Whatever Happened to Contempo Casuals? A Brief History

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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!)

  • Emily F.

    I used to “shop” (really just browse) at the Contempo Casuals at Brookdale Mall in a suburb of Minneapolis. I don’t think I ever actually bought anything there because I was always broke, but I used to spend a lot of time looking and dreaming. I miss Contempo Casuals, Brookdale Mall, and the early 90’s. Wonderful memories.

  • marie

    i remember buying my stripper/dance clothes there! You could always find a sexy short dress there like Christina Applegate would wear on The Bundys.

    • Catherine Brock

      Ha! I remember Kelly Bundy’s wardrobe — all bodycon, all the time!

      Thanks for stopping by!

      ~Catherine

  • Niccole Whitfield

    Contempo was really just another version of the ultimate 80’s store, Merry Go Round. Except that Merry Go Round had guys clothes as well….that was the store that first carried Jamz…….the pants version, that were brightly checkered flannel for guys. Contempo was the store that was meant to be just for girls. One of the things I got there that would still be in style, was my collection of awesome vinyl jackets and matching micro minis. (Ok maybe not IN style, per se, but cool enough to wear and give zero fix what stupid, self appointed,so called FASHIONISTAS, think—wait,I never cared what those lanes thought anyway!Lol) Mom stole most of these outfits and I will be damned if I knew what she did with them!!

  • PSG

    …crocheted…

  • PSG

    I also worked at Contempo in the early ’90s, and still have a few pieces, but not everything that I now wish I’d kept to hand down to my daughter (lots of black velvet, oversized gab jackets and tails, the heavy-duty, absolutely opaque ribbed leggings, and yes…one mauve babydoll dress, that I wore with granny boots and layered crochets tights).
    I even had the velvet Four-Non-Blondes floppy top hat, that I sold on eBay close to twenty years ago.
    A less fond memory would be having been written up for wearing faded black. In the middle of all things Grunge, my tunic sweater wasn’t as dark as my leggings…

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