The pandemic has claimed its latest victim. First it was Debenhams and now it’s ‘Big Topshop’. The Oxford Street Aladdin’s cave, filled with bubble tea, crop tops in twelve different colors and pulsating tunes is no more. London has lost a landmark, a teenage haven and the ‘one-stop shop’ of fashion. With news of the closure of Topshop’s flagship store coming just a month after the Arcadia group announced it was going into administration, the decline of this fashion house is on very palpable horizons. Topshop is, I do not dispute, a contributor to fast fashion (see here for tips on all important sustainable shopping), but it is also a brand with enormous cultural and personal significance; it exists for many millennial’s and Gen Z’s as the uniform of their teens.
Fashion is, as Lars Svensden points out in Fashion: A Philosophy, “not only a matter of clothes”. However much we may dislike it, fashion has far-reaching historical, social, cultural and political significance. Louis Renard named his 1946 swimsuit creation after US nuclear weapon testing site, the Bikini atoll; Lady Gaga’s meat dress spoke to US military discrimination of gay and lesbian people and Nicole Kidman’s coats dominated the HBO series The Undoing, far more than the question of “who killed Elena Alves?”. Similarly, too, it has become increasingly difficult to extrapolate our perceptions of people from their clothes; something that has been demonstrated by fictional characters for decades. Paddington Bear wears a red hat; Clueless’s Cher Horowitz dons her iconic yellow check suit and the Queen wears a rainbow assortment of coatdresses.
Thinking about the social and culturally formative role played by fashion returns me to Topshop: the definition of my ‘twenty tens’ adolescence. Topshop was, is and always will be, the queen of “clothes of the moment”. I think each year since 2000 could probably be defined in an item of Topshop. Fatally dismissive of the perils of fast fashion, we trawled the rails and the Internet for those cult status items, the desire to own a pair of the American flag shorts becoming a quest to rival Frodo’s. Never mind the fact you knew nothing about America and didn’t even know who the president was, if you had the shorts, you “had the shorts”. Topshop’s ‘cult status’ items were self-perpetuating. The desire to say, “I have that too” gave rise to cycles of mass, environmentally damaging, consumption that was often oriented around single items. The American flag shorts gave way to the minimalist grey marl skater dress (which was actually fundamentally un-minimalist because every other girl at the Year 9 disco was wearing it), which in turn gave up its crown to the Chelsea Boot. And on it goes.
Whilst I can chart the years through Topshop, so too can I chronicle the significant moments of my life through the Topshop pieces I was wearing at the time. I had my first kiss in a black cut out dress; first got drunk in a white crop top; attended my first therapy session in a blue t-shirt; wore white trainers on the first day of Fresher’s; sobbed into my mom jeans as I broke up with my first boyfriend; lounged through lockdown(s) in grey tracksuits. None of these moments are contained by Topshop, but they cannot exist in the visual realms of my mind without Topshop.
The planet is suffering and the decline of fast fashion is long overdue. However, we cannot minimise the role played by clothes, regardless of where they came from, in our formative experiences. Fashion is not only a material manifestation of our inner selves; it is also a uniquely tangible form through which we can explore history and our memoires.
I can’t remember the last time I visited ‘Big Topshop’ or the last thing I bought from Topshop. I wish I could. The possible end of Topshop signals, to me, that this pandemic not only infects our present, it is encroaching on our past and all that we previously held as untouched by 2020.
– Lottie McGrath
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