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I Tried To Shop Like It Was 1998

You can't go back. Or can you???

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Hi, I'm Joanna. This is me c. 1998.

Joanna Borns / BuzzFeed

In this photo I'm roughly 13. My shoes are definitely from Delia's. My shirt is from Gadzooks. (And of course I'm playing with a cat.)

At this point in my life, I loved going to the mall. Maybe even more than cats. As a13-year-old, there were a few stores I had to hit up: Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle, Bath & Body Works, and Claire's. I haven't set foot in these stores in at least 10 years.

I realize that most of these stores are targeted at teens, and as an adult, I should probably accept that these clothes are not really meant for me anymore. Just kidding! I decided to go back to the stores I loved as a teen to see if I could recreate the magic of the late '90s. (And maybe a little early 2000s.)

As a late '90s Midwestern tween, the gold standard was Abercrombie & Fitch. (Emphasis on the "was.")

Joanna Borns / BuzzFeed

When you enter the store today you are still greeted by a giant photo of models.

I always found this store very intimidating. It seemed like the people who worked there knew I didn't belong, because I wasn't cool. At the same time, the salespeople were so aloof I never had to worry about interacting with them, which was great.

The employees of the modern-day Abercrombie I went to were much friendlier than the ones in my hometown mall in the days of yore. The store still reeked of perfume, but it was not as dark as I remembered, and the music was gentle indie rock and not the thick techno beats that used to pound through the mall.

13-year-old me would've gone bonkers for this lion t-shirt.

Joanna Borns / BuzzFeed

As a teen I always gravitated toward the T-shirts because they were usually the cheapest thing in the store. One time my mom heard the lyrics to LFO's "Summer Girls" ("I like girls that wear Abercrombie & Fitch blah blah Chinese food, etc.") and she asked me, "Is this why you like that store so much?" And I was like, "EW, MOM, NO." I was very offended.

I was really into these cutoff sweat shorts as a teen, and they still sell them!

Joanna Borns / BuzzFeed

Was Abercrombie a pioneer of athleisure? These sweat shorts came on the scene in the early 2000s. I remember owning a pair (OK, fine, two pairs) that said "Abercrombie" on the butt. Man, remember words on the butt? Let's bring that back. Butt words for everyone!


Is this a look that says "Invite me to your cool party in the woods"?

Joanna Borns / BuzzFeed

I also had to try on some sweat shorts for old times sake. I'm not sure why I gravitated toward a color that blends in so well with my own flesh. Actually, I do know. They were the first ones I spotted in my size. I always panic while looking for my size in a store. I want to spend as little time as possible searching. Every second is another risk a salesperson will come up and ask me if they can help find my size, and then I'd have to say it out loud and have an awkward interaction.


It didn't really "fit," per se. But it was a nice idea.

For the record I'm wearing cool, athletic bicycle shorts, not weird giant underwear.

This location also sold children's clothing, which I had a hard time distinguishing from the adult clothing. I'm pretty sure this shirt/dress was meant for adults, but there's no way to know for sure.

Next, there was American Eagle, a slightly less cool but MUCH less intimidating version of Abercrombie & Fitch.

Joanna Borns / BuzzFeed

As I walked into the above modern-day American Eagle, I thought, Am I allowed to be in here? If they knew how old I was would they kick me out?

While it was slightly less prestigious in teen world than Abercrombie, it was still weirdly overpriced. I remember the salespeople at the American Eagle in my childhood mall were VERY AGGRESSIVE. Sometimes I was scared to go in because I didn't want to talk to them.

I tried on a pair of button-down flares to really transport myself back to junior high.

Joanna Borns / BuzzFeed

I still can't believe THIS was the optimal denim look. The horror of trying on flared jeans in a pre-stretch-denim world came flooding back to me.


Then it was time for smells. Bath & Body Works, we meet again.

Joanna Borns / BuzzFeed

My go-to scent in eighth grade was "coconut lime verbena." I'm not sure if I even really liked it. I think I just got into it because I saw a popular girl give it as a gift at a birthday party. I didn't even know what "verbena" was. Still don't!

They recently brought back some of their "throwback" scents, the most memorable being cucumber melon.

Joanna Borns / BuzzFeed

I always thought cucumber melon was a weird smell to obsess over because neither cucumbers nor melons are really known for their amazing aromas.

I took a big whiff of the cucumber melon. And then I made the mistake of spritzing something called Malibu Heat.

It was time to leave the store when I felt nauseous from all the smells. Just like in the old days!


I decided to make an out-of-the-mall stop at a drugstore, because in the late '90s I spent a lot of time in the beauty aisle. The variety of today's nail polish colors would've made my 13-year-old head explode.

Joanna Borns / BuzzFeed

Remember when the only unusual nail polish color in the drug store was the navy blue Wet & Wild? As a kid I bought it as soon as I saw it and my clarinet teacher called me "goth" for wearing it.


Joanna Borns / BuzzFeed

I have a theory that highlighters* are so popular now because everyone secretly wishes it was still cool to wear glitter.

(*The makeup, not the markers. There's always at least one confused person.)

I put on a bold amount of glitter to avenge my younger self. In sixth grade I bought a tube of roll-on glitter. I tried wearing it once. My dad matter-of-factly asked, "Oh, are you wearing glitter?" "No!" I said and rubbed it off in embarrassment.

Traces of glitter remained on my person for at least five days after washing this off.


I had to search the entire store to find the ultimate late '90s staple: butterfly clips. Finally, I found them in the very back corner.

I ended up finding more authentic butterfly clips from an Etsy store called Goth Wave.

Joanna Borns / BuzzFeed

I remember the first time I wore my hair like this in eighth grade. It felt like my greatest achievement. And perhaps it is still my greatest achievement.

Honestly, you can transport yourself back in time, if only for a split second, by revisiting your old habits.

As an adult, I found that I'm less afraid of the scary things my younger self wanted to do, like wearing glitter in public, or going inside an Abercrombie & Fitch. In my effort to be an 8th grader again, I only humiliated myself a small amount. And that's really all I can ask for whenever I do anything.