Shopping At Hollister With My Grandmother

A tragedy.

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

I won’t suggest it too soon. I’ll wait, while she takes me to a few stores that sell clothes she’d like to see me in. The floral dresses that let her hold her head high at synagogue when she introduces me to people like an item of prized livestock. After we’ve hit the safe stores, I’ll start feeling brave. I’ll suggest we go to Hollister.

Hollister, for those whose birth year starts with a 2, was a more surf-y version of Abercrombie & Fitch that you could shop at in a mall before those places turned into ruins photographers descend upon like ancient Rome. It was, without question, marketed directly and rather strongly to teens. There’s a very special sort of person who will spend $40 in the year 2000 on a long sleeve t-shirt with holes in it and they are, unquestionably, not yet earning a living.

Hollister was a brand that sold clothing for days on California beaches to kids living in suburban Texas but somehow thought the best venue for doing so was a space as dimly lit as a meditation studio and as loud as a Mardi Gras parade. It was an enticing cave with piles of surfboards stacked outside and an interior layout that rivaled most casinos in Vegas. Once you were in, you were in, and I’m almost certain that each purchase came with a map to guide you back to the front entrance. On the walls were photos of teenagers not wearing enough clothing, and the perfume of popular people was piped through the air to set the mood and gently scent the professionally folded stacks of coveted, over-branded sweatshirts that were constantly being tended to by a girl named Misty.

It used to confuse me. Why on earth would a store create a space so repulsive to parents when it’s our parents who buy us clothes? I maybe made it to Hollister three times with elder family members of mine before I decided the stress wasn’t worth the reward, and I never shopped there again. By the time I started shopping alone, with my own money, I had the good sense to go to stores that weren’t trying to sell me on midriff dreams that would never come true.

Now I know why they did it. My adult marketing brain fully understands why Hollister stores resembled dorm rooms. They wanted to get us alone. Isolate us from the responsible beings who made the purchasing decisions in our families and pick us off from the heard. Only then could they take advantage of our complete lack of common sense and birthday checks we’d cashed the day before. They specifically wanted us to leave our parents outside because we couldn’t bear the shame of their reactions to the environment at Hollister. They wanted us to shop alone, where they could weave their overpriced high school hallway fashion magic and get us to buy things that never fit right again after one wash.

But I never shopped alone. I only ever shopped with my grandmother. It was our thing. We’d have lunch and go shopping. Those days, Hollister visits notwithstanding, are some of the most precious memories I have. Even as a hormonal, perpetually confused teenager I knew they were treasure, so I never resisted. I never told my grandmother I wanted to shop alone. If I wanted something that I knew there was no way in hell she’d buy, I’d save my coins and stuff it into my backpack during a trip to the mall with friends to make fun of the outfits the corndog people had to wear.

If you’ve never been to Hollister with your grandmother, you’ll be unfamiliar with that singular experience. Allow me to walk you through the process in great, emotionally painful detail because why not revisit your teens? They were such a treat.

“Why is it so dark in here?”

But you have to imagine it said loudly, and with Jewish grandmother from Chicago enthusiasm. She couldn’t have given a solitary shit who heard her complain about the ambience, not even if there were other kids from my school in the store. It didn’t make any sense to her, nor should it have. Shopping is an activity centered largely around visuals, and it is counterproductive to light your retail environment in much the same way you would a romantic rooftop garden. But I didn’t care about that when I was suddenly made to feel so immature and young in front of the salespeople who were precisely my age. Jesus, I’d have preferred a total blackout in those moments.

“Everything’s ripped!”

At this point I’m regretting my decision. This was foolishness on my part. Not only will it take a hefty amount of convincing to get my grandmother to greenlight a purchase from this place, but by the time I actually leave with it I’ll feel so guilty for letting her down by falling for Hollister’s antics that I’ll strongly consider returning the shirt before we’ve made it back to the car. And don’t get me started on the jeans. I think it is beyond the physical capability of a grandparent to see a pair of jeans with holes in them and not tell the person wearing them that there is a hole in their jeans. Sure, you can buy that pair of perfectly distressed low-rise pants, but you’ll have to answer for them, forever.

“It’s so loud!”

Which, of course, she has to shout to make sure I can hear her disgust. And oh, you innocents, it never stopped there. She couldn’t just acknowledge that the music was loud, she had to do something about it. There would be no discomfort to my grandmother, not when she was the customer, thank you. My grandmother would find as many salespeople as she could, literally hunt them down one by one, to ask them to lower the volume on the music. A yes from one was not enough, she required agreement from all. She’d have the same five-minute conversation with each of them about how she doesn’t approve of the way they run their establishment, never once considering the fact that she was speaking to a 16-year-old minimum wage employee for whom that loud music was the only thing making their job bearable. I would often find a dark corner during this phase of the shopping trip and pretend I was having a really hard time finding my size.

“These prices are crazy!”

To be fair, I agreed, but when you’re a teenager you’ll pay anything if it means you can be confident in what you’re wearing. That confidence comes from knowing it’s some version of what everyone else is wearing, too. I kind of find it amusing that now the most expensive pieces of clothing I own are the loungewear and pajamas that are seen by no one but me.

“Try it on, I’ll wait right here.”

And I’d get naked under a dim overhead light that cast a zombielike pallor across my face and body and try to look like the girls in the pictures on the walls and in the catalogues that used to come to my house. Reader, I never did. My grandmother would be right outside the door to my dressing room, asking me, “is it on yet?” before I’d even untied my other shoe, often opening the door in my most vulnerable, bra-clad moments. Her favorite critique: “It doesn’t do anything for you.”

“You sure you don’t want it?”

Perhaps the biggest twist was that my grandmother was very generous with me. If I wanted two shirts, I’d say I wanted one, but she’d push me to get both, “while we’re here.” I always vehemently disagreed because I think some part of me really did feel bad for giving this fa’cacta store her business. These arguments at the cash register wherein I tried to hide my face from my contemporary behind the counter lest I be recognized at a movie theater two weeks later were sometimes best ended by letting her do whatever she wanted. Anything to leave, and correct the mistake I’d made by falling victim to trend.

My grandmother is my favorite person of all time. Even writing this, and needing to dig into my shame archives in order to do so, I missed her. What I wouldn’t give to hear her complain to management about how “this dress doesn’t cover anything!” I’d trade you ten years off the end of my life right now if I could have one more shopping day with my grandmother, going to lunch at The Black Eyed Pea before beginning our quest for clothes. I’d even let her leave the dial in the car set to NewsRadio 1080, KRLD with no complaint. Only this time, I’d suggest we shop at Ross.

Written by

NPR once called me a humor essayist, let’s go with that. Host of A Single Serving Podcast. shanisilver[at]gmail

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