Hot Topic: How the “Loudest Store in the Mall” Went Quiet
There are dozens of shops that will help you look like everyone else. Hot Topic is one of the few that really marches to the beat of its own drum. The “loudest store in the mall” got its start in the late ’80s in Southern California and from the beginning, it was obsessed with the intersection of fashion and music.
For more than a decade, Hot Topic was the place to go if you were into bands and wanted to look “alternative.” The stores were designed like clubs, with dark lighting and screamo music. The chain traded in punkish staples, like hair dye, heavy boots, skinny jeans, body jewelry, makeup and band tees, as well as in wardrobe essentials for the burgeoning goth and raver crowds.
A wall of tees at the store / Image via Hot Topic/Facebook
These days, offering rock-inspired merchandise might seem like a no-brainer, but at the time it was difficult to get your hands on band gear unless you were at a concert or ordered out of a catalog. According to Hot Topic’s official bio, their selection of tees was such a hit that within the year they amassed 50 band titles. During the ’90s, the retailer expanded like crazy, opening more than a hundred stores and partnering with record labels like Sony to sell products for fans of Metallica, Korn and Marilyn Manson.
One report on the history of the brand states that Hot Topic employees were encouraged to attend concerts and that the company would even pay for their tickets if the employees would provide a fashion report on the event the next day. This was the era of Go and all-night raves, which inspired one staffer to pitch the idea for a pair of pants with a special pocket for glow sticks. Within a few months, the design debuted in stores.
These days, Hot Topic is trying to distance itself from its goth reputation and is instead aligning itself with popular teen franchises like Twilight, Glee, The Vampire Diaries and Harry Potter. Still, for a generation of shoppers the store will always remain the dark, somewhat scary place where they purchased their first corset or studded choker.
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