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What Ever Happened to Contempo Casuals?

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The revival of padded shoulders, retina-burning neon hues and palazzo pants have sparked nostalgia for those halcyon days of the big-haired ‘80s. But as much fun as leg warmers are…we’ll never enjoy a full revival of ’80s style. I say so because one of the era’s biggest icons — Contempo Casuals — has gone the way of New Wave and huaraches (remember those?).

Contempo Casuals

A Store for the ’80s

Those of us in our 40s remember Contempo Casuals as the go-to store for all your jelly shoe and patterned jam pants needs, 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.

A Short History of Contempo Casuals

The Friedman era

Contempo Casuals was launched in the ’60s by husband-and-wife team Dottie and Wil Friedman. This resourceful couple spun a liquidated variety store called Bargain Town into a women’s clothing shop that specialized in fresh, hip styles. Dottie and Wil were not fashion experts — but they were passionate about delivering a different retail experience.

Most people would think it was a negative that we had no experience in retail or clothing, but I believe it was one of our biggest assets. What I mean is that for the most part many come out of department stores or such, and have a set of rules. We had zero rules. We did what we thought was right, not knowing that in many cases it wouldn’t be what the mainstream clothing people would do. We made many mistakes, but I was smart enough to acknowledge them and fix it.

Wil Friedman, co-founder, Contempo Casuals

The Friedmans grew the brand from one store in Granada Hills, Calif. with pink walls and red carpet to a thriving chain. They marked their brand with hand-drawn, avant-garde advertisements depicting high-fashion women. From the mid-60s to the late-70s, women of all ages showed up at Contempo Casuals looking for the latest styles.

Visit ContempoCasuals.org for a very detailed account of the chain’s early years.

Neiman Marcus steps in

The brand grew so quickly that it caught the attention of national chains, and the Friedmans sold Contempo Casuals in 1978. Neiman Marcus Group owned it for a time, but the chain’s 239 stores were eventually sold to Wet Seal after multiple bouts of soft sales.

Wet Seal

Contempo operated under its original name until 2001, when its remaining stores were converted to Wet Seals and Arden B. Both Wet Seal and Arden B. stores have since been shuttered. It may have been the end of the Contempo Casuals name, but the memories still live on — for multiple generations.

Celebrating Contempo Casuals today

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.

The next generation: Contempo Tees

Today, the Contempo name lives on in a t-shirt line called Contempo Tees. Contempo Tees, recently launched by Friedman’s grandson, aims to take a piece of the streetwear market. The collection includes t-shirts featuring the original hand-drawn illustrations that promoted Contempo Casuals all those years ago.

You might pick up a Contempo Tee as a clever holiday gift for any ’80s fashion girl in your life. Orders are shipped within one business day. If you want the piece to arrive by Christmas, be sure to place your order by December 18.

Note: Budget Fashionista originally published this article about Contempo Casuals in 2012. But an email from THE Mr. Wil Friedman prompted me to rewrite it. I promised him I’d get the facts straight, and here we are. In our original post, we said Contempo Casuals was a product of Neiman Marcus in the ’80s. After Mr. Friedman set me straight, I updated this post to include the chain’s history between 1960 and 1978.

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MCelli

Sunday 4th of February 2018

I worked 1978-79 for the real Contempo Casuals (started by a husband and wife team) before it was purchased by The Neiman Marcus/Carter Hawley people. It was down hill from then on, the quality was garbage.

Catherine Brock

Sunday 4th of February 2018

MCelli,

Thanks for stopping by and sharing!

Catherine xoxo

MCelli

Sunday 4th of February 2018

I worked 78-79 for Contempo Casuals (started by a husband and wife team) before it was purchased to The Neiman Marcus/Carter Hawley people..it was down hill from then on. The quality was crap.

Emily F.

Saturday 22nd of April 2017

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

Friday 13th of January 2017

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

Friday 13th of January 2017

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

Thanks for stopping by!

~Catherine

Niccole Whitfield

Sunday 4th of December 2016

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!!

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