Late 1980s through mid 1990s mall culture was very important to me (if you’d like to read more mall memories from me, check out this article that ran on Nerdbot). I’m a sucker for all things nostalgia, but the two things that scratch the memory itch better than anything else are retro television commercials and mall related material. I’m a child of the suburbs, so going to the mall was what we did. My grandmother also spent most of her life working at Sears, so early trips to the mall meant going to see grandma and playing the Nintendo they had set up there. Once I reached middle school, I needed to be cool. That meant mall fashions. The following are the clothing brands that a 12-year-old boy who was desperately trying to establish an identity without bettering his personality had to have. Sit back and enjoy the article. Hopefully you aren’t reading it in an uncomfortable place, like the back seat of a Volkswagen (Affleck was the bomb in Phantoms).
I have a hereditary disease called being raised Catholic that causes me to remember everything that ever made me feel guilt or shame. This is why I still recall the time I told a friend’s mom that he was only a borderline dork because he played sports, but he would be much cooler if she bought him IOU sweatshirts. I’m soooo glad that memory will be joining me on my deathbed. IOU was Merry Go Round’s private label, and was sold in their stores and subsidiaries, like Chess King. They were extremely popular in the first few years of the 1990s, and after a great deal of hectoring I convinced my mom to buy me two. I’m not sure why she hesitated. Who wouldn’t want to pay $50 for a sweatshirt with a too busy, mediocre design screened onto it, and some dumb legend like “Worldwide” or “Accept No Substitute?”
IOU sweatshirts were hideous, which is why I will pay no more than $60 for a used one on Etsy, and I will limit my purchases to one this time.
B.U.M. was a bit of a step down in exclusivity from IOU, mostly because B.U.M. could be purchased from JC Penny. It also leaned much more heavily into its apparel being functional sportswear, as opposed to a fashion item to be paired with Z. Cavaricci jeans like IOU. B.U.M. was introduced in Los Angeles in 1986, and by 1992 it was a very visible national brand. The designs were very simple, usually just incorporating the name of the brand on a solid background.
Our family sported a fair amount of B.U.M. Equipment, particularly my older sister and me. They were solid oversized sweatshirts, and the fact that they could be purchased in the department stores that my mom favored and you didn’t have to go to the hip teen oriented stores in the mall was a selling point. B.U.M. folded in the mid 1990s but has since been revived, and now can be found in places like Urban Outfitters.
Hypercolor was the most widely accessible of these early 1990s brands, mostly because you were dealing with t-shirts, so the price was more manageable. Hypercolor shirts were cool, but not exactly imbued with the same sort of status you got with B.U.M. or IOU. It less preppy, more like No Fear would be a few years later. Hypercolor tees featured a thermochromatic pigment, which Wikipedia assures me is a real word even though spell check doesn’t seem to think so. In terms you can find in the dictionary, it means that the shirt changed color when exposed to heat or cold. Hypercolor tees were launched in 1991 and immediately became hugely popular, selling $50 million worth in a few months. The popularity was fleeting, and I’m pretty sure it didn’t last more than a couple of years.
I owned one, and my main takeaway was that the color change stopped working after a short time. 2/10, would honestly probably buy again, regardless.
Nothing defined cool more to a pre-teen in 1992 than Starter jackets. Starter jackets were everywhere in the early 1990s, terrifying suburban moms and dads. If you wore a Raiders jacket it of course meant you were in a gang and you would be jumped, beaten, and/or shot for the jacket, even if you lived in Amherst, Ohio. I owned one Starter jacket. Being that I was a lifelong Cleveland sports fan, it should come as no surprise to you that I owned a Dallas Cowboys one. 12-year-old boys are fickle, frontrunning little shits, which is why I also owned a Braves jacket (Cooperstown Collection, not Starter). Now of course I’d kill for an early 1990s Browns or Cavs jacket, bonus if it’s one with the hideous teal, orange, and black Cavs color scheme. I love the Indians, but nobody needs a huge Wahoo on their back in 2019.
It wasn’t just the denizens of Amherst, Ohio, who were rocking Starter jackets and dodging drive bys for said jackets. Starter has been around since 1971, and beginning around 1990 sales exploded, at one point reaching nearly $400 million in a year. Starter fell off a cliff sales wise in the late 1990s, and the name was sold off. It was purchased by Nike in 2004.
Beginning around five years ago, Starter began producing satin jackets and pullovers again, and the brand has had a major resurgence. This time around maybe I’ll actually pick up a Cleveland team’s coat.
Just as long as it isn’t an Apex. I feel for the poor sons of bitches whose parents got them one instead.
What were your favorite brands? Let me know below, or on Twitter.
There’s a guy on YouTube who is documenting the slow death of my local mall, Midway Mall in Elyria, Ohio. Check it out below if you’d like.