As a sixth grader walking down the rows of shops at the the Desert Hills Premium Outlets mall, I was entranced by the beautiful photos of skinny models, mesmerized by the endless brand name logos and eager to arrive at my cherished destination: the True Religion Outlet store.
At Ladera Ranch Middle School, where I spent three long years muddling through the awkwardness of getting my period, dating my first boyfriend (a whopping three-day endeavor) and trying to be cool, True Religion was the must-have overpriced, mass-produced designer jeans brand.
I was obsessed with having a pair! Walking around school, I constantly looked at peoples’ asses, unaware of how creepy that must have appeared, checking for that signature True Religion horseshoe pattern.
Every time I saw those jeans I would become instantly disappointed — I felt that who I was and what I had were not enough. I thought that if I owned a pair of True Religion Jeans, then my friends would like me more. I thought that boys would like me more. I thought that I would like myself more. At 12 years old I was unable to see how outrageous it was to think that a pair of jeans could change my life.
I didn’t know that no combination of brand-name clothing could satiate my unquenchable need for more. So I proceeded to beg and badger my parents to get me a pair of True Religions. I told them that everyone had a pair and, in wealthy Ladera Ranch, this was not far from the truth. It felt like everyone was constantly comparing what they owned so the parents, as much as their kids, were always repping the most recent fashion trends. Too young to see that it was all bullshit, I fell right into believing the sparkling facade.
On that hot May day at the outlet mall, nothing sparkled brighter than the gaudy rhinestones covering the window display jeans as I entered the True Religion store. With the enormous smile on my face, you might have thought I was witnessing Jesus rising from the grave rocking a pair of True Religions.
On the right was a wall of jeans where, from floor to ceiling, all you could see was denim in every wash, size and style you could imagine. To the left were the glamorous store attendants — how lucky were they to be working at the best jean store in the world?
With intensity and focus, I dug into the stacks of jeans like a predator ripping into the flesh of its prey. I was on a mission. My mom, my sister and even my dad joined the hunt to help me find the perfect pair of life-changing jeans.
I entered the dressing room with a stack of jeans as tall as I was. With my mom by my side, I tried on pair after pair of jeans. Nothing was fitting quite right. These jeans were clearly designed for a size two, long-legged, flat-tummied individual, not a 12-year-old, 5-foot, muffin-topped hobbit.
But I was not going to leave that store without a pair of True Religions. How could I show my ass at school again without them? So, I gladly selected a pair that was a bit too snug in the thighs, too big in the waist, and was so long in the legs that they would have to be hemmed. Despite my disappointment in the fit, I did not hesitate to have my parents spend 100 dollars on them. A reasonable price, I thought, to buy me happiness, popularity and love.
And the first day I walked into school wearing those jeans was magic. I was thrilled at the thought of everyone staring at my horseshoe-stamped ass (still, I had no qualms about all of the ass-staring going on).
Predictably, the magic of that moment quickly faded. Trying to buy happiness would always lead to disappointment — I just wish I could have learned that before trying to make my hot pink Juicy Couture sweatsuits look cool.
Nearly a decade later I returned to the outlet mall, passing by the True Religion store; my mom and I looked at each other, both flashing back to my True Religion days. “Do you remember that phase?” she asked. I responded with a smile and a laugh.
Although I felt a bit embarrassed remembering the nightmare I caused in the name of fitting in, I also felt proud in that moment, standing next to my mom knowing that I no longer longed to look like the skinny models in the photos — the mesmerizing brand-name logos had lost their spell over me. I felt proud walking down those rows of shops not caring what other people were wearing or having any clue of the most trendy brands.
True Religion had lost its truth. Now I believed in my own religion, worshipping me, myself, and I — not an uncomfortable pair of jeans.
Jessica Redden writes the Monday column on finding freedom from overconsumption.