My ’90s Fashion Obsession? Thanks to My Mom, It’s Talbots
While my co-workers were scouring the internet for 90s Versace prints and Tom Ford Gucci jeans, I was looking for Talbots. yes, that Talbots. sure, it needs more digging, but the price can't be beat -- the most recent score was $56! -- that vintage crimson T label takes me back to my childhood.
My mom's closet was filled with Talbots that day. When my twin sister Liz and I were born 30 years ago, she worked nights at the local Talbots in Indianapolis while my dad juggled two babies (three when our brothers arrived 18 months later) and the pile of work offices he brought home. I don't remember what Mom wore in her first few years, but I do have photos that prove her "work clothes" in the late 80s and 90s were excellent, much of it from her pre-baby work in Indiana. She loved shirts and jackets -- always with a tie! -- and was often the girl in the black suit at parties. My dad recently sent me a couple of photos of Mom in New York in 1983, even as a tourist riding the graffiti subway or visiting the World Trade Center, wearing a ruffled shirt, diamond sweater, pants and wedge heels - a far cry from the leggings and sneakers most tourists (and locals) wear these days, so casually chic.
Times change, but great style (and clothing) endures. I have a few things in my closet from my mom, most of which were purchased at Talbots, and Liz and I are likely to wreak havoc in the stores. Even when she stopped working there, it remained her go-to. The ladies behind the register still respect her discounts, and to our dismay, when they catch up on life and work, we usually stay well after closing. (It felt like a few hours at the time, but it was probably closer to an hour.)
Of course, as girls in the 90s and early 00s, Liz and I didn't like Talbots at all. We found the stores and clothes completely boring, and when our fashion obsession peaked in middle school, we begged our moms to shop somewhere else. Anywhere else! To be honest, there weren't many other places she could shop in Indy besides the R.I.P. department stores and chains like Lucky Brand or the Gap. As the saying goes, Mom really knows best; she wisely found a store she trusts to invest in only classic, well-made items. She has Talbots pieces that have lasted 30 or 40 years, including an oversized camel blazer that now sits in my closet and a prized collarless suede jacket that I "borrowed" in 2016. They are decades old at this point, but look better than most of the brand new stuff I buy today.
Can you imagine buying something at the mall tomorrow that will last 40 years? With the exception of true designer fashion, the quality of most "regular" clothing has declined dramatically. Most of them are not designed to be passed down to your daughter or niece, let alone through the laundry. Talbots was not immune to this shift: as fashion consumption grew in the 2000s, it suffered the same fate as other "mall stores" trying to keep up with trends, producing more collections with cheaper fabrics and ubiquitous trends. The offerings became more colorful and casual than in the elegant heyday of the 1990s, and Mom eventually stopped shopping there (she now saves her splurges for Eileen Fisher). In fact, when I found (and stole) the perfect suede jacket, she suggested I cut the tag off. Wouldn't I be embarrassed to wear Talbots to Vogue?
A few years ago, maybe. But now I like to surprise people with "It's Talbots!". This happens a lot when they ask where it's from. (It's almost retro, and ironically "uncool" helps, especially in this 90s nostalgia moment.) At a fashion show last February, a colleague speculated that it was Khaite; when I revealed its true origin, my jaw literally dropped. When I wear it, I think of my mom, which is a bonus, and its incredible construction and quality inspired me to look for other vintage Talbots gems online. That $56 score was a square black jacket with gold buttons from the 80s, and I recently collected a Talbots military jacket on eBay for $30. It checks all the boxes I want to wear - unfussy, somewhat androgynous, used - and feels like I'm (sort of) making up for all those years of whining. Mom, I'm sorry for dragging your Talbot habit back, but I'm eternally grateful that you were able to grab those jackets!