Earlier this fall, speed-walking through rain toward a darkwave Enfants Riches Déprimés show held at the University of Paris’s Faculty of Medicine, I saw a glowing lilac beacon: its entry lined with headbands and barrettes, an oval sign in the window reading “piercing d’oreilles.” Here, on Boulevard Saint-Michel, was the first Claire’s boutique I’d noticed in years. Time being of the essence, I snapped a storefront photo for proof and spent the next weeks thinking about how Claire’s and Y2K retailers like Afterthoughts and Gadzooks provided experimental style workshops on my trips to Richland Fashion Mall in Waco, Texas. Claire’s acted as a pre-metaverse space to explore and socialize; within its purple walls, the promise of sparkly crystal accessories, glow-in-the-dark technology, clearance-rack treasures scooped by handfuls for the dollar, and an opportunity to walk tall as a valued customer—at any age–was ever present.
While its peers shuttered in the early ’00s, Claire’s never left us—we just stopped going to shopping malls. Not long before my Paris sighting, I attempted to explain what a mall was at a West Village patio party during New York Fashion Week, because in their absence, a Y2K renaissance surfaced. Paris Hilton, Travis Barker, and Avril Lavigne returned to the spotlight, #y2k garnered billions of TikTok views, and Hulu’s PEN15—set in the era of dial-up internet—earned four Emmy nominations on the way to its final episodes, which arrive December 3. OG shoppers are revisiting the experience. “I bumped into a Claire’s recently and bought a pair of golden hoops just out of nostalgia,” says Lisbon-based La Mignonette, of the dreamcore account @mignonettetakespictures. She describes it as a destination to discover “cute accessories for a decent price” and, more than that, “the very beginning of self expression.”
It’s always been an open door, around the globe. “In the suburbs of Toronto, I spent my weekend at the mall,” says Berlin-based digital artist Stacie Ant, whose 3D avatars have won clients like Italian designer Adriana Hot Couture (a favorite of Rihanna). Ant preferred Claire’s pop-punk section since “there was nowhere else to find this type of teen-centered style.” For some, the boutique also provided a path to the future. “Claire’s opened up my eyes to the beauty of creating unique fashion and the importance of individuality,” says model Olay Noel, whose Los Angeles brand MIANIK can be seen on industry megastars Karrueche Tran and Winnie Harlow. It’s as if Claire’s is as much a store as a person—Claire—whose guests feel free to both exist as they are and dream beyond the now.
Below, pros of all kinds, from filmmakers to stylists to hair historians, share their favorite Claire’s pieces from every era—including 2021’s digitally shoppable beauty comforts.