This Marked-Up 1998 dELiA*s Catalog Is Everything We’ll Miss About Our Fave Teen Retailer

My relationship with the dELiA*s catalog was far more intimate than my relationship with its products, which my mother deemed overpriced and impractical and therefore rarely permitted me to purchase. My friends and I cut the catalogs to pieces, using its models and its cutesy-cool ad copy to populate collages and our bedroom walls. When we posed for pictures, we’d do one regular, one goofy, and one “Delia*s” — meaning eyes rolled and cocked slightly to the right and the mouth barely open, or else you’d stick your tongue out in one direction while rolling your eyes in the other. It was a posture that suggested aggressive boredom often experienced by girls who were too cool for just about everything.

Last week the internet began buzzing about dELiA*s impending demise — the company’s stock is about to be delisted from NASDAQ for failing to meet standards and currently hovers at 11 cents a share. “Starting in 1993, dELiA*s encouraged a certain badassery that squared with middle-school girls living across the country,” wrote Alex Ronan in New York Magazine last week. “It was where you went after Limited Too felt too babyish but before you could handle Urban Outfitters.” But, like Urban Outfitters, dELiA*s merchandise was both high-cost and low-quality, which is a tougher sell in the age of Forever 21, H&M and Uniqlo.

“In the case of dELiA*s, girl power was about consumer activism more than anything else,” Caryn Murphy, a history professor as the University of Wisconsin told New York Magazine. “The message was to express yourself, but to do that through your clothes and makeup and room décor.” In its heyday in the mid-90s, deLiA*s was the only catalog aimed squarely at teenage girls and, for girls without a nearby Urban Outfitters or the like, this was the only way for them to access these particular styles. deLiA*s went online in 1998, garnering an exceptional 11 million hits per month. But, as Ronan writes, “Girl Power was a marketing tool made into cliché, and the mom-approved chasteness dELiA*s espoused lost its currency as millennials aged.”

I mentioned offhand to Fashion Editor Lydia and Executive Editor Laneia that I had an old dELiA*s catalog in my closet somewhere from the ’90s because I had a friend who used to come over and write all over my dELiA*s catalogs when I wasn’t paying attention. You know – giving people mustaches, calling a surly looking model a “dike,” re-inserting blemishes that we imagined had been removed by Photoshop 1.0. Your standard teenage nightmare. They suggested that I scan the entire thing as our homage to dELiA*s and so what happened next was that I did exactly that. Click on the first image to enter a gallery of your dreams!

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Riese

Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3152 articles for us.

32 Comments

  1. deLIa*s!

    Cue flashbacks to middle school. Did anyone else have the purple pajamas with white snowflakes on them? Or am I the only one?

    So many feels. Such nostalgia.

  2. “Change a thing. Rock the boat.” That’s some great advice, clothing catalog, thanks! CHANGE A THING!

    (also having some serious flashbacks right now – I was all about cargo shorts/pants back then…sometimes still am–they’re just so functional!)

  3. this will surprise no one, but i owned that union jack tank top and often rebelliously wore it on the 4th of july.

  4. MY HEART HURTS SO MUCH I definitely had that issue of the Delia’s catalog. My favorite purchases in high school were my yakpak and platform boots, and a red and black plaid purse I just retired last year, after 15+ years of serving me well. Rest in peace, D. Rest in peace.

  5. SMELL THIS! I LOVED those! I totally still have a tin kicking around somewhere with vanilla, iced tea, clean laundry, uh…a green one that was maybe apple?, and (my favourite) ice cream float. I was big on spritzy stuff in my tweens and early teens. Bottled Emotion by Bonne Bell, anyone? Can I get a “hell yeah”?

  6. OMG. I wanted to be all of the girls from the dELiA’s catalogs when I was in middle school. My mom never bought me anything from them, but I thought they were the coolest, especially since that’s the first place pre-Internet me ever saw a Sailor Moon t-shirt for sale. I’m sure I paged through this exact catalog repeatedly, because the shirt on page 15 and the bathing suit(s) on page 24 immediately seemed familiar. They must have been at the top of my wish list from that issue.

  7. Oh I definitely wanted many things from the dELiA*s catalogue when I was a teenager. I still want some of those things.

    The giant ass pants though… yussssssssssss

  8. 1) Oh Christ I think I found my tomboy femme root. 12-year old me was terrified of the Delia’s catalog girls but now-me wants to date them all (AS 30-YEAR OLDS) (but maybe still wearing clothes that were both clingy and aggressive and sporty and irreverent).
    2) My sisters and I would draw the EXACT SAME COMMENTARY but with the tiny “more sizes” girl in that other catalog, whose name I am forgetting, but which also sold inflatable furniture, and was not Alloy.
    3) Now I take the measure of my soul by examining the Lululemon bags to see how many of their adages I agree with. I had forgotten that back in the day I took the Delia’s catalog maxims as a sort of religious text that I would force myself to believe. “Forget the little people…whatever that means.”
    3) OOOH baby I love your way.

  9. Yo I cracked up so hard with that little graphic indicating where the excess fabric should be located… that said, I would rock those long-ass low-rises right meow.

  10. I was *intimately* familiar with every page of this because if I had studied anything as hard as I studied these catalogs as a preteen, I would be living some kind of genius life right now instead of lazing around on the internet. I’m sure I never got to order anything, even, but the Delia’s catalog was the furnace in which all my young consumer desires were forged.

  11. I used to be obsessed with this magazine, and of course was also never allowed to buy anything from it! My 3rd grade teacher’s daughter modeled for dELiA*s for a year or something, and I thought she was the coolest person in the entire world. Aaaaaaaand now I’m lost in the internet trying to see what she’s been up to since 1994.

    • I’d always suspected that they bought mailing lists from other teen-oriented companies and that I started getting delia*s catalogs because I subscribed to Seventeen magazine

      • Yeah, that makes sense and I thought of this as well, but I wasn’t subscribed to anything in my teens. So, hmmmm….

  12. That catalog made me smile. “I think I’m a fucking garden!” And I would’ve loved those flower pants too!

    My clothing as a kid was comprised of 50% cheap thrift store stuff, 30% free tee-shirts from church events, and 20% expensive, high-quality outdoor gear. Sadly, I never really developed much of a sense of fashion. I remember the time I was given a gift certificate for “White House Black Market” and I walked into the store in hiking boots and second-hand khaki shorts… I felt so out of place trying on a blouse in that dressing room.

    • that is my current clothing collection if you replace church t-shirts with college t-shirts and add an interview suit and a conference’s worth of adult clothing in nice wool fabric.

      • My church-event t-shirts were later replaced with college-event shirts when I got older. :) The interview suit is very useful, and my lack of professional clothing induced panic when I had my first job interview out of college.

  13. Most of my solid color long-sleeved tees are Delia’s brand to this day. I also have about four basic wool sweaters from Delia’s. All of these are in good condition still and I am not a laundry wizard. I am 27, and definitely haven’t bought anything from there since I was 14.

  14. Hold up. Do I spy a young January Jones waiting for her prince charming in a red and white gingham bucket hat?

  15. i definitely had THAT EXACT blue two piece bathing suit, like i even remember that it was the boy shorts and the non-halter top and the family vacation i wore it on and everything.

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