Welcome to our Fringe Debuts series, where comedians taking their first show to Edinburgh Fringe will give you a little taster of what to expect, an insight into their world, or really super weird musings on something equally bizarre — to be honest, we just let them run with it. If you’re readying yourself for a giant lol injection in August, now’s your chance to find something NEW to add to your list.
Mary Beth Barone is performing Silly Little Girl, an hour about the Big Three: growing up in the 90s, dating and the Cold War. Here, she tackles an equally important subject: the addictive pull of white crop-top purveyor, Brandy Melville.
I met her for the first time when I was 25 years old. I had heard of her previously, of course, but I was never quite sure of what she really offered. That is, until my intrigue finally got the better of me. I sauntered into her storefront on Prince Street in New York City, not knowing at the time that this chance encounter would change my life. She would change my life. Her name? Brandy Melville.
Walking through the shop, I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of skirts, crop tops, and spandex that stood before me. Stacks of tiny, bite-sized clothing adorned with anything from tiny flowers to navy blue plaid to baby angels, just daring me to wear them. Brandy Melville is a genius, I thought to myself. I glanced, I touched, I tried on. Wrapping myself in the stretchy fabrics, I pictured what these garments would look like slotted in amongst my existing wardrobe. Perfect. So of course, I purchased. Time and time again, I purchased.
In the years that followed, it was not a question of if I would enter Brandy Melville and walk out with a white cotton crop top, but rather a question of how many. How could I possibly say no to 3 must-have items that were only slightly different from my previous Brandy Melville purchases for under $70? I’m not insane. The number of Brandy Melville items I own is in the upper double digits. I’m currently on a two week trip with 12 Brandy Melville crop tops, each with a little something that makes them unique. What made this store different from the fast fashion brands I had long sworn off of? Those brands couldn’t speak to me the way Brandy could. In a text exchange with a fellow Brandy shopper, I once expressed that I wished I could bottle up the way Brandy Melville makes me feel.
Every time I entered one of Brandy’s cozy, hastily decorated locations, it was bliss. I felt at peace. Whatever turmoil and chaos existed outside that glass door could not reach me once I was inside. And in safe spaces such as these, I can do my best thinking. Years ago, on a midday visit to the Broadway store in the middle of summer, I made eye contact with one of the surly shop girls, her hair long, dark, and straight. I was struck by inspiration. I immediately grabbed my phone to send a Tweet. Every girl who works at Brandy Melville is a Haim sister.
Brandy Melville is often fodder for Twitter users. Be it her recently released Ray Charles tank top or the false news of her passing during the pandemic, Brandy has become a cultural touchstone.
Of course, like many beloved icons of our time, Brandy is not immune to controversy. Her pricing structure would suggest that the clothes are not manufactured in a way that is environmentally friendly, nor ethically sound. Brandy is also not inclusive, offering clothing in one size only. One of Brandy’s representatives clarified in an interview with Novella Mag, “It’s actually not one size fits all it’s just one size, which is a big conception.” Regardless of which distinction the brand wants to commit to on this issue, the store is not catering to a majority of shoppers who have made it past their teenage years.
At 31, I am a much more conscious consumer. Brandy’s imperfections can no longer be overlooked. Some things, like the adverse effects of fast fashion on our planet’s health, outweigh the euphoric feeling of walking out of Brandy Melville with a paper bag in hand containing multiple pieces of clothing weighing less than 6 ounces total. What was once a haven for me has now become like listening to a Chris Brown song — the nostalgia of simpler [read: more ignorant] times cannot justify my participation in its problematic practices.
Additionally — and this may shock you — Brandy Melville is not a person that exists. The brand was born in the late 1980s to a man named Silvio Marson and his son. Two men profiting off of the babysitting money of teens and the rent money of adults. Hiding behind the meaningless moniker would get them far. Brandy Melville currently operates with 97 locations on six different continents. In 2021, there were several reports of exploitation and discriminatory hiring practices.
For a few years, I stopped visiting Brandy, cold turkey. A few weeks ago, in a low moment, the allure became too strong. I gave into temptation and I walked into Brandy’s store on Carnaby Street. Wide-eyed and ravenous, feeling sad about a salad I had eaten earlier that didn’t taste good, I did a single lap, finding 3 things I simply couldn’t live without. I didn’t even try them on, rushing to get out of the store as soon as possible. I didn’t feel safe. I felt judged. I tapped my Visa credit card quickly in exchange for the white crop top and the matching waffled pyjama set. It’s not something I’m proud of, it’s something I’m working on. I, too, am imperfect.
With its various glaring problems as a company, exclusive sizing, and questionable business practices, I’ve had to realise over time that Brandy Melville is clearly not a store for all, it’s just a store.
Mary Beth Barone: Silly Little Girl runs from Aug 3rd-28th, 8:30pm, at Pleasance Courtyard. Tickets here
Mary Beth is on Twitter and Instagram at @marybethbarone
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It was created by the wonderful MICHAEL JULINGS, whose work you can find here