It's Saturday morning, and I'm heading to a Louisville, Kentucky, mall with a dual mission: find a dress for a friend's wedding, and try on as much Stranger Things apparel at H&M as possible before some exhausted dressing room attendant chases me out like an angry Demodog.
That's right. Netflix's '80s-loving horror/adventure show Stranger Things has inspired its own line of clothing at the retailer. Much like the show itself, the gear is a nostalgic nod to the decade of big hair, slap bracelets and Gorbachev. Now you can pretend you're a member of the Hawkins, Indiana, community pool -- a location we'll visit when the popular series about a group of friends battling monsters from another realm returns for its third season July 4. I'm plenty ready for this third installment, having been obsessed since the first season.
I walk into the store and it doesn't take long to spot what I'd imagine is the line's piece de resistance: a red, women's one-piece bathing suit with a lifeguard logo on the front that you might have spotted in the. Immediately, I imagine myself wearing it and, to my cascading terror, being mistaken for a lifeguard.
Let's get one thing out of the way: I cannot save you.
Mercifully, there isn't one in my size. But I scoop up everything else on the Stranger Things rack and slink back to the fitting room.
This isn't Stranger Things' first foray into merchandising and brand partnerships. Coca-Cola is bringing back its notorious New Coke in promotion of the show. Burger King is making an Upside Down Whopper (oh la la). And Nike is creating a batch of footwear and athletic wear celebrating Hawkins. Stranger Things isn't the only show getting in on that cross promotion, of course. Adweek reported that Game of Thrones partnered with more than 100 brands, including Mountain Dew, the Red Cross, OkCupid, Oreo and MeUndies. (Read: dragon underwear.)
The first item I try on is a black, short-sleeved crop top with "Hawkins, Indiana" in pink and teal lettering that screams '80s as loudly as Billy Hargrove's mullet.
Fun fact: A weird battle over superiority exists between Louisville and Indiana. What Indiana (a mere bridge crossing away) did to deserve the jokes and snide comments of its southern brethren, I've yet to determine, but I'm not entirely sure I'd wear "Indiana" on a shirt and trust everyone to get a reference to the show in these parts.
Also, I've decided not to make up my mind about crop tops until they're out of style.
Moving on, I try on a two-piece bathing suit with a tropical pattern (monstera leaves, palms, flowers) and pair it with red athletic shorts also advertising my fictitious lifeguard skills.
The shorts are soft and comfortable. The bathing suit is cut like the bathing suit I actually own -- and I like the pattern because in this phase of my life, I will buy anything associated with monstera leaves. Decorative dishes. Shoes. An actual monstera plant.
Looking in the mirror, I realize I can finish off this outfit with two particularly strong Stranger Things statement pieces if I really want to push my fandom for Eleven, Hopper and slimy creepers to the extreme. The line features a clear red visor and boxy, white foam sandals with the logo of the show on them. I imagine which character would be most likely to wear these. It would probably be Steve. Better yet, Steve and Dustin would get a matching set.
Allow me to pause here.
I have a short but meaningful history of owning entertainment-branded apparel. In first grade, I had a pair of white canvas sneakers with Sylvester and Tweety on the sides. They were the talk of the playground for at least an entire afternoon. Sophomore year of high school, I had a Superman hoodie I wore at least once a week.
But mostly, I grew up following the wisdom of my parents, who said that if you're going to go walking around with a logo emblazoned on your chest, someone should be paying you.
As much as I truly appreciate my parents' efforts to buck the System, the Man is actually pretty good at appealing to people who want to make a statement about who they are via what they like slapped onto clothing and accessories.
For example -- and this is a fact -- in the early aughts, you weren't allowed to attend public high school unless you owned at least one Aeropostale polo. Extra points for a puka shell necklace.
I didn't make the rules then, and I certainly don't make them now.
But back to the visor-and-sandal situation. The brim casts a red glow that makes you look like you're already cruising toward a sunburn. The interior band leaves an imprint across my forehead, and the sandals seem to whisper that they can't wait for me to trip down a flight of stairs while wearing them.
Head-to-toe Hawkins feels like a skosh too much Hawkins, like a school dance that's gone on a couple of songs too long.
There are a few things I avoid when it comes to fashion. Those include drowning myself in too much of one kind of fabric and clothes that make it difficult to pee.
Enter the romper.
It's the last piece I try on. This one has the same pattern as the two-piece bathing suit from earlier. I slip it on, and to my surprise, it fits well. It's comfortable, the shorts aren't too short, and the fabric isn't overly blousy around the butt.
I think… I think I like it. Also, I think Eleven would totally wear a romper.
Upon further inspection, I realize the big red flowers mixed in with the lush green leaves are Demogorgons (Stranger Things' resident nightmare-inducing monsters) with their mouths gaping open.
There's beauty to be found in everything, right?
Maybe it's the monstera leaves, but I dig this romper, and I'm fairly certain no one would know what they were looking at unless they were searching for people in Demogorgon-patterned rompers. Is it still branded apparel? Of course, but not in a way that turns you into a walking billboard.
Hence, I'm kinda sorta playing by my parents' rules here… even if I'm technically handing over $17.99 to The Man.
With that, I return my assorted Hawkins clothing to the fitting room desk, grateful to be rid of that plastic visor, and head to the cashier.
If you see me out this summer, though, do me a favor and don't mention the Demogorgons.
Originally published June 18, 5 a.m. PT.