There is something rather ghostly about sartorial memories; our recollections of cherished items that have long since been passed on or given away assume a sort of uncanniness when remembered. They belonged to a past version of our self; they would no longer fit us could we access them; their exact colour or texture is a little hazy in our memory, and yet there they are, inextricable from whatever it may be – a time, a place, a holiday, an anecdote.
As we grow and change, and as the world transforms, those items remain frozen forevermore in past associations. Such memories arguably become increasingly eerie when the clothing comes from a retailer or brand no longer on our high streets, as if we are part of a spectral legacy of a brand that made an impact on the fashion landscape but has since disappeared from our culture.
Tammy Girl, a retailer who, when I was growing up, was part of BHS (having been bought by the department store in 2005), introduced me to the notion of experimenting with clothing. It is through Tammy Girl garments that I dabbled with the idea of rebelling stylistically and wearing that otherness, that defiant, wayward spirit on my body for others to see. I look back and cringe at the sheer volume of neon, vaguely emo-inspired items I wore non-ironically: fingerless gloves, legwarmers (?!), brightly coloured skinny jeans, pleated mini-skirts with knee-high socks, and slogan tees, but cringiness aside, these items, and the ritual of shopping in Tammy Girl, was a rite of passage. I was learning to choose clothes for myself, becoming my own person. Likewise, it was through the now-dissolved Woolworths that I had one of my first experiences of picking out clothing for an upcoming holiday, for myself. I was the one curating how I would appear in public. Its cheap and cheerful presence on the high-street always retained some of this identity as a stepping-stone for me. Its offering was wholesome, and so the clothes pleased parents and children alike as they entered the world of self-expression through clothing.
There seem to be fewer and fewer retailers that cater solely to teen and pre-teen girls. New Look, perhaps, and their 915 range. But nothing on today’s high-street provides clothing for young women in a way that encourages experimentation, customisation, and – an admittedly paradoxical quality given its mass-produced nature – DIY spirit. Though my memories of these long-gone retailers are rather eerie, belonging to another time and place, I am endlessly thankful for the accessible, kindly, gentle introduction they offered me into the long, long journey of establishing a personal style. I mourn them, but more than anything, I lament that tweens today do not experience the rites of passage my peers and I did.