Humor Magazine

The Desolation of Shopping at The Sh*tty Teen Store

By Katie Hoffman @katienotholmes

Sometimes circumstances force you to attempt shopping at the Shitty Teen Store as an adult, and it’s every bit as sorrowful and infuriating as it was when you were a teenager.

Recently, I joined my friend on a trip to the mall to help her find a new dress for a wedding she’s attending in October. If you’re a woman yourself, you’re no doubt aware that the paradox of dress shopping: when you actually need a dress, every frock available looks like it was designed by the first person eliminated on Project Runway or everything you try on should come with the disclaimer: “Hips in dress are smaller than they appear.” This is how the stereotype that “women are always shopping” came about; we always come across all our most flattering, timeless pieces when we’re not actually looking for them. When a woman formally announces that she needs a pair of black jeans, a dress that isn’t too slutty, or shoes that don’t make her Google what bunions are, the universe does everything in its power to keep her from finding it. So yes, we impulse shop. If we didn’t, our entire wardrobes would be filled with shirts that made our boobs look just okay and dresses that we’ll wear once and then retire to back of the closet with the belts.

It feels like an astonishing betrayal when of all your favorite places to shop don’t have anything you want to buy–like it was at this very moment karma decided to come around bite you in the ass. This is the unfortunate experience that happened to my friend. None of her regular wardrobe providers had anything decent/affordable, so we had to take extraordinary measures: we had to try looking for a dress in the Shitty Teen Store.

When it comes to dressing for specific events, the hierarchy of solutions is as follows:

  1. Looking through your closet to wear something you already own
  2. Relying on your favorite stores to find something new
  3. Shopping at the Shitty Teen Stores where you know you want find anything, but you subject yourself to the teeny shopping experience anyway because desperation makes you a masochist
  4. You roll the dice on ordering something online based on the guidance of a dubious size chart
  5. You resort to wearing something that was already in your closet that you really didn’t want to wear


My friend and I had left Carson Pirie Scott and were walking into Deb. You might be wondering what a Shitty Teen Store is, but I suspect you already know. The Shitty Teen Store is the most intimidating store in the entire mall (unless Hot Topic freaks you out, like me). The Shitty Teen Store usually has a collection of femme fatale mannequins in the storefront window, and the remixed Top 40 music that’s playing is always at a standing-next-to-the-speaker volume. The theory is that if the music is loud enough, you won’t be able to think clearly and you’ll leave with $100 worth of cheaply made, ill-fitting clothing. The girls that work at the Shitty Teen Store are all capital-h Hot in different ways, and they invariably call you “hun” at some point during your shopping experience. You’ve never felt cool enough to shop at the Shitty Teen Store, even when you were its target demographic, because it feels like the MTV channel brought to life. You try to keep a low profile, because you expect at any moment some brigade of mean teens will pop out and insult your hair (and you’d pretend not to care, but you’d have a moment behind the rack of pleather jackets where tears come to your eyes, and you think about shaving your head).

The Shitty Teen Store is a manifestation of all your teenage insecurity and yearning to fit in contained in a cramped space in the mall.

Once inside Deb, I noticed that even the arrangement of the apparel was as senseless as a teenager. There were fancy tops next to yoga pants, formal dresses beside leggings. Maybe department stores insist on the careful order of their merchandise because it latently repels teens. After scanning the store, I knew my friend wasn’t going to find a dress in there, but somehow the Shitty Teen Store has this way of luring in even the most rational people. There were exactly two circular racks of dresses, none of which were appropriate for a wedding (except perhaps a big Gypsy wedding). The fabric was cheap, the majority of garments were stained with white deodorant streaks, and there wasn’t one dress without rhinestones or other wannabe diamond bedazzlements. In high school, I would’ve just described how I defined haute couture, but as an adult it became clear why our mothers were always so skeptical about our chosen Homecoming dresses: this shit was ugly as sin. Where was the Not Tacky section?



My friend and I should have learned our lesson in Deb, but for some reason we trod onwaird into a different Shitty Teen Store called Windsor (don’t the names of these places just sound shitty and teenagerish?). To be completely honest, Deb is probably closer to a Shitty Store than Shitty Teen Store, because they have a respectable plus size department—which indicates that have some semblance of principles. Windsor has no such principles. Windsor is a true example of a Shitty Teen Store because all of its garments are designed for women who haven’t gone through puberty yet. If you’re a size medium in practically every other store in the universe, you should fully anticipate requiring an XL in the Shitty Teen Store (a size that they usually do not carry, by the way, because when you’re an XL, you’re simply too fat to buy ugly, tacky clothing).

After wading through racks with skimpy crop tops (ideal for fall in Chicago) and overpriced graphic t-shirts with phrases like “Basic” and “I Woke Up Like This” on them, we found a navy blue dress that gave off a pretty, classy vibe instead of screaming “Fairy Princess Quinceañera!!!!!!!” from the hanger. There was a woman and a her daughter idly looking at the various sizes of the blue dress, but there was a much bigger problem to contend with: the dress was hanging from the high rack you can’t reach without the Long Hook for Shit That’s Out of Reach.

That shirt would never actually be out of reach.

That shirt would never actually be out of reach.

I used to work at Sears in high school, but I have no insider knowledge as to why stores insist on hanging all the good shit at a level that is approximately two feet higher than an average height person can reach. Yet, I know these racks are necessary so stores can put out as much merchandise as possible, so I assured my friend I’d find the Long Hook for Shit That’s Out of Reach, and we’d find her size so she could try it on. I desperately wanted this to be the one time an adult comes out of the Shitty Teen Store unscathed. At Sears, and every other store that isn’t a Shitty Teen Store, the Long Hook for Shit That’s Out of Reach is usually resting against the wall somewhere, usually in an alcove or a corner. I walked the entire perimeter of the Shitty Teen Store looking for that hook, and I came up empty.

When I regrouped with my friend in front of the dress, the mom who was looking at the dress for her daughter had made it impossible for my friend to even look for her size. That was because she was holding onto the skirt of one of the dresses, ostensibly “saving” it.

“Uhhh, what’s happening here?” I asked my friend.

“Yeah, I don’t know, she’s just been standing here…”

I can’t imagine how hard it must be to be parent at the Shitty Teen Store. I remember when my mom would take me shopping, and as if she wasn’t uncomfortable enough because I was so embarrassed to be seen with her in public, I’d drag her into stores like these where she was the oldest person there 85% of the time. Of all the places parents do not want to go, the Shitty Teen Store isn’t far behind the local jail or an ultrasound room at the doctor’s office. Normally I’m sympathetic to moms doing annoying things while shopping with their kids, but when I considered the idea that this mom wouldn’t even let my friend look at the dresses for fear she might steal her daughter’s size, I wanted beat her with a hanger. I walked right up to the rack, standing about five inches away from the dress-saving mom, and started looking up the skirt of each dress to find the tag labeled with the size.

“YOU HAVE TO GET THE HOOK!” the mother hissed at her daughter.

Hoping to save her daughter from undertaking the fool’s errand I just returned from, I politely added, “I just searched everywhere. I don’t think there’s a hook.”

“One the girls that works here has it,” she said, pointing in the opposite direction.

I squinted my eyes and saw that beyond the orange dresses, the shitty jewelry, and the purses a teenage girl would use for a week until begging for a new one, there was some chick with highlighted hair walking around with the Long Hook for Shit That’s Out of Reach like Rafiki from the Lion King. Maybe my hatred was misplaced, but in that moment I decided this dress-saving mother was everything that’s wrong with the world today.

You see, there are two kinds of people in this world: there are people who wait for other people to bring them hooks for clothing items they can’t reach, and there are those who jump as high as they can to knock those items down, regardless of if their belly and/or ass gets exposed in the process. Needless to say, I am in the latter group. I wait for no Rafiki-esque store associate to come to my rescue, because I’m independent. It’s for this reason that when I found a size large for my friend, I started jumping up and down to knock it down off the rack even while this mom was standing entirely too close to me. It took two hops and approximately sixteen seconds, but it was worth it. The look on the mom’s face was a mixture of mortification and horror, and it took every ounce of will power I had not to confront her about why she was too good to jump up like every other woman who’s ever wanted a dress that was hanging too far away. After all, this was most likely her daughter’s potential homecoming dress! Does she have bad knees? Why couldn’t her 100-pound 15-year-old daughter jump for it? WHAT IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE? The Shitty Teen Store brings out the absolute worst in people.

Naturally, immediately after I got the dress down, Rafiki with highlights showed up with the hook. Once she extracted the precious medium sized dress for the anti-jumping mom, my friend asked, “Could you see if there’s also an extra large?” The employee’s eyes widened, and she thumped the hook on the ground with judgment, “Oh no, we don’t carry extra large. Just x-small through large.” Because it’s just the worst when your clothes aren’t small enough.

If you’ve ever had to ask for an extra large, you understand the horror of being told a store doesn’t even carry sizes that big. And it’s not even that big! You didn’t ask for a 4X! It’s just a large with a little extra. The store associate always responds with equal parts pity and indignation in his or her voice, and you feel an obligation to defend why you’d make such a crazy request: “I just like my clothes a little looser,” “Cotton runs small on me,” or “I just wanted to see how it would fit if you had it, but it’s no big deal! I think large will fit, in fact, let me take a medium and a small, too, because large may be too big, actually.”

At this point, I hustled my friend into the fitting room, because I was this close to getting into a fistfight at the Shitty Teen Store. Unsurprisingly, the dress wasn’t flattering (partially because a large at the shitty teen store is a small everywhere else), and as we walked out empty-handed and exhausted, I was reminded once again that no good can come from the Shitty Teen Store. Unless you’re in the market for some really snazzy cubic zirconium chandelier earrings or a shirt you’ll immediately regret wearing as soon as you try it at home, but you’ll keep it in the back of your closet for the next two years, because the Shitty Teen Store only gives you store credit when you return something.

Avoid the Shitty Teen Store. I promise you will not find anything there.

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