility to usurp the power struggle between the three of us knowing it can't be reciprocated by either Victoria. In the moment I felt rightfully pissed-off that having a receipt and unused merchandise wasn't enough to get my money back. If I wasn't participating in a prank for entertainment purposes, was I really going to be removed from a store for wanting to make a return?
Victoria, in her black suit, more hussy bank teller than lingerie pusher, stepped back from the counter, quite like in a movie, or fulfilling a childhood dream, pulled up her collar with a hand, turned her head, and spoke into her shirt, “We need security at the registers. Security to the registers!!!” I interrupted her by pointing not ten feet away, just beyond the garters, but not quickly, nor with a straight arm, “Ma'am, he can see us and can hear you without the radio. We are within earshot.” To make my point I waved at the security guard. Victoria was un-humored and repeated the request to her collar with more urgency, “Security, security now at the registers.” The guard and I were looking at one another, the distance between us no more than where you'd start a simple game of egg toss before everyone takes a step back. He shrugged his shoulders, seeing me smiling and waving, and Victoria clutching her collar angrily. He seemed to want to discuss the issue from his post, where he was preventing actual theft.
Finally, I waved him over. Friendly guy, big smile, we had a lovely chat. Apparently and unfortunately, my feelings about sharing personal and private details with a national database were quite common. My response quite common. He explained about black market counterfeiting and how customers buy the real items and return fake goods. This makes sense if the item you are returning is of high value and the cost to produce a reproduction very small, but a five dollar pair of panties? It seems like the margins were in the thong range of coverage, more on the front end and very little on the back. You have production, shipping, purchasing real, returning fake, selling and putting the tiny holes on all those tags. That's time consuming. It's a lot of hours for cheap underwear that already feels like a thin copy made in china because they kind of are.
The security guard buttered me up instead of forcibly removing me. It was a masterclass in de-escalation via charm and diplomacy. The kraken returned to her den, the light in my heart pulsed on with reservation, and I gave up and let my Driver’s License be swiped. I did take the opportunity during a second tour of duty at the registers to enjoy my private audience with the Victorias. “Perhaps this wasn’t part of your training, but it’s not the sexy image your company projects to threaten customers making a twenty-five dollar return with security and forced removal. Additionally, I now hate Victoria’s Secret and will never purchase underwear here again. That is not to say I will not ever purchase underwear again, but instead I will at one of your competitors. Also, you never have enough black in my size anyways. May I please have your real names, so that I can write to the company about what it's like to make a return.” One of the Victorias wrote their names down on a piece of paper and now I too had some personal information.
Instead of writing to the company I wrote a review of the store online to let other people know of the policy. Part of my review was dedicated to the counterfeiting peeps; “If you're out there, you who are returning fake low-rise bikini underwear in black, pink and blue; A. thanks for making returns a privacy violation and B. heads-up, you'll now need a fake ID. Also, where can I buy five black pairs in my size?