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Hollister: Hell On Earth

Before I left for my trip to Costa Rica — more on that next week — I stopped by the newly opened Hollister store in New York’s SoHo neighborhood in order to buy an extra bikini. I had been to Hollister in other cities before, but my subconscious must have blocked the bad memories, because I truly was unprepared for the mental breakdown that shopping in that store causes.

Hollister is a division of Abercrombie & Fitch, and The New York Times’ describes it as “a beachy and laid-back SoCal lifestyle brand.” It is also hell. Allow me to describe the completely nonsensical experience of shopping in a Hollister store. Even walking by one makes me uncomfortable. On either side of the entrance there are usually one or two bikini-and-board-short-clad models/employees, noses striped with zinc, prepared to welcome you in with insanely trim and/or muscular arms. If I’m just a passerby, I feel embarrassed for them. It’s the middle of New York City — put on some clothes. If I’m going to the store to shop, I hate them. I don’t want to see a practically concave stomach and pert breasts right before I’m about to do some dreaded swimwear shopping. Who decided that was a genius idea? Having gorgeous aspiring models sell bikinis to dimpled-ass women like me is just mean.

Not that you can actually see the swimwear or any of the clothes, that is. Hollister is dark. And by dark I mean, you can’t f**king see anything, including where you’re going or the stuff you’re there to buy. Most Hollister stores are large, multi-leveled spaces, broken up into a series of rooms, all designed, I think, to make you lose your mind. Seriously, if you’ve ever dropped acid, or fought in Vietnam, or went to too many raves like I did, probs best to avoid. Describes the Times:

From what I remember, the main floor, or “pier,” has casual basics, arrayed along each side of a murky corridor. The upper floors have jeans, a fragrance room and dressier options; downstairs has bathing suits. But it was all in a dizzying series of interconnected rooms and stairwells, and I could be wrong. More than once I became lost in a room full of folded sweatshirts and casual tops that looked like the previous room of folded sweatshirts and casual tops, with another sylphlike beauty standing there, saying hello.

While you’re blindly navigating your way through this dark, confusing maze of fashion basics, club music is thumping loudly, which could cause scary flashbacks if you went to too many raves in the ’90s like I did. After ending up in a corner room stacked with plaid shirts and seemingly no way out, I finally begged one of the many tan, navel-pierced employees with no body fat to tell me how to get to the swimsuits.

All the clothing at Hollister is illuminated by spotlights, which means you’ve got to get extra close to discern whether that bikini has a blue print or a black print or, hell, a neon green print. Want to try it on? The dressing rooms, as you’ve probably guessed, are basically pitch-black too, with another spotlight shining down on your torso. Dressing rooms are one area in which dim lighting might be welcome — anything must be better than that horrible florescent, amiright? Wrong. The spotlight only serves to highlight every area you hate about yourself, even if you’re relatively cool with your body and its flaws. Probably because the obscenely gorgeous dressing room attendant keeps asking you sweetly if you need another size. Sigh. Larger? Screw you.

In fairness, the swimwear at Hollister IS awesome. The material they use is durable, but also really soft, and the bikinis come in an awesome array of colors and styles. I actually found a bikini I loved and was psyched to purchase. Only problem? If the main section of Hollister is, say, in Huntington Beach, California, the cash registers are in Egypt, which is to say, at the very top level — the 4th floor in the SoHo store — all the way at the back. That means you have to navigate through the maze again — by this point, your eyesight has adjusted slightly — and past all the beautiful people (who, according to the Times “are paid to flirt”), which definitely takes a little bit of the glee out of finding a swimsuit that doesn’t make you want to purge. By the way, leaving the store is almost as dangerous as going in — after all that darkness, the sun is blinding. Bring sunglasses.

All in all, my bikini shopping experience took 45 minutes. The suit came in handy during my trip and got me many compliments, so, in some ways, going to Hellister and back was worth it. But I will not be going again. [NY Times]

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