We have killed a lot of words in the recent past: gaslighting, grooming, late capitalism, parasocial, liminal. Everything is liminal. Until I guess early 2020, I had never heard that word used very often except by my husband. Then liminality and liminal spaces were everywhere. It’s not hard to see the connection between the fixation and our moment in time. 2020-present has trapped a lot of people in what feels like an indefinite present, a liminal space where we can’t see the window or the end of the hallway. This is compounded for those of us who are in liminal stages of life. Millennials are arguably a whole liminal-ass generation. It’s a shame we aren’t called The Liminal Generation. I miss when generations had dramatic names like Lost and Silent. Millennials in our inifinite loop of a threshold crossing that is glitching out are the people who, whether or not we do, still think we run the internet so it makes sense that Liminal Spaces – and a popular twitter account of the same name – would be so popular recently. A picture of an abandoned airport or a decaying subway terminal and the feelings it evokes also stand the crossroads of a bunch of other online aesthetics, concepts, and memes: creepypasta, hauntology, sadcore, etc.
I didn’t start shopping at Brandy Melville, the in/famous Italian-owned fast fashion retailer that stocks “one size” and has a fixation with objectivism, until spring 2020. I had popped into the NoLita location a few times without buying anything. So when I actually became a begrudging devotee, it was all done online. The Brandy website is weird and bad. It’s not like the brick and mortar version is anything special, though I do appreciate that the surly, skinny college girls who work there don’t ask you anything or even really look at you. But the website. That’s a liminal space.
It feels like a website made by people who didn’t care about user experience. The design is sparse. On the front page, there is a scroll of arbitrarily curated items. It’s not the newest offerings, because that has a separate “just in” page. Like the homepage, “just in” shows you quite a lot of things but then stops. It’s not clear why – I suppose there’s a date cut off as the store updates constantly. Right now there are more sweaters, jackets, and thermals as the seasons change, but everything basically looks the same at Brandy. Items will get variations: for example there are “Camila” tops in waffle fabric, stripes, and printed with New York or Georgetown. The “Dana” skirt, a pleated tennis-style skirt with built-in shorts, is one of their more evergreen offerings, and it will appear in new shades or tartans periodically. There is a hypnotic feeling to browsing the Brandy website. Everything is so similar that you quickly lose track of what you’ve seen. Is it new? Who can say. The mechanism for showing colors and sizes (on the rare occasion there will be more than one) is always broken. I’ll click on something – say the short bike shorts – that I’m led to believe comes in a wide range of colors, just for many or most of them to disappear before my eyes, leaving only grey and black. And I really wanted another lavender pair 😦 The same thing will happen with sizes.
The categories are also somewhat arcane. There is a section for basics – t-shirts, tanks, and bottoms. Most of these things can also be found in any of the clothing drop-downs that aren’t in graphics. In basic t-shirts right now, there is an I ❤ Paris tee, which would seem to belong in graphics, but. There is also the mystifying sub-brand J. Galt. Or, it’s not even a sub-brand. Maybe it’s like how at Aerie, there are now clothes with an “offline” (lol) label. It’s not clear why something gets to be J. Galt. And yes that’s like John Galt. You can find anything from the J. Galt section in the regular clothing section. I’m not sure what is especially objectivist about one pair of high-waisted plaid pants or a cropped tee with COWGIRL printed on it. There’s also not a price differential between regular Brandy and J. Galt items. WHO KNOWS. It came to my attention earlier this year that you can buy a bottle of olive oil on the Brandy website. It’s not in clothing. It’s also not in accessories. Unless someone else knows something I don’t, the only way to find the olive oil to specifically search for it.
Why do I not mind any of this? For one, I think it matches the Brandy aesthetic. I imagine I’m a little older than a lot of customers, but for me what’s attractive about the brand is that the clothes, while not usually high quality, tend to be all cotton and simple in a very 90s way. I can get a waffle loung shirt at Brandy similar to ones I’ve stumbled on at thrift stores, or that my mom had when she was younger. If you watch the first season of The Sopranos, as apparently so many of us were doing recently, you’ll notice that almost all of Meadow’s outfits could be closely replicated with Brandy items. Italian pride, I guess. Brandy clothes remind me of the era of my life where we had the internet, but weren’t reliant on it for much. I find it weirdly comforting that the website is likewise feels like something from a simpler online landscape. It’s not quite pre-internet, but it’s not entirely Web 2.0 (please don’t tell me what Web 2.0 actually means).
I was a child for the entire 90s, but I feel a strong connection to the pop culture and technology of that time aimed at people slightly older than I am. Brandy Melville clothes seem like what high school girls I would have looked up to would wear. I still catch myself thinking of this era as some golden, pre-depression time in my life. This is probably fake, like most of these sorts of mental narratives are. Still, the most potent version of nostalgia is often not of something we lived through or missed entirely but something we barely overlapped with. You can see yourself chasing that time that was just out of reach, the experiences that were no longer there by the time we caught up to them. I just thought my future would still have lavender bike shorts, you know?