Wet Seal, the juniors shop that can take any awkward wardrobe from sad to sassy with just a quick trip to the mall, is no more. The Wall Street Journal reports that its remaining 171 stores will be closed after being purchased out of bankruptcy in 2015.
This is, of course, incredibly depressing, particularly for those of us who associate being in the shopping mall with a nostalgic epoch in our lives, glorious with the sound of Jamba Juice blenders and the whiff of Cinnabon, and dirtbag hotties whose ineffable B.O. was conveniently shielded by that scent. (The Journal contextualizes Wet Seal’s demise against declining mall audiences, likely now that everyone can buy their trash on the internet.)
Wet Seal as a store was marketed mostly toward a teen audience, but sophisticated teens. As Jezebel’s Joanna Rothkopf put it, “Wet Seal was like the edgy store in the mall that I was always a little scared of, then I grew up and owned Wet Seal clothing and felt I had arrived.” Of our staff, Joanna, Clover Hope and Kate Dries all had one shouldered going-out tops from Wet Seal that ensconced a single arm in a bell sleeve, with varying differences—Kate’s was white, ribbed, shiny and tight, and Clover’s was beige with sequins (fancy) while Joanna’s was orange striped. “I wore it to a bat mitzvah,” says Joanna, “and my dad said, ‘It’s nice you’re experimenting.’”
Here is Clover wearing one of her Wet Seal going-out tops:
I, too, believed in Wet Seal’s mythos, that everything it had to offer was somehow edgier and cooler than it probably was. Most distinctly, I recall returning from my first trip to Europe in 2003, where the clothes were much chicer but I was too afraid to try to buy any of them because, shit, I don’t speak Italian, and going straight to the mall. It was still the early days of globalism, but Wet Seal more than any other store sold fashion that paralleled the garments I saw on laissez-faire Roman girls and even, a little bit, on the women I met in Berlin. (Not entirely, though; the icy cool emanating from Berliners was just too impossible for me to fathom.) And at Wet Seal, I bought a pair of forest green corduroy knickers that both gathered along the pantlegs and had strings dangling from the bottom, some kind of deconstructionist vestige that I was convinced made me look devastatingly cosmopolitan. They didn’t—I actually shudder at the hideousness, in retrospect, though I do still wear a rhinestone “J” pendant in Olde English font purchased from there. But the fact that I felt cool was all that mattered.
Wet Seal saw us; it knew all we wanted was to somehow feel as though we were manifesting a facet of adulthood, or that someday we would, and it was the stepping stone to when we would all grow up and start buying pleated silver pleather skirts and shit from Zara. Wet Seal was our vessel into the grown-up unknown, and the grown-up unknown always ended in imagined glamour. We will miss it dearly.