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!

Riese is the 37-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker, low-key Jewish power lesbian and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," 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. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2771 articles for us.

32 Comments

  1. “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!)

  2. 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.

  3. 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”?

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

Contribute to the conversation...

You must be logged in to post a comment.