Deadsites: Hot Topic, Circa 1998!

On this edition of Deadsites, we’re gonna check out what Hot Topic had to offer back in 1998.

I know. Seems like an odd choice. Let me explain.

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Just a few years prior, Hot Topic made its debut in the Staten Island Mall. I believe I was a junior at the time. As one of the “freaks” in high school, I wasn’t so much “unconventional” as I was just adhering to the conventions of a smaller minority.

And in my little world of funny-haired people with stupid t-shirts and mismatched Converses, word on the street was that Hot Topic was a baaaad place.

That was the store for “posers,” or so the laws written by the weirdos higher up on the food chain dictated. What an idiotic protest. As if buying the same goofy shit from other stores made us any better? I think we were just mad that a shopping mall chain pegged us so accurately.

I recently Instagrammed a photo of me from around that time, and I looked like the goddamned poster boy for this place.

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Unless I’m way off, the store seems to have evolved into more “comfortable” territory today. Maybe not completely, but considering the trends and whatnot, what they sell now only seems as intense as what Spencer’s carries. Back in 1998, though, it was strictly a place for the, ahem, “rejects.”

I don’t know. Maybe it was different in other cities. Around here, dressing this way and being a part of this ill-defined subculture meant two things: One, you’d have an instant bond with anyone who looked like you, and two, you’d have an immediate enemy in anyone who didn’t. I suppose the two weren’t mutually exclusive?

The items I’m about to show you bring back a lot of memories. Memories that have become increasingly embarrassing. Not because it’s a big deal that I dressed a certain way in high school, but because I held to those fashions like they were serious badges of nonconformity. Brother, they weren’t. I was just trying to fit in with the only group that I stood a chance of fitting in with. Most of us were. Those who fought hardest to maintain the image of uniquity were often the ones who wanted to fit in the most.

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The “Morbid Makeup” section.

manicLook in the upper-left and you’ll spot an assortment of Manic Panic hair dye.

Early X-E readers may remember my Ronald McDonald hair, but the truth is, you were catching the ass-end of it. In high school, I dyed it a different color every 2-3 days. I’d bleach, go blue, wait two days, bleach again, go red, and rinse and repeat until I could literally rip out clumps of my hair like it was made of cheap paper.

It’s a miracle that I still have any.

Despite what I wrote earlier, I’ll cop to buying hair dye from Hot Topic on occasion. And by “on occasion,” I mean “often.” I’d zip in, zip out and hope that none of my friends saw me. Sooo ridiculous. A covert operation to make my hair vermillion red. (Or lilac, which never came out like it was supposed to.)

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There weren’t many outright “goth” boys in my school. The guys just couldn’t get away with it. The heavier gothic fashions were too much of an invitation to get fucked with. This didn’t seem to hold as true for the girls, because I had plenty of female friends who dressed in exactly these clothes.

Spiderweb stockings were the quickest way to SO MANY HEARTS back then.

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The men’s fashions were a little more “assorted.” I wouldn’t have touched the two pairs of pants, which fell under the “raver” or “skater” umbrellas that I so carefully avoided. (Being too many things at once led people to question your genuineness, after all!)

The trenchcoat, however, was totally up my alley. I wore one for an entire semester in sophomore year, which doesn’t sound too silly until I mention that that “semester” was actually “summer school.” Yes, I was that guy.

Also, this was probably the last trenchcoat Hot Topic carried for a while. After the Columbine massacre in 1999, that was the most notable on a long list of clothes and accessories that many schools banned. But that’s a whole different discussion.

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Hot Topic had lots of body piercing paraphernalia, of course. I was never really into that scene, not that I had much choice. My mother may have forced herself to look the other way as I ran for the bus with mousetraps dangling from my ears, but she drew the line at piercings.

I did get my eyebrow pierced, though. I let some girl that I barely knew pierce it. She used a safety pin, which I left in for months. The surrounding area grew so infected that the pin just popped off and landed on my lap one day. If you’ve ever noticed the scar under my right eyebrow while watching my videos, now you know the genesis.

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Buncha random t-shirts. Totally forgot about the Taco Bell dog. I escaped that fad unscathed, but this chihuahua really was a fashion kingpin back then. I can sorta see the appeal of a shirt that turned the dog into Che Guevara, but the one below it just looked like the fifth-tier prize in a Taco Bell instant winner game.

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Most of the fashions in my circles were “silly” at worst, but here’s an area where I’m more critical. The self-effacing stickers, patches and shirts. Maybe I’m being too semantical, but wearing a sticker that says “I AM HORRIBLE AND I WOULD KILL YOUR FAMILY IF I COULD GET AWAY WITH IT” seems different than just “dressing funny.”

It occurs to me that one reason why I can be so cynical about emotional distress is because I grew up in a crowd that treated it like a fucking hat.

I’m not saying that the feelings weren’t real. You didn’t end up in our crowds if you were a-okay. It’s just that building an identity around what you perceive to be wrong with you seems… well, wrong. Maybe you could argue that we were just “owning our damage,” but I don’t know. There’s a difference between being unashamed of your warts and literally wanting people to think that you’re messed up.

These specific stickers aren’t so bad; others were a lot worse. And we weren’t wearing them ironically. Fashion choices in of themselves should not dictate how others treat you, but if you’re going to turn yourself into a walking billboard, you can’t be surprised when people respond to the direct message. Does that make sense?

(And I’m including the “porn star” sticker because that shit was everywhere.)

wrestling

The site had dedicated sections for South Park and wrestling shirts. I’m sticking with Steve Austin because I still know almost nothing about South Park. (Not a deliberate choice or anything… I just never bothered with it for whatever reason.)

nwoI had that nWo shirt, by the way. Mine didn’t glow in the dark, but it was the same design. It was the one of the only wrestling shirts that you could get away with wearing even if you really, really didn’t want people to know that you watched wrestling.

And hey, if someone knew what it meant, it only meant that they watched it, too.

To close things out, here are random items from the various departments:

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Hmmm. I totally had that gargoyle incense burner. It was a birthday present. Now I know where it came from.

I don’t know if this review will make sense to many of you. My impression is that today’s Hot Topics stores are fairly conventional, if not playfully unconventional. Back in the mid ‘90s, things were different. The stores were a part of a culture that probably wouldn’t have existed if the internet was anything like it is now. If you felt like you were on the fringe, all of this crap was like a smoke signal for the similarly minded.

I’m wearing a bicycle chain and you have a Dracula ring. Let’s be friends?

  • Grimly Fiendish

    “Unless I’m way off, the store seems to have evolved into more “comfortable” territory today. Maybe not completely, but considering the trends and whatnot, what they sell now only seems as intense as what Spencer’s carries. Back in 1998, though, it was strictly a place for the, ahem, rejects.”

    I worked at Hot Topic last year as a seasonal during the Christmas season. Hot Topic still carries alternative/rock paraphernalia as well as loads of nerdy items. It’s just that what was considered edgy and alternative in the 90s is now pretty much normal. I’ve seen clothing in Forever 21 that has spikes and zippers on it. These days everyone and their Mama has tattoos, hair dyed a primary colors, and piercings.

    Most things that start out as fringe or edgy eventually become absorbed into mainstream society and normalized. It leaves me to wonder if the notion of being edgy in of itself has died? Punk is over 38 years old. Something around that long eventually will be about as shocking and edgy as Elvis Presley.

    Anyway, I greatly enjoyed reading this as it was a huge bit of nostalgia. I also was an Alternative teen in the late 90s. Personally, I didn’t dress like Lydia Deetz and listen to maudlin heavy rock to be “unique”, “non conformist”, or fit in. Those things made me happy. These days I look like Morticia Addams and rock out to Type O Negative. Not much has changed! :)