Friday, November 7, 2014

Clothing Stores I've Loved and Lost

I used to love shopping at real, live brick-and-mortar stores for clothes. Because I used to find things of interest there, unusual garments, quirky fun clothes, fashions I could work into a wacky wonderful wardrobe of my own style somehow. Even without thrift-shopping, there was a time when "going shopping" was a fun hobby in its own right.

I was part of the first-generation of mall rats in the U.S., in the heart of suburban California, I was essentially a Valley Girl -- ok, Silicon Valley, but still, like, totally, omg, gag me with a spoon, it was the '80s, and shopping malls were our native habitat. Most weekends, my girlfriends and I roamed the malls in search of good times and cool clothes.

This continued, off and on, for me through college and the early '90s, as mall culture wore down, stores changed, and the Internet started to take off. My needs changed, but I still wanted new clothes, and for many years, catalogs were a bigger supplement to malls than the Internet itself. Until finally, even that faded away, and now all my favorite brands are gone.

Today, I'm left with just the hodgepodge of big retailers. Sure, they're reliable for sales, their websites are searchable, and I can generally find something. But they don't specialize, they don't cater to my needs the way these long-lost faves did... ah, back when once upon a time there was...

Judy's clothing store
Judy's -- This California-based chain had about 70 women's clothing stores in Western U.S. states at its peak in the mid-'80s. This was the first store that I really clicked with. It sold cutting-edge clothes and accessories, very hip styles, things like you'd see in new wave music videos. The prices were just at the edge of my allowance, I always saved up for a month before buying anything there. The chain had an annual blow-out sale, early on a Sunday morning, at a large, regional mall that my best friend and I went to (begging whoever's mom could stand taking us), and we'd buy a HUGE bag of really crazy stuff.

Contempo Casual clothing store
Contempo Casuals -- The last 200-some-odd stores were acquired by Wet Seal in 1995, but before that, this mall store was the supplier of A LOT of my wardrobe from 1984 to 1992. Every pair of leggings I wore (in every color!), all the big button-down shirts, a ton of broomstick skirts, scads of brocade and lace New Romantic stuff, piles of accessories, you name it. The brand gets some anti-nostalgic flack for being the home of neon, baggy '80s weirdness, but damn, those sale racks was where I built a fabulous RomantiGoth wardrobe on a reasonable budget! You can still find some of the labels turning up on eBay, but the really good stuff seems lost to history.

Newport News clothing catalog
Newport News -- This was my one, great, mail-order love. I bought from Newport News using actual paper catalogs long before it ever had a website (snail-mail, how novel!). The brand has been subsumed into Spiegel's catalog, and all the unique clothes are gone. Back in the day, us goth girls online would alert each other to the latest Newport News offerings. Did you see the velvet duster coat? It comes in black *or* burgundy! And the faux riding jacket, I wonder if the buttons are functional? Yay, more silk poet blouses -- and there's a sale, stock up. We joked that it's a good thing we didn't all live in the same city, or we'd have to worry about showing up wearing the same Newport News dress or coat. Sadly, I only have a few items left from those days that are still in good condition and that fit. I have an eBay search saved for this brand and occasionally find classics. But alas, no retailer has really filled the void for this or any of the others.

What I'm wearing: Black & white stripe knit jacket, Marshalls | Black T-shirt, Target | Black jeans, Eddie Bauer | Red heeled ankle boots, Aerosoles | Black bat necklace, Walgreens | Pewter key earrings, made by me

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