Wednesday, July 16, 2014

childhood obsessions: Claire's.

When I was in third grade, I asked my parents for an allowance. I was nine years old, and I understood the joys of spending money – and I wanted to somehow acquire more money so I could buy more things. (Mostly candy.)

A friend of mine received one dollar per week as her allowance, and I asked for as much during my allowance negotiations. My parents came back with a counter offer: three dollars a week, but with a catch: I would need to sign a contract stating that my chores would get done and that I would try to be nicer to my siblings. (This may have been my first experience with loopholes: I would “try” to be nicer.) I signed the contract, it was locked away in the safe, and I started earning allowance.

With said allowance came the great freedom to buy things, but many difficult decisions were ahead: do I blow it all on sticky hands from the grocery store vending machine, or do I save up for the next trip to the mall?

More often than not, I chose the mall… mainly because I was obsessed with Claire’s.
Yes, the tweeny glittery fluffy pink costume jewelry store. I LOVED every last bit of it.

I spent a great deal of time in the Brookings mall, thanks mostly to my grandparents being willing to take us there when we came to visit. The Brookings mall was not (and still isn’t) anything to write home about, but as a kid with nowhere else to go, it seemed like paradise.

At the time, the Brookings mall held such pre-adolescent favorites as Maurices, Vanity, and Claire’s, in addition to more adult-geared stores like JCPenney and Cover to Cover. It was the Brookings mall that first introduced me to the wonders of Claire’s – though I couldn’t afford anything in the store, I could always window-shop and make mental notes for my Christmas list.  

I didn’t actually start buying stuff at Claire’s until I started frequenting the Claire’s in the Watertown mall. I told you about the Watertown mall last week, so you know that while it was no Empire Mall, it had a lot more to offer than the Brookings mall.

I’ve been a bargain hunter all my life, and one of the things that first drew me to Claire’s was their fabulous clearance rack. Every so often, Claire’s would mark a ton of things down so that they were 10 for $5. That’s right: fifty cents per item. My mom – a fellow bargain shopper, and probably the reason I am the way I am – could usually be convinced to go halfsies with me, so we’d each get five items for $2.50. That was something I could totally handle – five things from Claire’s, and I’d still have enough left from my three dollar allowance to buy a can of pop. That’s my idea of power shopping.

As I grew older and my allowance increased, I no longer had to limit my Claire’s purchases to the super clearance rack. I shifted my sights to the REGULAR clearance rack – I was moving up in the world! One of the first purchases I remember buying from Claire’s was an iridescent purple zipper wallet thing that I bought in Watertown for $5. I had that thing for YEARS – until the iridescent covering peeled off and the zipper broke. Sigh.

Claire’s was my go-to place for all my ridiculous childhood purses. Yep: not only did my first wallet come from Claire’s, but so did my first purse. It was made of the same kind of material as those jelly shoes, and it couldn’t hold anything more than a handful of change and my Dr Pepper flavored LipSmackers. I bought it on a rainy day in Watertown – my parents and I had just come from my clarinet solo at the Watertown high school, and my reward for a superior rating (go ahead, be impressed) was a five dollar contribution to my Claire’s purchase. I unearthed that purse: it was made of an translucent grey-ish jelly material with sparkles and stars melted right in. It was a whopping $11, but with my parents’ $5, it only cost me two weeks’ allowance. (Plus tax.)

It wasn’t just the Claire’s stores in South Dakota where I blew my hard-earned allowance. I visited my aunt and uncle in Denver for two weeks one summer (the summer after sixth grade? maybe?), and they were kind enough to take me to one of the malls near Denver – the likes of which I’d never seen before. Of course, I made a beeline for their (much more impressively stocked) Claire’s, where I purchased a Chinese symbol for my birth year (the year of the rabbit, if you were curious). I felt awfully worldly when I came back to South Dakota with my fancy Chinese symbol necklace. I’m sure everyone was very impressed.
Aren't you impressed at how cultured I was?
My family knew full well about how much I loved Claire’s, so it was a safe bet that they could do their Christmas/birthday shopping there. I’ve told you (time and time again) about my fake Heart of the Ocean necklace – it came in my stocking after I had not-so-subtly hinted that I wanted it for Christmas. That came from Claire’s – where else? My brother and sister each gave me earrings from Claire’s when they were young – Darrah bought me a pair of heart earrings with lime green stones in the middle (Claire’s served me well during my obsession with the color lime green), and Mitch gave me some little silver flowers with pink stones. All these years later, I still have those earrings.

Speaking of earrings, it was at Claire’s where I got my ears pierced. I was in seventh grade, and it had taken me YEARS to work up the courage to do it. When I finally made my decision, Mom hauled me to Watertown, where two teenagers at Claire’s pierced my ears. Years later, when I was soon to be a college sophomore, I got second holes in my ears at the very same Claire’s. (True story: the second holes in my ears are UNEVEN because the girl had no idea what she was doing). My final Claire’s ear piercing was a cartilage piercing about a year later. My friend Meagan and I went to the Brookings Claire’s because Meagan (who had just started working there) knew of a piercer who need to practice – therefore, our cartilage piercings would be half off. (After my “buy one get one free” tattoo stories, it can’t be much of a surprise that I’d apply the same logic to ear piercing.)

Nowadays, the general consensus is that ear piercing guns (which is what they use at Claire’s) are horrible. Their sterility is questionable, and the guns tend to cause more trauma to your skin than a piercing needle. Plus, the people doing the piercings at Claire’s are usually just kids themselves – and kids without much practice, as my half-off practice piercing experience should tell you. But I had no idea at the time, so Claire’s was just where you went if you wanted your ears pierced.

Like getting your ears pierced, there was only one place you considered for your prom jewelry – and that was Claire’s. Tiaras, rhinestony bracelets, gigantic and shiny necklaces – whatever blingy tackiness you wanted for prom, Claire’s was happy to provide. I never went too overboard – Claire’s prom jewelry was rather expensive ($15 a necklace? WHAT??) for my sensibilities. After all, I was probably only going to wear this stuff once – why break the bank? (I probably don’t need to tell you this, but I was not your average teenage girl.) But come prom time, Claire’s did not fail me. I went to three proms, and I was decked out in Claire’s jewelry for each one of them.
Prom #1.
Prom #2.
Prom #3.
After my final prom, Claire’s lost its usefulness. I’ve bought a couple pairs of earrings there in the years since (T-Rex earrings, no less), but my days of anxiously awaiting my next trip to Claire’s are far behind me. Clearly, I have some fond memories of that ridiculous place – and even a few pieces of jewelry left to remind me of the good times I had at Claire’s.
I bought this in 1997 and still wear it to this day.
And then there's this. Thanks for helping
feed my Titanic obsession, Claire's.

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