How an Adolescence Without Abercrombie Turned Me Into a Mall Store Fangirl
In the mid-2000s, I, like much of teenage America, worshipped at the temple of Abercrombie & Fitch—their shrunken logo tees, distressed denim, and ads filled with collegiate-looking boys and girls in various states of undress.
Except I wasn’t in America—I was across the border in Toronto, 100 miles (or 160 kilometers) away from the closest store. We may have had free health care, progressive politics, and excellent bagels, but we didn’t have a single Abercrombie, Hollister, Victoria’s Secret, or Wet Seal—and for a middle schooler, this seemed maddeningly unfair.
So, we did what any self-respecting teenage girl would do, and forced our parents—or, rather, annoyed them until they relented—to drive us on pilgrimages to the promised land: The Walden Galleria in Buffalo, New York. Our mecca of mall shopping.
It wasn’t just the crappy exchange rate that made their lace-trimmed tanks and colorful sweats worth their weight in gold to us—their geographic unattainability rendered them the ultimate status symbol. To the untrained (read: adult) eye, there may have been no discernible difference between an American Eagle tee, which we could pick up at our local shopping center, and one from A&F, but to snobby high-school girls, the tiny bird and moose logos might as well have branded you as different species.
MORE: Wait, When Did Wet Seal Get Cool?
Abercrombie’s marketing strategy at the time was particularly potent—from their shopping bags, adorned with muscular torsos and suggestively-bulging flies, to their catalogs, populated by skinny blonde girls with boyfriends and B-cups (two things I wanted, but definitely did not have in eighth grade).
For my thirteenth birthday, I took a trip to New York with my mom and two friends, and, more than FAO Schwartz or the Statue of Liberty, the place we really wanted to go was Abercrombie, which at the time meant a schlep down to tip of the island at the South Street Seaport to the brand’s sole Manhattan store at the time. I can’t tell you what I bought exactly (a denim miniskirt? Some “Property of A&F” tees?) but I can still remember the rest of it: the electronic music blasted loud enough to make you think you were in a nightclub (as if I would’ve known what that was like—as you can see below, I looked approximately five years old), the assault ofhot guycologne pumped through the vents, and the lights dimmed so low you couldn’t really know what color hoodie you’d picked up until you got to the dressing room. (One thing was for sure: it wasn’t black, since then-CEOMichael Jeffrieshad a longstanding ban on the color.)
I’m pretty sure the memory still triggers a stress headache in my mother. We, of course, were in heaven.
That’s me on the left.
Fast forward thirteen years, and I now live a short subway ride away from that same store. I’ve passed by the Hollister on Broadway and Houston Street what must be hundreds of times, and Victoria’s Secret windows are an inescapable part of my morning commute.
All three retailers have since opened doors in Canada—with resounding success, I might add, although Target didn’t fare as well—while some of our homegrown fashion companies—Aritzia, Lululemon, Hudson’s Bay Co. (which now owns Lord & Taylor and Saks Fifth Avenue)—have expanded south.
In the age of online shopping, geographic novelty is increasingly rare—although with customs and duty charges, having a local store is a way less pricey proposition. (I spent years having friends’ J.Crew orders shipped to my New York address until they finally came to Toronto in 2014.) As for the stores themselves, much has been written about the struggles of A&F in an age when the teen ideal is no longer homogeneously thin, white, and preppy, and, like Wet Seal, the brand is in the midst of an intensive reinvention phase, casting a more diverse array of models, tapping fresh design talent, and turning the damn lights up in its stores. It’s also focused on reconnecting with its heritage roots, something the team drove home at their recent Fall 2019 press preview, which featured roomy leather totes, dark-wash jeans with let-down hems, and varsity bomber jackets with collegiate logos—the vast majority of which seemed grown-up, wearable, and miles away from the flippy tiered miniskirts that I coveted a decade ago.
I don’t know if teens will ever feel quite the same fervor for mall brands that once made a two-and-a-half hour drive seem like a reasonable thing to ask of our parents (I mean, at least we didn’t get them to stand in line with us for seven hours for aJustin Biebersweatshirt … right?) but the nostalgic in me hopes they at least throw the old guys an Instagram follow or add them to the ever-growing list of 2000s-era fashion trends having a second coming—if not to appease fans from back in the day, then because the clothes are actually cute again.
Don’t believe me? Here’s proof—in the gallery, we’ve rounded up 25 styles from “teen” retailers that are totally wearable in 2019.
Video: The dangerous ways ads see women | Jean Kilbourne | TEDxLafayetteCollege
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