His life had hit rock bottom after his girlfriend dumped him.
" Desperate to regain my swagger, I decided I needed to study women, to go somewhere I could immerse myself in them," Pilny said.
So Pilny filled out an application and became one of the very few men to work retail at the lingerie powerhouse (more than 90% of Victoria's Secret employees are women). He worked there for more than a year, learning the ins-and-outs of women's underwear.
We asked Pilny, who now works as a writer and humorist , about what it's like for a straight man to work at Victoria's Secret.
Business Insider: Why don't you think a lot of men work at VS?
Chris Pilny: Applying for a job at Victoria’s Secret is essentially like buying condoms. Except that, instead of being able to pretend like you’re looking at candy bars while you throw the box at the cashier, you’re looking at a (usually female) manager, telling them you’d like to sell women’s undergarments for a living. It’s nerve-racking, to say the least.
The thing that men need to remember is that Victoria’s Secret was a company founded by a man (Roy Raymond) as a place for men to go and comfortably shop for lingerie for their wives/girlfriends. Though their marketing has changed since that point, men need not to feel like perverts if they want to go in there, or work there. It’s a job just like any other. It has its benefits and it has its downsides.
BI: How did friends and family react when you told them your plans?
CP: Pretty well. My parents watched me change majors seven times in five years. By that point, they looked at me and said, “Well, we can’t say we saw this coming, but it kinda makes sense you’d end up selling bras when you look at the past couple years.”
BI: Did you ever meet any potential dates at work?
CP: I did. I was putting some beauty products away one afternoon when this girl and her friend walked up. I asked them a pretty standard retail question. “Is there anything I can do for you today?” One of them turned towards me and said, “Take me to a dinner and a movie.” We exchanged numbers and it was set.
Now, I never did take her on a date. She wasn’t my type. I just wanted to see if a woman would really give her number to a man working at Victoria’s Secret. The answer is, yes.
BI: What surprised you about working at Victoria's Secret?
CP: That women would still date me. A few days after I’d applied, a friend said to me, “You do realize you’re going to be single the entire time you work there, right? No woman is going to date a guy who sells thongs for a living!”
In my stunned, semi-depressed silence, I had to admit she was right. What woman in her right mind would date a guy who works at Victoria's Secret? Lack of income aside, it was the closest thing you could get to dating a gigolo. Only Tom Jones and Wilt Chamberlin had handled more panties than I had.
It turns out, however, that girls will date a guy who works at Victoria's Secret. I'm still not sure if it’s because they liked me or my panty discount , but I didn't really care. I could spend my days advising 40 different women which panties they should buy, then go home at night to a girl who thought nothing of it. What else could you ask for as man?
BI: What do you think is something smart VS does as a business?
CP: They make sure their employees are well-versed in the product. Yeah, it might have taken me six months to learn all of the bras in the store, but that's what happens as a man. You have no freaking clue what you’re looking at it. It could be a Very Sexy push-up; it could be a Nakeds demi; it could be a Cottons full coverage; or it could simply be a double-pouched water balloon launcher.
BI: What do you think VS could do to improve its business?
CP: I mean, what do you say about a man whose net worth is $4.5 billion? I think Les Wexner (chairman and CEO of Limited Brands, Victoria's Secret's parent company) is doing a great job.
The problem that Victoria’s Secret faces is the same problem that all retail companies face: customer satisfaction.
Sometimes I found managers applied rules (in regards to customer returns, etc.), and others they didn’t. It was frustrating as an employee, and when I got in a scuff with my store manager about it, she said to me, “The only rule is this: the customer needs to be satisfied.”
You bet I gave away a lot of free stuff after that.
BI: How did your job at VS change your life?
Pilny: It changed my perception of women forever, specifically how they communicate with one another. As a man, you naively assume that every interaction you have with a woman is going to remain in a vacuum.
I only assumed this because that’s how men communicate — in swaths; and I’m not sure why I even still believed this at the time. I’d had inside information for years that women, when left alone, get down to the nitty gritty.
Working at Victoria’s Secret didn’t necessarily make me better with women, it simply brought my image of them into a more realistic and startling focus.
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