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When my hometown mall got a Hot Topic in the mid-2000s, it didn’t just slide into an old former Banana Republic. It announced itself with a brick facade and imposing archway, letting anyone passing by on their way to Cinnabon know that this was a place for rebels. Purple-haired, Harry Potter-loving rebels who’d never join the sheep at American Eagle.
If your local mall was never graced with a Hot Topic, you might have trouble picturing the clothing store that’s kept the high school punks in accessories since 1988. By 1990, it had expanded into band tees, and by the time I nervously entered a dark, Screamo-filled outpost around 2004, you could pick up anything from jelly bracelets to Disney princess sweatshirts. The chain currently boasts more than 600 stores across the country, so young Tim Burton fans are never too far from a set of Nightmare Before Christmas his-and-hers necklaces.
Though the aesthetic of Hot Topic can feel fluid (buy your nephew his skull gauges, get your niece her unicorn shirt), it’s always been defined as a teenage destination full of high-schoolers ready to stick it to The Man (or their parents) by buying purple Manic Panic dye and jeans with a wallet chain.
Perhaps you have fond Hot Topic memories of picking out the perfect fuzzy wristband to express your devotion to Good Charlotte when you were a teenager, but would now feel embarrassed to admit your latest purchase came from the land of studded belts and snarky buttons. I’m here to tell you that owning a Hot Topic loyalty card in your 20s or 30s is nothing to be ashamed of. Because if you want a cheap swing dress or a cute sweater that puts you in no danger of accidentally twinning with a co-worker, it’s time to go back to Hot Topic.
There was a brief moment in college when I, too, thought that in order to mature into a professional woman, I had to give up the skull-and-Disney-princess emporium of my youth. But by the time I entered the workforce (and, luckily, a job with a very flexible dress code), I realized that a J.Crew sweater set would always feel more like cosplay than any Buffy-inspired fuzzy sweater ever would.
Not everyone’s workplace is the place to pair a Lisa Frank tee with black skinny jeans, but HT — as I like to call it — has a pretty wide selection of things that only offer a subtle nod to your favorite childhood characters while also pairing well with your more straight-edge staples.
Quick PSA: It might be tempting to visit an actual, incredibly literal brick-and-mortar Hot Topic if you happen to be in the vicinity of an American shopping mall millennials have yet to kill. But I suggest you stick to the site. If realizing Toy Story has been out for more than two decades makes you feel old, watching baby goths gush over “vintage” Green Day shirts will make you feel like that mummy that disintegrates in The Mummy.
Here are a few Hot Topic items that will make you feel young again without ruining your reputation as an actual adult:
If Willow was your style icon: Then buy the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Willow Fuzzy Sweater ($42.90-$44.90). Yes, this sweater is a lot. Wear it with friends who understand.
If you’d like to channel Miss Frizzle for under $50: Then buy the Bright Planets Fit Flare Dress ($49.90). The key to avoiding full nostalgia cosplay is to keep jewelry low-key rather than planetary.
If a pair of ’90s-vibes leggings is what your heart desires: Then buy the Blackheart Sunflower Leggings ($22.90). Pair them with any oversized tee or slouchy black dress you got from a more adult establishment.
If you’re trying to walk the line between Comic Con and casual Sunday clothes: Then buy this Disney The Little Mermaid Ariel on Land Cosplay Dress ($44.90). This is a softer version of what Ariel wears on her super chill boat date with Prince Eric. Those who notice this will be impressed; otherwise, they’ll just think you like colorblocking.
If you’re looking for affordable vintage: Then buy this Pink Floral Swing Dress ($54.90). This swing dress is cute and stretchy, and it would cost twice as much at any other retailer that doesn’t also stock the Fraggle Rock soundtrack on vinyl.
If you identify as seaside chic: Then buy this Disney The Little Mermaid Mint Shell Girls Cardigan ($29.99). Yes, this is a Disney tie-in product. But if you don’t check the tags, it could easily be mistaken for a cardigan you picked up on your last vacation to a fancy ocean resort.