In the 1980s, step-daughter Julie and I used to spend entire days in shopping malls, very seriously checking out the stores from Brooks Fashions to the Wild Pair (though Express, then “Limited Express,” always seemed to remain our primary destination for the day). We were as serious about matching our scrunched socks to our oversize sweaters as we were about teasing our bangs to just the right height before applying the optimal combination of mousse and spray to hold them in place. (There is a reason this style came to be known as “mall hair.”) Express dropped its “Limited” and has managed to survive the decades since The Breakfast Club, but other places we loved, like Contempo Casuals, Id, and my namesake Marianne’s haven’t fared as well.
Banana Republic and American Eagle were still “outfitters” in the 1980s — of course we didn’t shop at them because they didn’t sell leggings (with stirrups, of course), but we made it our business to have a look at BR’s display (once they had a jeep and part of a sand dune in their storefront!), and sometimes we poked our heads into American Eagle to pick out something for Julie’s dad. He probably still owns every flannel shirt and pair of jeans we ever brought home from American Eagle Outfitters!
Those mall days — sometimes we called them “Julie Days” — hold a certain magic for me even in memory. Julie and I nearly always agreed on styles, picked up on the same quirky incidents or unusual people around us, laughed at the same things, and rolled our eyes in unison at the things we overheard. In my memory, nearly every lunch break took place at Sbarro, and every coffee break at Mrs. Fields (which, thankfully, has survived along with Express). Julie always chose a Dream Bar, and I always ate Debra’s Special oatmeal raisin. Cigarette after, sitting around the fountain, because malls still had smoking areas. And ash trays.
Now we shop more conscientiously and with less abandon. Locally-owned, sweatshop-free, made in USA, sustainable goods…. things that will last and, we hope, not end up in an incinerator or a landfill. We are smarter, nicer, more responsible citizens than we were 30 years ago. But we were nice people in 1984 too. We just consumed a lot more, without thought to the consequences. Because we could.
So what brought on this trip down Memory Lane, this nostalgia for Esprit sportswear, Zena jeans, Benetton sweaters, and my ten-year-old Julie? That’s the funny thing about memory. Trying to remember the name of an Australian outfitter that was actually, I believe, a free-standing store during the 1980s and early 1990s. The name won’t come to me, but all the other memories –sights, tastes, smells, and sounds — from that happy decade come flooding back with enthusiasm. The elusive store wasn’t The Limited, with their “Outback Red” label; this was the genuine article, a real outfitter that sold snowshoes, leather hats, and an item I still own and love — Australian oilskin dusters. Unlike mall hair, these classics wear well and get better with age, and because they never change, they don’t scream the name of any particular decade. But what was the name of the shop? Will it elude me forever? If I remember correctly, the store did very well on the heels of films like The Man from Snowy River and Crocodile Dundee, but it had been around for some time prior as a destination for serious outdoorspeople.
My Australian oilskin came from a location on Laclede’s Landing, but I remember seeing these stores all over the country. No Internet search yields the name of the forgotten, and now probably defunct, outfitter. I think the St. Louis location lasted until the flood of 1993, when that entire section of the Landing was underwater. I can’t believe I don’t remember the name, and it’s remarkable that with a handful of really good key words, I still can’t find a single reference to it online. Good reason to scan a mall map and store it in the cloud, so that 20 years from now when I can’t remember the name of that funny place with all the overpriced crap from third world countries, I can slap my forehead and say “THAT was it!”
This is the decade, I’m afraid, in which my photographic memory loses a pixel here and there.