My awkward phase began in fourth grade, and I’m still clawing my way out of it to this day.
Some of the awkwardness can be attributed simply to puberty - I was graced with the unholy triad of braces, glasses, and acne through all of middle school. Some of the awkwardness came from my naturally shy and anxious personality. Most of the awkwardness came from my desperate attempts to fit in.
Some of the the popular girls at school were confident, fun, and beautiful. Some of them were rude and catty. Some of them had wealthy parents who paid for amazing snacks at their weekly sleepovers. I observed all of these things and zoned in on their one uniting factor: They ALL wore clothing from Limited Too.
Limited Too was the fashion mecca for every stylish 9 year old. There were disco ball lights that changed colors. The Backstreet Boys were on repeat over the speakers. There was an in-store photo booth. The clothes were pink and purple, smothered in rhinestone butterflies. Every few months, they’d send out a catalog of beautiful girls with perfectly straight blonde hair wearing the glitter-encrusted purple jeans I dreamed of.
But my mother, being far more price-conscious and morally averse to dressing her children in short shorts with the peace sign branded on each cheek, never let us shop there. She’d drag my sister and I past this glittery, brightly colored heaven that reeked of way-too-much vanilla sparkle body spray, across the mall, and into the sensible and conservative confines of JC Penney.
One day, in what can only be referred to as “The Best Day of My Fourth Grade Life,” my girl scout troop got a private tour of the Limited Too as part of a Business & Entrepreneurship patch.
The store manager herded us through the clothing racks. We got to look behind the cash registers and go into the stockroom. We inquired as to how old you had to be to work there, were disappointed to learn that we were about seven years too young, and then vowed to all apply once we were old enough for this most coveted of minimum-wage positions.
And then we got to put on a fashion show. (Of course I picked the camo print smiley-face set that matched the one my best friend had selected.)
As the other girls’ mothers arrived to pick them up, many of them ran around the store pointing to the shirts, belts, and hair accessories that had caught their eye. My mother, beaten down from this experience and probably a little bit high on the scent of the cheap perfume I’d sprayed on every inch of bare skin, finally - FINALLY - allowed me to pick out something from the clearance rack.
After much deliberation, I selected this hideous monstrosity of a shirt. It was made out of bright pink Grosgrain material. It had poofy sleeves. It read “Princess” across the front, sprinkled with pink glitter. It looked like something a porn star would dress their baby in. I looked like a chubby ribbon.
My mother held up every other shirt on the rack, one at a time. “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather have this one? It’s blue!” (Sneaky move, Mom. My “Blue Period” - a several months-long span of time in which I refused to wear any article of clothing that wasn’t some shade of blue, had just come to an end.)
Twenty minutes later we left the store, a shiny Limited Too bag draped over my arm. Here’s a dramatized version of my middle school self in a hideous shirt to help you visualize:
I loved that shirt. I was convinced that that was the shirt that would make me cool. (I later thought the same thing about blue eye shadow, gaucho pants, and those horrible Birkenstock clog shoes that, if they slid while you were walking and you stepped on the back of, would send shooting pains up your leg.)
As it turns out, that shirt did nothing for my social status. My friends were still my friends. The popular girls were still the popular girls. We were all still mutually exclusive. (The popular girls probably couldn’t see me coming, anyways. I may have blinded them with my glittery chest.)
My mom still likes to remind me of that horrible shirt. It comes up in conversation from time to time - usually when I’m trying to convince her that I need some completely impractical article of clothing. (I refuse to accept that purchasing a floor-length light pink llama-fur coat is an indiscretion of “Limited-Too-Shirt” proportions.)
I’m not even really sure what happened to my beloved Limited Too shirt. I believe it ended up in a consignment sale a year later, my sister having rejected it as a hand-me-down. It probably never sold. They may have had to throw it to the fires of Mordor to destroy it.