In my hometown, Lancaster, there was this shop called Reef. I don’t know if it was a chain, and I don’t wish to. For so many of us regional residents it was the singular, shining bastion of individuality – the place that stocked tiny, pointless Emily The Strange bags and hoodies which had weird quotes on them. The most memorable – which went viral across Lancaster and Preston – problematically read "Mary Poppins is a Crack Whore" and I begged my grandma to buy it for me, which she did, which would go on to induce the most seismic argument of their entire relationship between my mum and my grandma. But it was coooool.
And there, in that shop, past the needless army netting and the upward-pointing blue and violet lights and the corrugated steel floor and the intentionally rusty clothes rails and the never-ending loop of Panic! At The Disco playing a little too loud in the background, was the Holy Grail of mid-high-school style maturity. A brand so cool it needed no quote or mascot, no ad campaign or influencer-led sponsored post. No. All it needed was the name of a very mundane object followed by a full stop.
Bench. Full stop.
Now, when I studied at fashion school before swiftly being asked to leave after claiming, when drunk in a taxi, that I was the editor-in-chief of Vogue (fake it 'til you make it), I learned that there are very few designers who have created something brand new. Fashion was created by the greats — think Dior’s New Look, Balenciaga’s Hero Silhouette, Vionnet and her bias cut, Givenchy’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, me and my cigarette ash-stained Fruit of the Loom joggers which I’m wearing in bed right now, Galliano’s everything (bar the anti-Semitism), McQueen’s bumster. These are the accepted greats, the ones who did everything to create an industry where, now, nothing could ever be new.
Until Bench full stop arrived, that is. They did what nobody had ever done before. They redefined the way we wore jumpers. They were the creators of the eighth wonder of the fashion world. "What is that wonder?!" I hear you, the people, scream through your phone screens.
But you, the people, already know because it’s highly likely you were involved in that style revolution. And that style revolution was no other than them finger holes in the extra-long Bench terminus (is this a synonym for full stop?) cuffs.
Yes, you, the people, remember! Bench period allowed teenagers everywhere to shove their thumbs through their cuffs: a genius feat, a mitten-cum-sweater, a security blanket which would end up so mucky your mum would shout at you and then wash it and it would never fit quite the same again.
These holes weren’t merely for our insecure thumbs, either. No, they also allowed us to partake in the revolutionary act of shoving an earphone through said hole in order to lean on your hand during geography and listen to the seven songs you had on your MP3 player that could only hold seven songs and which you would update every day after a Limewire download sesh (although you’d never delete Lady_Marmalade_Mya_Missy_Elliott_Christina_Pink_Moulin.mp3), which your mum got you from Asda and which came in one of those dreadful plastic packages that you desperately tried to tear through — teeth, nails, nail clippers — only to prove futile, upon which you were forced to get up and go to the kitchen and get a pair of scissors to cut through aforementioned plastic packaging to get to your MP3 player on which you would listen to seven songs in geography.
Yes, you have no idea about populations or tectonic plates or coastal erosion — are they names of albums which ended up on our later, far more lavish, iPods? We’ll never know — but you, O! Revolutionary replete with every season’s Bench cessation (same question?) must-have, you still remember every single word to "Mi Chico Latino" by Geri Halliwell off the problematically named album Schizophonic. You were unstoppable in your armour; protected by a velcro neck cowl-scarf-thing with a huge Bench respite symbol embroidered across the neck, thumbs firmly in holes, earphone firmly in ear. You were a revolutionary of sonic and style proportions.
As Marx said: "Let the geography teachers tremble at a Bench. wearer revolution. The Bench. wearers have nothing to lose but their chains! They have a world to win. Bench. wearers of all countries, unite!"