The year 2020 — year of bad tidings — claimed another victim: Justice.
No, I don’t mean our justice system or the larger concept of justice. I’m talking about the tween girls’ clothing store Justice, which is currently running a liquidation sale. Justice’s parent company, Ascena, went into bankruptcy earlier this year and is closing the Justice line.
The end of Justice makes me sad. I’m not usually one to mourn the loss of a clothing chain, as I’ve never been much of a fashionista. But the end of Justice feels more personal, because of my two daughters.
My twin girls, 11 years old, are sixth graders in their first year of middle school. They fit right into Justice’s prime age demographic, which is girls aged 6-16. Over the past few years, Justice has become a part of their lives.
Until they were in fifth grade, I had searched out most of my daughters’ clothes at secondhand stores or stores for younger kids. The girls were just fine with this. But, sometime around their tenth birthday, things started to change. Ruffled dresses and pink pants suddenly lay untouched in their dresser, as the girls instead donned jeans and T-shirts with emoticon graphics and “Girl Boss” logos. Suddenly, they had ideas as to what clothes were cool. I started hearing about Justice: “So-and-so wears clothes from Justice.” “I want to go to a Justice store.”
So, we made our first trip to Justice.
The girls were excited and, for the first time, tried on outfits in dressing rooms. The Justice clothes were different from what I was used to. There was more bling, less cuteness. One of my daughters picked out a denim blue shirt-dress I would never have chosen. The other selected cheetah print shorts and a halter top. Clearly, we’d reached a milestone: My daughters were ready to start expressing their creativity and personality in their clothing choices.
From there, it grew.
One of the girls asked for Justice gift cards for every birthday and Christmas. Anything I bought from Justice seemed to be met with approval. It was as if some secret ingredient magically made the clothes cool. Putting on a Justice top seemed like a step to belonging in a whole new age group and phase of life (middle school).
I still remember the anxiety and excitement of my own first year in middle school. The big lunchroom with all the new faces and no one I knew. The cool girls with the cool jeans. The sudden intense desire to be pretty, which I don’t remember having felt before. Middle school was not easy then and is probably not easy now. If Justice clothes could help smooth the path, I thought that was all for the good.
Sure, as a parent, sometimes the clothes seemed a bit overpriced. Some shirts were too thin; occasionally there was too much polyester and glitter. (Then there was the shirt that came with an attached bright gold lamé bra top.) Yet, a majority of the clothes were of better quality than I expected. And yes, my girls did look cute and fashionable in them.
There were other positives to the Justice brand.
On the website, their young models looked, well, real. They weren’t slim little waifs with dark blond wavy hair and dreamy expressions. Instead, I saw girls with Afros, girls with flyaway braids and big smiles, girls who were closer to plus size than not. Justice projected an image of diversity and body acceptance. There was positivity to their direct messaging, too. You could buy Justice sweatshirts with phrases like “Unity,” “Equality Peace Hope,” and “Be Brave, Take Risks, Live Active.” Messages a mom could get behind.
Sure, Justice is a brand and a business whose purpose has been to sell clothes and make money. Nonetheless, it’s a brand that loomed large in my daughters’ lives — and meant something to them.
Last autumn was short on Halloween fun, but getting back-to-school clothes with Justice gift cards was exciting. One of the girls chose an 80s-style off-the-shoulder red sweatshirt that became her uniform for the fall. The girls’ hybrid learning schedule at their new school was so tightly structured that they could barely talk with other kids and missed out on new friendships. But at least they felt good in their back-to-school clothes.
As Christmas approached, we learned Justice was closing permanently.
All sales were now final. We put in a last order. The girls kept asking, “When will our Justice order come?” I felt sad.
It’s been a year of losses for our kids. Loss of time in school, loss of social time with their friends, loss of opportunities for lessons and camps and activities. For my daughters, the end of Justice is another loss to absorb in this season of losses. I’m sorry for the kids who will miss Justice, along with all the other things they’ve missed out on lately.
Sometimes, a store is just a store. Sometimes, it’s something more.
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