Skinny jeans and club outfits: A farewell to Topshop

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Back when we didn’t have H&M, Uniqlo, or Forever 21, we went to Topshop if we wanted to look trendy. Illustration by JL JAVIER

I remember the very first piece of trendy clothing I bought myself: a pair of skinny jeans from Topshop that I paired with a white spandex tee, Havaianas flip-flops, and the awkward side-swept bangs everyone else was sporting in 2006. I was in my junior year of high school and had a soirée to attend. I felt so fashionable and so grown-up.

When Gokongwei Group’s Robinsons Retail Holdings, Inc. (RRHI) recently announced they were shutting down British highstreet brand Topshop’s Philippine stores (as well as brands Topman, Dorothy Perkins, and Burton), a wave of nostalgia washed over my skinny jeans-loving millennial self. For the generation that hit puberty in the ‘00’s, especially teenagers like me whose frames were bigger than the average Filipino’s, Topshop wasn’t just another imported brand selling fast fashion clothing. It was the store we went to to feel fashionable and trendy, and to find clothes that actually fit — even if we had to save months’ worth of allowance and birthday and Christmas gifts.

Back then we didn’t have H&M, Forever 21, Zara, or any fast fashion brands marketed specifically for teenagers and young adults, much less local brands led by cool young Filipinos. We had the likes of Bench and Human for jeans and basic tops, Rustans’ U, People R People, and YRYS if we wanted to look extra cool for the rare party or high school fair, and the more feminine Bayo and Kamiseta for Sunday gatherings and holidays with family. Those brands were great and all, but they didn't quite keep up with what we saw in magazines or on, that platform where street style stars first gained their followings. If we wanted to look on-trend, we went to Topshop.

We spent our pre-teen years in elephant pants, spaghetti strap tops, and platform sneakers copied from Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera’s music videos and bought by our mothers. But the advent of skinny jeans coincided with our entry into trend-conscious teenagehood. We were starting to choose and buy our own clothes and we wanted to look fashionable. We wanted skinny jeans, and we could only get them at Topshop. Those first pairs signaled our entry into the world of trends and fashion, and years-long relationships with the brand.

Those perfectly-fitting Topshop skinny jeans took me through awkward parties as my classmates and I navigated socializing with the opposite sex. They were a staple during high school fairs and I wore that same pair of jeans during my college freshman orientation — my first school activity free from the confines of my Catholic school girl uniform.

As my social calendar expanded, I relied on the store to find more clothes for different occasions. It was there I bought my first LBD, a tank neckline dress with a short, swing skirt, which I wore to my first clubbing experience for someone’s debut. When I thought vests looked cool over tshirts, I scored one at the Topshop sales rack. For my first gig as a classical musician, I wore a black satin blouse and trousers that became a staple in my orchestra attire.

Over the years, we all witnessed an influx of international brands takeover Philippine malls, but I and many of my girl friends continued to count on Topshop to find special clothes for our teenage and young adult milestones.

Of course things change, styles evolve and people grow up. I have witnessed the cyclical nature of fashion (goodbye skinny jeans; hello vintage-fit wedgie jeans) and no longer jump at the chance to buy or wear the latest trends. I've found most of the clothes at Topshop too trendy for my taste (or am I getting too old to keep up?). But out of an old loyalty to the brand that helped me come into myself and find my personal style, it continued to be my go-to when I wanted to look special and had a milestone to dress up for. When I was adjusting to my postpartum body after giving birth to my son, the only dress I felt comfortable buying was an orange wrap dress from Topshop.

The world is so different from what it was when I first started choosing my own clothes and shopping at Topshop. Fast fashion brands are now known to do more harm than good to the industry and to the environment, shopping is now mostly online and possible through every platform imaginable, and the demand for too-trendy brands has declined steadily over the years.

But somehow, saying goodbye to Topshop as they shut down the stores in our part of the world feels like the end of an era, like I’ve lost an old friend and I’m officially saying goodbye to my youth.