A week ago, I had to run to the mall for a few things, and I ended up in a department store I hadn’t been in for almost two decades. I needed a bathroom, and the restroom I usually use was under construction, so the nice custodian reminded me there was one in the neighboring store, Macy’s.
As soon as I walked in, I was overcome with nostalgia that made me forget my bladder would explode thanks to the two Diet Cokes I’d had with dinner. It smells the same, I thought as I stared at the makeup and skincare glistening under fluorescent lights and glass cases. I headed straight for the Clinique counter, and I’m pretty sure I embraced it.
In a flash, I was thrown back to my twelve-year-old self
For a moment, I was twelve, standing next to my best friend after counting our dollar bills to see if we had enough for one face wash to split. Then, we’d search endlessly for any free samples we could get. My mom had splurged on some Clinique makeup when I was in middle school, and we’d lock ourselves in my bathroom and sneak some of it before going for a walk on a hot summer day, hoping to run into a cute boy.
The truth is, I don’t even wear Clinique now, but it was a sign of empowerment when I was growing up in the ‘80s. I couldn’t wait to grow up and have all the bottles lined up in my bathroom cabinet.
After staring at everything and getting so lost in my thoughts I forgot where I was, I got a whiff of Obsession perfume. I immediately thought about sitting in my backyard with my suntan oil and Sun-In all over me as I flipped through Cosmopolitan and Vogue, trying to find the perfume samples on the folded pages. Sometimes, I’d cover my entire face with the pages, inhaling the scents.
I took the escalator up to the second floor and remembered how my friends and I would have our day of shopping all planned out back then. We knew what we would wear, when we would leave, and how much money we had to spend. In those days, you brought all your change because you could at least get a Wet n Wild eyeliner with it.
I reached the top and saw all the fancy dresses waiting to be touched by excited teenagers looking for homecoming or semi-formal dresses. I could smell the leather from the shoe department, which made my stomach feel the same excitement it used to when my mom would take us to get one pair of shoes for back to school. One year I got Reebok high tops, the next, it was a fresh pair of Tretorns, then the pink Converse.
We would sit on the pre-made beds and talk about our next stop
The perfectly made beds wrapped in floral sheets and comforters piled high with pillows still make me want to dive in. I had many serious talks with my girlfriends on those beds decades ago. Our feet would be tired from shopping, and we’d rest and talk about getting an Orange Julius and oversized pretzel at the cafe.
There was nothing like walking into a department store with friends in the ‘80s. You’d head straight for your favorite name brand, and the feeling of new jeans under your fingers would get you excited for the new school year.
The makeup and jewelry counters made us giddy and long for lipstick tubes in every color. I purchased my first pair of twister beads at a department store while my friends and I reeked of ten different kinds of cologne. Each time I wore them and felt the smoothness under my fingers, I’d think of how much fun we had carrying our packages around that day.
Roaming the department stores fills me with nostalgia
The home department was always stunning during the holidays, and going Christmas shopping with my mom and sisters made me feel like I was in a snowglobe.
I’m not sure if it was all the delicious scents of new clothes and shoes, the music, or the escalator, but there is nothing more nostalgic than browsing a department store.
It brings me back to a much simpler time when we used to wait for weeks to get shopping because things weren’t readily available online. We had no idea about the instant gratification that can be found on our phones these days, and waiting for something like spending an afternoon browsing a department store with our friends was so worth waiting for.
I’m not sure why I stayed away for so long, but I can’t wait to return. Even if I come out empty-handed, the dose of memories will make me feel more fulfilled than all the Clinique bottles in the world.
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