By Sarah Bennett
Esprit, the '80s-'90s mall brand for you and me.

Esprit, the '80s-'90s mall brand for you and me.

Like White Stag, Esprit is a tricky find because it’s a brand that still exists today but merely as a shadow of its former self. In the late ‘60s, a married San Francisco couple founded the original Esprit and hawked their wares out of a VW van. The brand’s heydey was in the ‘80s and ‘90s, when it gained a reputation as the coolest label sold at your average mall. Like a more chic Gap, Esprit slapped their logo on a lot of sportswear, with its classic, spineless E, but they also took some chances on less-basic designs with fit and fabrics, pioneering the loud, large ‘80s sweater (think “Teen Cosby Sweaters For Her”), the boxy crop top, and the floral maxi-dress.

Pair with some tight black jeans and your HOTcliff Huxtable (via Etsy).

Esprit was one of the more accessible brands touted in Sassy Magazine--if editor Jane Pratt isn’t wearing a daisy-covered Esprit dress in R.E.M.’s video for “Shiny Happy People,” it’s a damned good knock-off--and they maintained their original vision through the ‘90s. At some point during that decade, however, the brand began to get diluted by over-licensing, i.e., selling the brand name to companies making fragrances, socks, glasses, and every other tchotchke under the sun, regardless of design aesthetic. At this point you can buy Esprit wallpaper and nursery furniture, but it has nothing to do with the label that once made that sweet dress you wore to a dance in middle school.

Dolman sleeve splatter dot fantasia (via Etsy).

Esprit is now just a name owed by some Asian business conglomerate, and their attempt to open H&M-style fast-fashion Esprit stores petered out a year or so ago. When you look for an Esprit item at thrift, there’s a bunch of newer stuff in the mix, but it’s not that hard to tell the difference between an original and a zombie garment. Aside from a distinct lack of style in their newer lines, the iconic logo changed, so all the new stuff has Esprit written on the tag in a girly cursive font evocative of Aeropostale or what I imagine for really any brand of douche.

The maxi with the most (subtlety). (Via Etsy.)

I love finding the older stuff though, because, despite being so distinctly ‘80s and ‘90s, the cuts are often flattering, and the style is always, for lack of a better word, fun; so many clothes from the ‘90s especially are shapeless, depressing, grungy nightmares, so finding thrift fashion from that time that doesn’t make you want to listen to Hole and hate your parents is always a welcome change, even if the changes to the label since then aren’t.