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Because Eighth Grade is a rigorously researched and incredibly faithful depiction of what life in an American middle school is like, there is a lot of Hollister in it. The students wear Hollister as they lug backpacks half their size through the halls, and an older boy’s Hollister shirt plays a big role in one of the film’s most difficult-to-watch scenes (I won’t dig into it here, but oof).
But the most authentic depiction of Hollister comes when the film’s socially awkward main character, Kayla, attempts to befriend the pretty, perennially texting popular girls by complimenting their shirts.
It’s during a moment when Kayla, who makes advice-giving YouTube videos despite not having much experience with the subject matter, has decided to “put herself out there,” whatever that means. Like many eighth graders, Kayla is lonely — her world consists of watching other people live their lives through her phone while struggling to craft an online persona of her own. Faking it is a major theme in the film — we hear the audio of Kayla evangelizing about “being yourself” and “having confidence” at the same time as we watch her hiding in the background of group pool party photos and getting voted Most Quiet at school.
Nowhere is this tension more visible than in Kayla’s clothing. She has all the markers of a well-adjusted (and well-off) suburban eighth grader: She knows how to use a Beauty Blender; she wears chokers just like the cool girls; she ties a flannel around her skinny jeans; she keeps her long blonde hair straight; her iPhone case is the fun glittery kind that floats around in plastic; and yes, she wears Hollister.
But the thing about Hollister is that it’s like the teenage version of the “no-makeup makeup” aesthetic of brands like Glossier: It only makes you look good if you already looked the right way to begin with.
Hollister T-shirts are among the cruelest garments known to civilization, which, of course, is why they’re wildly popular during the cruelest years of our existence. They run very small, certainly, and it’s nearly impossible to find a large or extra large among the stacks of extra (or double-extra) smalls in the stores.
What’s even worse about Hollister shirts, though, is that they are incredibly, absurdly long. When pulled to their maximum, they can double as dresses on particularly short people, but that’s not what makes them awful. The awfulness is that when you’re a teenager, you assume that because something is long enough to cover you, that it means it fits.
So when I saw Kayla stumble to make conversation while wearing an ill-fitting gray T-shirt with the giant Hollister logo, I felt a familiar pang of empathy. I remembered shopping inside dark and deafening stores with my thinner friends for whom these brands designed their long skinny tube shirts, convincing myself that not only could I fit into them too, but that I looked good in them. And when Kayla pulls the very same shirt as far as it can go, I remembered doing the same, comforted by the assumption that I was totally hidden.
When you’re 13, wearing Hollister shirts can feel like a disguise. They let us hide our awkward fledgling personalities behind a cool but friendly logo, sure, but they also physically hide so much of us. When we get uncomfortable, we can pull on them — after all, they’re very stretchy — and when we feel too exposed, we can layer them — they’re so thin!
It’s not until you look back on old photos, after having discovered clothing brands outside of the mall, that you realize that the far-too-tight, far-too-long T-shirt wasn’t all that great at hiding very much of anything. And that’s why the choice to put Kayla in a poorly fitting but otherwise innocuous Hollister shirt — particularly in a scene where she’s stacked up against the two most popular girls at school — is so deft. Yes, she’s trying to follow her own advice by “putting herself out there,” but it won’t be until later that she realizes all the ways she wasn’t.