Whatever Happened to Contempo Casuals? A Brief History

The recent revival of padded shoulders, retina-burning neon hues and palazzo pants as “fashionable” have sparked nostalgia for those halcyon days of the big-haired ‘80s. But as much fun as leg warmers…aren’t, the truth is, there can never be a full revitalization of ‘80s style, since one of the era’s biggest icons has gone the way of New Wave and huaraches (remember those?).

Contempo Casuals


Contempo Casuals, once the go-to store for all your jelly shoe and patterned jam pants needs in the 1980s and early ‘90s, supplied fashionistas across the nation with looks that ranged from edgy to inspired, culled from icons of the day like Madonna, Whitney and yes, even Jesse Spano. Contempo Casuals was a mid-priced store that sported the latest fashions that graced the pages of Sassy (the magazine that would have been a blog today) and became the godmother of stores like Urban Outfitters and American Apparel.

Contempo Casuals II

Plus, the store had cool shopping bags with geometric line drawings and Andy Warhol-esque graphics.

So What Happened to Contempo Casuals?

Wet Seal

Our fashion tastes improved? (Just kidding).

Contempo got its start in the 1960s by the Neiman Marcus Group, but the chain’s 239 stores were later sold to Wet Seal after multiple bouts of soft sales. Still, Contempo operated under its original name until 2001, when its remaining stores were converted to Wet Seals And Arden B. Since then, the Contempo Casuals name may have died out, but the memories live on.

And if you’re still mourning the loss of the store that gave you the looks that made you think, “Not even Kim Cattrall’s mannequin could pull this off so well,” don’t fret, just turn to Facebook. Contempo fans can reminisce about and smile for the old days and of course, compare notes on just how many buttons you could actually fit on a jean jacket.

Tell us about your favorite Contempo or Contempo-inspired look! (Bonus points for pictures!)

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  1. says

    I never knew this. Now that I do, I’m making all sorts of style connections between Contempo and Wet Seal. Contempo did foreshadow the model for a lot of clothing stores today, Forever 21, Urban Outfitters, etc. I wish I had some pictures to share, but I confess I may have hidden many. :)

  2. Krispaternostro says

    As a former employee of contempo casuals in New Orleans, it was one of the funniest times of my life!!! All my friends were envious because we got a really good employee discount!
    Yes, I still have a lot of the jewelry, bra tops and lacy gloves!
    How about those jeans with the leathers as they were called around here!

  3. Redgti9 says

    I still own a brown suede coat from Contempo! Still in style I SWEAR! I’ve always liked Arden B. Now it all makes sense why. Feeling nostalgic.

    • Public_Programming says

      Yup I have a cute dress from Arden B.. They had one downtown, but I didn’t get a chance to shop there much.

  4. Samantha says

    I LOVED Contempo!!! It was my go to place in the late 80’s. Oh how I miss the days of yesteryear.

  5. Patti says

    You are wrong about who started Contempo Casuals. It was started by a family named the Freedman and sold first to Carter Hawley Hale, and later to Neiman Marcus Group. When I left, we had 275 stores. It was an amazing place to work, I worked there for 10 years in stores and later Buying Office.

  6. Public_Programming says

    I’m wearing a Contemo Casual sweater right now! It still held up after all these years and I still get tons of compliments on it. It has a timeless look to it. You wouldn’t even know it came from Contempo although it does have a sort of cool design and eye catching colors.

  7. Sillygirl says

    I loved Contempo and miss it a lot. I used to shop there for anything like black and white outfit for work, business casual outfit or just something simple. The price was kind of high for my budget but I always feel like if I like it and will wear a lot, I didn”t care about how much it cost. It was funny how my girl friend and I had excatly the same skirt and we had no idea that we both shop at this store and had the same taste in professional outfit style!

  8. Noreen says

    I shopped at Contempo in Los Angeles back in the seventies. They had the greatest clothes at the best prices. I kept their clothes for years. I was a professional singer and they used to carry the coolest gowns. I have pictures from that that are posted at. you tube under Noreen Jackson Jazz. I also used to buy clothes at Suzi Creamcheese in Las Vegas. What a fun time that was. We had style!

  9. kerstin says

    I loved contempo back in the early 90’s. Most of my friends didn’t know about it because we only had 1 left in the city and it was kind of hidden. So i rarely bumped into someone wearing the same thing as me. I always got tons of compliments. I got super cute courderoy bell bottoms and sweaters and tops from there. Adorable sundresses…..Wet seal doesn’t hold a candle to the flame.

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