One of the hallmarks of a middle to upper middle-class upbringing is an affinity for shopping. Most people I know my age had “their” mall they frequented growing up: the place their moms and dads shuttled the whole gaggle of preteens nearly every Saturday. Now a few years older and wiser, we’ve moved on to cooler hangout spots, like neighborhoods gentrified just for us (Wicker Park, anyone?).
Recently I had a job interview at the backdrop of my childhood, Old Orchard Shopping Center, whose outdoor glory was misrepresented in "Mean Girls." It was bizarre to see younger girls acting as I used to, perusing the stores without a care in the world. They could spend the entire afternoon wreaking havoc on the piles of skinny jeans and probably-too-sexual dresses, leaving dozens of exhausted salespeople to clean up in their wake.
How I long for the days of consecutive Starbucks, frozen yogurt, and soft pretzels (discarded only half-eaten, because ugh the carbs). After those purchases, we tried on every garment we could make out in the darkness of Hollister, observing the changes (or not) in each others’ bodies under the guise of “no, you don’t look fat at ALL.” Our infant hips were a size 0 and yet we worried about slimming down to a size 00. Often the clothes we tried on went un-purchased because they were too pricey, as if we cared about our parents’ money.
However, this new generation of middle schoolers was missing out on some of the staples of my Old Orchard experience. Gone are the familiar storefronts of lucy (why no capitalization?) and United Colors of Benetton (a country I was never privileged enough to enter) and the ultimate in business-mom, Coldwater Creek (I mostly miss its functional indoor waterfall). Now I can ponder the mystery of the many Gaps while eating fries and drinking a milkshake from Shake Shack.
As I left the mall after my interview, my nostalgia faded. I grew up tremendously at Old Orchard, from learning to take turns on the playgrounds to finally understanding what a proper tip is at The Bagel. Now, I can remember those times with an appropriate balance of warmth and angst while looking forward to applying my adult skills.Malls everywhere, we love you.