By chance I recently unearthed an old article from the UK newspaper the Daily Mirror. When I say old, I mean old - this article is from 2005. But I thought I would post about it, partly because it really irritated me and partly because this flags up something that, for quite a few of us, is still a fairly regular occurence.
The article is about a sixteen-year-old called Melissa Fletcher, and you've probably guessed this already, but she's a Goth (or was at the time). When out shopping with her friends, Melissa was banned from entering a shopping centre by security guards - despite having already visited the centre once that day with her mother, and causing no trouble whatsoever - because her appearance (red and black hair, a lip ring and black clothes) would 'put shoppers off buying'.
What the hell? Really? Now, I can understand that young people in 'funny' clothes can be intimidating - I, for example, might cross the street to avoid a loud group of young people with low-slung jeans and backwards baseball caps - so if you're an elderly person who knows very little about subcultures then I can understand why somebody in a long black trenchcoat and black lipstick might be a teeny bit frightening. So if they had cited their reasoning as not wanting to frighten OAPs, I might have understood.
But putting shoppers off buying? I never heard that one before. You get all sorts in a shopping centre; and I can tell you that as a highly dedicated shopaholic, the only kind of person that will put me off my spending and make me leave a shop is one who is attempting to put their hands on my person or who is being very loud or very rude (or potently unwashed). Not a young person shopping with their friends and minding their own business, whatever they happen to be wearing.
Melissa's mother Sharon told the Mirror, "Melissa does not drink, smoke or take drugs. She knows what is right and what is wrong but dressing differently is no reason to be singled out. Melissa had money in her pockets to spend but she did not even get through the front door. The security guard told me later that he was under strict orders not to let them in because of the way they looked."
Excuse me whilst I fume about this for a moment.
A spokesperson for the shopping centre (the Triangle in Manchester) had nothing to say other than, "If it is believed the behaviour of some is likely to compromise the safety or enjoyment of others, then the Triangle is able to reserve the right to refuse admission," which I personally think is rot, because since Melissa had already been inside the centre once that day behaving like a perfectly respectable and sensible young adult, why would shopping centre staff have any reason to believe her behaviour, and that of her friends, would be anything other than equally mannerly? Oh, of course... she had black clothes on. *facepalm* Silly me.
Rage about this particular situation aside, again, I can to a certain extent understand why security staff and store detectives in what seems like a rather large number of shops and malls might be wary about Goths, especially the younger variety. We have a tendency towards long coats and (in some cases) trousers with lots of pockets. We often travel in packs, although ironically this is partially for personal safety in some cases. We lurk around make-up counters a lot, where there are lots of small, stealable items.
But when not wearing long coats or large flappy trousers, it can get ever-so-tedious being followed by what feels like every security guard in every shop I go into (especially Asda for some reason...), or getting the 'warning glare' from the person behind the counter. (It's not paranoia when they really are watching you...)
I tend to take an 'attack is the best form of defence' approach to overzealous security guards (who, it must be noted, are probably missing out on catching the actual thieves by being too busy following me, you and other harmless darklings around). That is to say, if they have been lurking around me in a really obvious way for too long I turn to them, smile my biggest smile and say, "I don't need any help, thanks. I'm just looking at the moment." If I have to walk back towards the doors to get a basket, I will quite often walk up to the security guard first and tell them that that is what I am doing. They tend to back off somewhat after being - politely, yet firmly - addressed.
Not to say, of course, that all Goths are polite and courteous people who wouldn't dream of stealing - some, I'm sure, would happily take advantage of a five-finger discount. But such are certainly a very small minority, and I would have thought that focusing on following Goths around would therefore quickly become a waste of time that could be better spent elsewhere.