As a bored teen in the mid-2000s, my major social activity was meandering around the new mall built for our rapidly expanding city, Des Moines. Our newspaper had claimed that Des Moines was becoming “cool,” but I didn’t buy it until, one day, we got a Hollister.
This was a Very Big Deal in Iowa. After all, my friends and I were enviously watching the glamorous, sunkissed teens on Laguna Beach, or their fictional counterparts Seth Cohen and Marissa Cooper on The O.C. Hollister’s beachy denim miniskirts were our gateway to feeling like we too could punch someone in the face and say, “Welcome to the O.C., bitch!”
Wearing Hollister was cool, but to me, working there was the ultimate status symbol.
After all, your job title was literally “model.” They allegedly even scouted their real print models from store employees. My imagination ran wild with fantasies of being discovered among a rack of graphic tees emblazoned with quotes like “Good girls are just better at lying.” To think that I was just one minimum-wage job away from being plucked out of suburban monotony motivated me to apply for a job there.
One group interview in the mall food court later, I was offered a role on the “Impact” team—which was code for stockroom, which was code for “not hot enough” to be a main floor “model.”
(And in some cases, as it turns out, code for “not white.”)
It was a blow to my ego, but I still took the role, which mainly included unboxing shipments of “Team LC” and “Team Kristen” shirts. Despite being on the less prestigious team, I am embarrassed to admit I still got a thrill out of bragging that I worked at Holl-is-ter when I was on my lunch break at the mall’s DQ Chill and Grill.
With Black Friday looming, the mall was buzzing with activity.
Hollister’s denim clothing store nemesis, Buckle, went wild, window dressing its mannequins’ plastic butts in embellished Miss Me jeans, Barnes & Noble was debuting the Kindle, and every store was preparing for a stampede. Black Friday was at its peak insanity, with compilations of brawls appearing on a new website called YouTube. Hollister, however, was too cool to be a part of the “doorbuster” phenomenon and would be arriving fashionably late to the madness. My manager announced that we would be opening at 8 a.m. instead of midnight. He then told me that, since it would be busy, I would be pulled up to work on the main floor.
This was my A Star is Born moment. I was finally getting a chance to prove that I could greet customers with a line like, “Hey, what’s up?” I broke out my best navy and white outfit (never black—Hollister employees were NOT allowed to wear black) and reported to the front of the store. I was assigned to the denim wall; for Black Friday that year, Hollister had designed an intricate wall of perfectly folded $80 distressed skinnies. My manager emphasized that the jeans in the wall must remain pristinely folded, no matter what.
8 a.m. approached. All the plaid-clad employees permanently seeped notes of coconut into each stack of clothing by spraying them with requisite men’s cologne “SoCal”; they would repeat this every hour. Weezer pulsated out of the sound speakers about 40 decibels too loud. Despite that being an off-putting environment for anyone over the age of 22, the store was flooded with customers the moment the doors unlocked.
All of the chill, beach-inspired vibes that Hollister prided itself on went right out the window on Black Friday. The chaotic scene inside the store juxtaposed the laid-back Manhattan Beach livestream that was always playing on a wall-to-wall TV.
Despite my best efforts, being 5’2″ meant I was useless against the swarm of people yanking jeans off the wall, so I just watched it fall like a member of the Night’s Watch. Customers screamed at workers to check the stockroom again for their size (or worse, learned that Hollister’s exclusionary sizing didn’t include XL or larger for women). I uselessly tried to enforce an item limit for the dressing rooms, and had to explain to confused dads that the frayed, ripped denim they were holding wasn’t damaged, but intentionally designed that way. Go-back bins were filled to the brim with ribbed sweaters, faux-fur lined puffy jackets were torn from their hangers, and kids being paid $6.15 an hour scanned graphic tees as fast as they could.
At the end of that day, I wondered if this was really the dream after all. Sure, I got to work around oversized sepia-toned posters of abs, but was this retail job truly any better than the Aeropostale one I turned my nose up at? Looking back, I’m not so sure. Either way, at least the employee discount was great.
Kelsey Klemme is a comedian and writer living in Los Angeles. She’s obsessed with pop culture, badass women, and thrifting after watching one episode of Girlboss. You can follow her on Twitter for jokes or Instagram for thirst traps. Visit her website at KelseyKlemme.com