Every time I go to Hot Topic I’m instantly reminded of my whiny, pimpled, Chick-Fil-A eating teenaged self, and I try to get in and out of there as swiftly as possible. Why? Because I never feel old until I go to Hot Topic, the devil’s pit of eternal youth. The lair of the pre-hipster. But I was in need of a new belt. The one I’d been wearing for the past few years had been worked to death, so I was finally giving in and getting a new one.
Whenever I go to Hot Topic there’s nobody in there but teens and pre-teens. Everything’s in black, spiked, and ripped, and the girl at the cash register, her hair is appropriately purple with the requisite lip piercing and bondage straps dangling at her legs. I explore the store and look at all the gay-themed rainbow paraphernalia and funny t-shirts, like this insightful gem: “I’m Not Gay, But My Boyfriend Is.” I DEFINITELY wore that t-shirt at 15.
There are skinny jeans in every color combination, earrings and bracelets with ridiculous sayings. Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” is playing on the store radio and I get excited. But more than shopping, I’m taking in this whole experience. I’m looking at the other shoppers who must still be in high school, dressed in their “countercultural” drag, and I’m wondering when their moms are coming to pick them up. I want to ask if they know why they are being countercultural. I remember being that kid. I’m kind of still that kid.
Yes, think back to “that kid” in high school. The one with the dark eyeliner and blue hair who wore JNCOs and did everything to stand out as much as possible. That was supposed to be a phase, a time we rebelled and listened to Rage Against The Machine and explored identity and tried different things before we threw in the towel and became suburban house people. One of my most embarrassing looks in my early 20s was when you could easily mistake me for a person who worked at Hot Topic. Just think of all the Hot Topic stereotypes you can imagine, and that’s exactly what I looked like. My Uncle Reggie used to make fun of me and be like, “I wanna be a punk rocker!” Translation: You a hot mess!
Hot Topic was always more than just a store to me — it was a lifestyle. A lifestyle you could see at any high school in America, a lifestyle that just said NO to labels in favor of other, more aggressive forms of style and personality. It was the only place in the whole wide mall that had positive gay paraphernalia, the only place where it seemed like boundaries didn’t matter.
I always liked Hot Topic and that punk rock look because the style was different. I wasn’t Wiccan or a sorcerer and I did not worship the devil or listen to death metal. I shop there because I know I won’t be judged for buying women’s pants or bracelets or nail polish. I shop there because it’s hard for guys with my body type to buy clothes. I have this amazing athletic body that’s absolutely to die for, but I’m also skinny and short so it’s hard to find things that fit right. No matter where I go in America, if there’s a Hot Topic I know I’ll find something that fits.