Laticha Brown, chairperson of fashion business management at the Fashion Institute of Technology, agrees and adds that the arrival of fast fashion not only put a damper on the quality of mall brands but also transformed consumer attitudes too. “Even if it isn’t the other brand’s quality, it might have stayed the same—but they had a higher price point, whereas H&M or Zara came in with a lower price point,” she says. “The quality wasn’t the same. But then you get disposable fashion, where some people didn’t care, they just said, ‘I can get this fashion item. It looks like what is coming down the runway and I can get it at a better price.’”
Aside from the superior quality, however, many have gravitated toward the brands for nostalgic reasons too—the promise that buying one of these pieces might remind you of, or help you reclaim, your teen years. Clara Perlmutter—aka @tinyjewishgirl on Instagram—is known for her blindingly bright outfits and outré combinations of vintage and archival pieces, and recently bought an Abercrombie & Fitch denim skirt, an Aéropostale polo shirt, Bebe jeans, and Juicy Couture terrycloth shorts. Perlmutter grew up in Westchester, New York, which has a strong mall culture, and for her, delving into yesteryear mall brands is a stylistic choice as much as it is an emotional one.
“I am all about trying to please my inner child,” she says. “It basically explains all of my aesthetic decisions to this day. I would see cool older girls with their belly button piercings in their little Abercrombie and Bebe outfits and more than anything, I wanted to be them. Hence all the crop tops and my navel piercing today. I used to view the early 2010s as a dark age for fashion because I was an awkward middle schooler and I didn’t feel confident back then. Enough time has passed now, and I’m old enough that I can appreciate it all.” Clearly, Perlmutter isn’t alone.