From the minute we stepped into the mall, we felt 14 again. I imagined myself just hanging out after school with my friends or reluctantly being seen with my mom in exchange to being treated to some shopping. I was with my roommate, Amna, who wanted to buy herself a new nose ring. Our first stop was Hot Topic.
Hot Topic is a Retail chain, located primarily in shopping malls, that sells alternative culture-related clothing and accessories, as well as licensed music. Hot Topic is noticeable from a distance, with its dark walls and floors and its floor to ceiling clutter of merchandise. Beginning in 1988, their goal was to become the antithesis to the other teen stores at the mall, which projected safer, more preppy aesthetics. It was an alternative lifestyle, for teens who felt they didn’t fit in. From indie music and comic books, to cult movies and underground cartoons, Hot Topic offers a wide variety of merchandise.
Above the entrance, their logo, stylized in all caps as HOT TOPIC, is set in a font called Gunplay. Gunplay was designed by Ray Larabie, inspired by the poster for the film the Getaway. Their logo is a black colored stencil font with sharp corners, a bold design that evokes urban grunge and graffiti.
Also at the entrance to the store is a chalk drawn promotion for “Hot Cash.” The promotion depicts a sunglass-donning Pikachu beneath the phrase “Gotta cash ‘em all!” Right behind this sign is two mannequins both dressed head to toe in Harry Potter merchandise. Hot Topic’s marketing is designed to appeal to counter-culture, but Pokemon and Harry Potter are a part of popular culture, known and adored by many people. There is a male and female mannequin, as Hot Topic’s marketing is designed to be as inclusive and accepting as possible.
The inside of the store is loud, both visually and auditory. A large monitor hangs from the ceiling, playing a music video that can be heard throughout the store. They are playing The Smashing Pumpkins.Their famous band teeshirts are displayed in a square grid format covering large sections of their wall, reminiscent of album and CD cover collections. They display a large variety of artists across all different genres.
The arrangement of the store’s merchandise appears somewhat random, cluttered and disorganized to give off a “don’t care” attitude. The door to the storage in the back says “Caution, Associates Only” with a radioactive symbol. The whole store looks like what you might try to imagine the bedroom of a stereotypical angsty teenager would look like. But if you walk around the store, there is somewhat of an attempt to label and organize with signs posted, dividing merchandise into the following categories: Girls Tees, Superheroes, Gamer, Rock Hall of Fame, Disney and Anime. They also try to categorize merchandise at the register, with a basket full of “mystery bags” which contain selected merchandise with a “theme” labelled on the front. The themes are: Sleeping with Sirens, 5SOS. Darth Vader, Gamer, Stitch, and Batman. Hot Topic’s attempt to imagine their store as a place for non-conformists is a walking contradiction, much like those who shop there. They all don’t want to be defined by a label, so Hot Topic does it for them.
This hypocrisy is intentional however, as their shoppers see themselves as unique, but there they all are, with the same interests, shopping at the same store, buying the same things.
The two women who work there are dressed in all black. They sport dyed hair, tattoos, piercings, and heavy makeup, but the minute you talk to them they smile, joke, and provide help. You may be judged for shopping at Hot Topic, but Hot Topic won’t be judging you.
Brendan Gallagher reflects on his own experiences as a youth at Hot Topic. He writes “There were kids in every high school in the country listening to the same music, kids who thought of themselves as individuals, just like me. And these kids also shopped at Hot Topic…Hot Topic gives teens a place to be different together, Hot Topic was built for the teen who can’t wait to tell you how different they are from the other kids shopping at Hot Topic.”
I was drawn to the neighboring Claire’s store for the same reason I was drawn to Hot Topic, because it brings memories of a younger version of myself. Claire’s is a jewelry store targeted towards female teens and tweens, ranging from 18 years old to 3 years old. They describe themselves as “an emporium of choice for all girls in age or attitude across the world.”
The appearance of Claire’s is drastically different from Hot Topic, where Hot Topic was loud, aggressive, and dark, Claire’s was light and friendly with pop music quietly playing in the background.
The walls and the signs are painted in their signature lilac color, the same color that is used to package all of their jewelry. Purple is a smart choice of color as pink is sometimes rejected by younger girls for being too “girly” and blue might be too neutral for girls who want to feel cute and accessorized. Their jewelry also gives the impression of being stylish and grown-up, as it mimics more sophisticated jewelry that older women would buy, but uses cheaper material such as plastic and rhinestones.
Claire’s logo, just like Hot Topic, is just their name. They are using Futura with a bold face, and all lowercase letters. In contrast with Hot Topic, which is stylized in all caps and with a more unique font, Claire’s logo is much more friendly, as it is a simple sans serif that is displayed in a shiny neutral color above the entrance.
What Band Teeshirts are to Hot Topic, ear piercing is to Claire’s. They do many piercings for younger girls, typically girls very first piercings. Here is one of the available envelopes for a gift card:
The ear piercing can be seen as a right of passage for a young girl wanting to feel more independent and adult. I got my own ears pierced at Claire’s when I was very young and they offered to let me hold a stuffed bear who has his own earring on during the piercing process. This particular Claire’s had one of these bears too. They are an excellent device for comforting girls who might be nervous about the pain and also to remind them that even if they want their new piercing to make them seem older and cooler, its still okay to hold a teddy bear and cry.
Although these stores both look and feel like complete opposites of one another, you might be surprised to learn about how similar their merchandise is. Both of them sell accessories, figurines, stuffed animals, Disney and cartoon themed items, and jewelry. Amna bought her nose rings from Hot Topic before entering Claire’s, where she was surprised (and annoyed) to see they too sold body jewelry but at a cheaper price.
Here we can see how different these entrances appear:
But when we look closer we can see some similarities:
I pulled two images from both of these retailer’s online stores:
The item on the left is available from Claire’s, while the one on the right is from Hot Topic.