Style Obituary: Jane Norman

Designed by Meg O'Donnell
Welcome to Style Obituary, in which we look back affectionately on beloved brands of the '90s and '00s and wonder: 'What the hell were we thinking?'
"All I want to do is be shiny and bobble the moment you wear me," a Jane Norman dress once said of its purpose in life. A fashion phenomenon, Jane Norman and her plethora of sheeny tightness exploded onto the scene somewhere in the early '00s, after cocaine but before the '90s came back.
It was everything we thought we needed; an easy and cheap entry point to the heights of fashion, helping us all look more like the Ultimate Stars of the time: Sarah Harding, Dannii Minogue and Charlotte Church when she was still moonlighting under the moniker "Voice of an Angel!" (A friend of mine once interviewed her and when she asked her what her musical inspiration was, Church said "burial".)
But perhaps more notable than dusky pink ruched dresses – worn by every single person at every single under-18s club across the whole of the UK and which had, collectively, millions of litres of Caribbean Twist dropped down them – was the Jane Norman carrier bag. Now, so confident in her power as a brand, Jane Norman simply became Jane Nor.
The original Birkin, the progenitor of the Céline Phantom, the mother of the Fendi Spy, was the Jane Nor plastic bag. The ultimate It item, it proudly held PE kits, packed lunches and, on the weekend, all the necessary accoutrements for the perfect "sleepover at Sara’s" — parental code for getting underage-wasted in a park.
It was a status symbol in various colour combinations — some seasons a clash of neon, others a stunningly muted pastel. Like most It bags, it was a hieroglyph for all girls and gays that you were in style, that you understood how to get ahead, that you were a Jane Nor Girl.
In the regions, these bags held even more cultural cachet: everyone knew that in order to get hold of this much-coveted piece one had to travel further afield than the centre of the local town. Jane made you stylish, powerful and, most importantly, worldly.
But as with all of those sadly lost to us, the star that burns brightest indeed burns the quickest. And while it’s impossible to chart the exact moment Jane’s star turned to dust, it was around the time All Saints began to ask us once glam, go-getting kitty-cats to switch to skulls, metal-woven cardigans, and a pre-worn military boot. It was the death of style as we knew it.
As for those bags — they now reside secretly under our beds, in the back of cupboards under the stairs, holding niche crap like memory boxes and kitten heels and pictures of you and your first boyfriend hugging at an under-18s party, wearing those Jane Norman aquamarine hi-shine palazzo pants you bloody wish you still had.
While that time is long gone, Jane Norman and all the status she brought, mustn’t be forgotten in the long history of our wardrobes; she gave us all the chance to escape the dull territories of teenagerdom and, for one night a week, let us feel like Nadine Coyle.

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