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For years, I’d wait faithfully for the mailman to bring me a very, very important piece of mail. It wasn’t a birthday card or a letter from a friend, but rather, the dELia*s catalogue. I’d flip through the pages voraciously, trying to decide which bell-bottom diameter would best flatter my 11-year-old (aka non-existent) hips. The now-defunct store was the epitome of cool. While most mall brands haven’t survived the aughts (RIP Limited Too) — let alone the pandemic — there are a few that I still shop to this day: PacSun secretly has the best swimwear; I get all my jeans from Abercrombie; and most of my undergarments are from Aerie.
As it turns out, most of my friends feel like they’ve aged out shopping at these stores, so when I find something at one of them, I almost feel smug: Who knew the place that I used to dream about shopping at age 13 would become my mainstay for ribbed tank tops at age 33?
Ahead, five ‘90s mall brands that are as iconic now as they were in decades past.
I was first reintroduced to Aerie with its activewear: A lot of the brand’s offerings come in sizes XXS-2XL, so I was able to buy the same pair of leggings for both myself and my sister, which is a rare occurrence. I ended up perusing the intimates section and realized it’s filled with a range of styles that include comfortable basics, sexy thongs and briefs that just fit well — and I love that the brand doesn’t Photoshop their models into oblivion, so you can get a real feel for how things fit. (Oh, and in true mall brand form, Aerie is almost always having a sale.)
OFFLINE Real Me High Waisted Crossover Legging, $31.46 (Orig. $44.95)
OFFLINE Real Me Xtra Track Legging, $34.96 (Orig. $49.95)
Aerie Real Happy Wireless Lightly Lined Retro Lace Bra, $31.46 (Orig. $44.95)
Aerie Jacquard Longline Scoop Bikini Top, $19.97 (Orig. $39.95)
Say what you will about the Kardashian-Jenners, but Kendall and Kylie make one heck of a swimsuit. For a recent vacation in Mexico, I bought five new suits under the impression that I’d have to return most of them, but unfortunately for my wallet, they all fit perfectly. The same was true for any of PacSun’s private-label suits, made under the brand LA Hearts. Plus, the Cali-themed mall brand also has an impressive selection of tanks, jeans and jackets that are perfect for a cool summer night.
LA Hearts Lace-Up Corset Tank Top, $15 (Orig. $29.95)
Kendall & Kylie Button Down Wrap Around Top, $25.86 (Orig. $36.95)
LA Hearts by PacSun Button Front Mesh Mini Dress, $37.56 (Orig. $46.95)
Kendall & Kylie Eco Black Ashley Tie Front Bikini Top, $23.06 (Orig. $32.95)
There’s no smell that transports me back to 2003 quite as strongly as Abercrombie cologne. But real talk: I’m not sure I can ever overcome the PTSD from getting made fun of as a teenager for not being able to fit into Abercrombie’s clothing. Anything I could afford from them came from Abercrombie Kids — and the little moose was a dead giveaway that I wasn’t “developed’ enough — and that I paid less than those shopping at the “real” Abercrombie. These days, though, the brand is more grown up. Even though it may never completely lose its Chad connotation, Abercrombie boasts some really well-made pieces, including denim, tanks and outerwear.
Cinched Fleece Popover Hoodie, $41.30 (Orig. $59)
Utility Puffer, $200
Curve Love High Rise Dad Shorts, $35.40 (Orig. $59)
Foot Locker was one of those stores I was never excited to go into. My dad would drag me in before the school year, usually when they were having a sale for sneakers to try on what felt like a million pairs of sneakers that were practical but deeply uncool. These days, I still love trying on shoes before I buy them, but I’m free to shop whatever trendy pair of shoes I want. Even though I still go for practical basics, having the option feels like the ultimate freedom.
adidas Ultraboost DNA, $180
Nike Air Max 97, $170
adidas Adilette, $29.99
Crocs Classic Slide, $25 (Orig. $30)
Nike Air Max 270, $150
I don’t think I ever stopped shopping at Urban Outfitters — but the way I shop there changed quite drastically. Instead of picking out pieces that are core to my wardrobe, I shop basics that round it out, instead. That means my cart is usually full of tank tops, tees, bikinis and sweats — and the occasional home decor piece.
Billabong Pretty In Plaid Underwire Bikini Top, $24.99 (Orig. $70)
If you enjoyed this story, check out the 21 under-$100 shoes that Lauren Caruso wears over and over!
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