Helene, my new girl crush.

Next weekend, I have to travel for work. I’m going to be at a conference from Sunday through Thursday, running around like a madwoman.

I rarely wear flats. Rarely wear anything less than a 3 inch heel to work, really. Sadly, running around a hotel for four days doesn’t go so well in heels, and my black almost-flats died at the end of last summer. I’ve been on a mission to replace them, but haven’t found anything suitable yet. So, last Saturday, I went to the mall. I confess: I’m not strictly vintage. I wear a lot of repro and I have good luck finding classic styles at places like JC Penney and Ann Taylor.

And my mall just got a White House Black Market. The website really doesn’t do their clothing justice – they have some gorgeous dresses and skirts that work nicely in a vintage-lover-who-can’t-always-find-real-vintage wardrobe. Anyway, I popped in. They had a ton of lovely summery strapless dresses with circle skirts, all way over my budget, so I drifted toward the back of the store and the sale racks.

And there she was. All almost five feet of her, with her giant tortoiseshell sunglasses, lipstick, gobs of jewelry and yellowy pinned-back hair that could be old lady hair, could be dyed. “That’s a really nice top–and that color would look great on you. I love red on redheads.”

Bingo. She got me. “I love red.”

“Have you seen this? And that skirt goes well with it, we’ve got another red top over here…” and she was tearing through the racks finding me anything red in sight. She set me up with a dressing room, gave great feedback to the gal in there trying on clothes and modelling for her mother, and drifted back out front to greet new shoppers. Adorable and efficient. Her name is Helene (Hell. Lane.)

I wound up with a fabulous red wrap dress. Not really as vintage as I usually go, but you can wad up the fabric, stuff it at the bottom of a suitcase, pull it out, put it on and walk out the door wrinkle-free. Love that. “That’s like a Diane von Furstenburg dress–classic. And it fits you beautifully. It’s on sale, too: a really good price, that’s how you want to buy things here.”

Helene came across with a lovely sincerity. When I rejected one of the tops I tried on, she asked why – I told her I loved it, but the back dipped low enough to reveal part of one of my tattoos, which I don’t want to show at work. She nodded in solemn agreement. “No, you don’t want that. How about this? No, that has the same line in the back.” This woman in her late 60s/early 70s was completely not freaked out by my tattoos. She talked me into signing up for the email newsletter…I had to walk her through part of the POS so she could enter my birthday month. Her response: “Will you look at that! You taught me something new today.”

Helene rocks. She’s got a wonderful combination of style, grace, and manners: She encapsulates the old-school high-end department store level of customer service. I was already planning to become a frequent shopper at White House Black Market to stay on top of the sale racks, but now I’ll stop by just to check in with Helene. Great customer service will do that.

Especially when it reinforces my obsession with awesome little old ladies.

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