Life

The Rise, Fall and Rise Again of Jane Norman

Their brightly coloured shopping bags once dominated secondary school corridors. Now, the 2000s high street brand is experiencing a resale revival on Depop and eBay.
October 5, 2020, 10:08am
jane norman nineties noughties nostalgia y2k depop vintage ebay gen z
Illustration: Lily Blakely

It’s 2006. Your secondary school changing room is awash with that musty post-PE smell. You reach for your Impulse Tease body spray, which is inside your hot pink shopping bag. You look around. The shopping bag is everywhere. Brightly coloured, with “Jane Nor” in stretched out, lower case font. To an outsider, it would look like you all had the same name: Jane Norman.

To many millennials, these Jane Norman shopping bags were a rite of passage from tween to teen. We used them to carry coursework, food tech supplies and lip glosses. And then there was the clothing brand itself: polyester blazers and sunglasses and figure-hugging floral dresses. Cheap but smart, ultra-femme clothes for both the office and the club. It was also, for some reason, massive among UK school girls; those who wanted to look grown up and stylish, but within the precise price bracket of their pocket money.

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Founded in 1952, it wasn’t until the 1990s and 2000s that Jane Norman truly hit its stride. In 2006, the retailer cashed in on its appeal by doubling its number of outlets in the UK to 116. For a brief era, you couldn't walk down a British high street without spotting a Jane Norman shop.

But by the 2010s, as online shopping became the norm and new trends came and went, Jane Norman struggled to remain afloat. The company went into administration in 2011, before folding completely in 2018. In the space of a decade or so, Jane Norman had been relegated to just another embarrassing secondary school memory, disappearing in a haze of Maybelline matte foundation lips and Diana Vickers hair.

More recently, however, the name “Jane Norman” has popped up more often than anyone might have expected. Resale sites like Depop and eBay are selling original JN knitted bodycons, plunge-neck frocks and fur trimmed jackets, while 23-year-old Bella Hadid was recently spotted in a Jane Norman original, as pointed out by British Vogue. In her pink and white JN floral cami, which she paired with black cycling shorts and white trainers, Hadid looked remarkably like a British teen in the 2000s. But how did this happen? How did so many millennials’ most cringe-worthy Year 8 looks suddenly become the go-to outfit of influencers?

Ellie, 23, from Gloucestershire, started selling Jane Norman on her Depop shop earlier this year. The pieces have been selling fast. Of the JN revival, she says that “fast fashion is slowly taking a step back, while slow fashion and vintage items are becoming increasingly popular”. In other words, JN might not be so popular if it launched today; it’s the second hand nature of the clothes that appeals. But it is about the look, too. Ellie points to a recent taste for “corsets, milkmaid tops and dresses, off the shoulder tops and bodycons, which are all part of the Jane Norman look. These styles are all popular and in high demand on Depop.”

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Ellie remembers Jane Norman “as being one step ahead of me age-wise. It’s only recently that I’ve started to take an interest in the brand. However, older girls at secondary school would use the Jane Norman bags for PE or food tech.”

At school, you’d look to the girls in the year or two above to see what was cool. Maybe this in some way explains why Jane Norman is making a comeback among Gen Z, many of whom were a bit too young to shop there at the time, but remember wanting to raid their older sister’s closet.

Shivani, who’s 20 and lives in Basingstoke, was too young to take part in the original Jane Norman obsession. But she distinctly remembers thinking, “‘When I grow up, I need to dress like this,’ because I found the clothes so effortlessly cool. I think style over the years has become a bit bland. I love all the colours and floral patterns, the embroidery and embellishment you get with Jane Norman.” The brand’s playful, girlish style was what made it popular with teens at the time, too. Experimenting with fashion will always be a teen pastime, and Jane Norman was a brand that offered plenty to play around with, while also being affordable.

Shivani started selling Jane Norman clothes on Depop when she found pieces in her mum’s unwanted clothes pile that tapped into trends she had noticed on the resale app. “I think the nostalgia for Y2K brands like Jane Norman definitely has a lot to do with fashion icons like Bella Hadid embracing it,” she considers. “Madison Beer was recently spotted in Morgan De Toi, and suddenly Depop’s going crazy for Morgan, and all the online shops like Ali Express and Shein are replicating Morgan tops. Young fashion influencers have so much influence on teen girls’ fashion now.”

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Emma Hope Allwood, head of fashion at DAZED, contextualises Jane Norman’s revival within the Y2K trend, saying, “It's the 20-year rule – how long it takes for a trend to cycle back into fashion, accelerated by social media-powered nostalgia and facilitated by Depop.” While the Y2K fashion revival is by no means new – think saddle bags, butterfly hair clips and silk camis – it’s now transforming the reputation of 1990s and 2000s fast fashion brands. “For teenagers seeking out Jane Norman now, it has an air of authentic Y2K mystery, instead of being remembered as a tacky shopping centre brand,” Emma adds.

For millennials who remember Jane Norman in its heyday, the appeal of the brand was a lot more sociable and physical than it is now, during an era of online influencers and resale apps. Saranne, 34, associates JN with “the anticipation on Friday at school, getting the 100 bus from Billericay to Lakeside shopping centre, Essex. It took over an hour to get there. We would sit at the back of the bus doing our makeup – looking way too old for our age – to go to our three favourite shops: Jane Norman, Morgan and Miss Selfridge. Emulating our fave R'n'B stars was the thing – big flares and tiny tops.”

Ameera, 25, has similar associations. “Our main hangout after school was the shopping centre,” she says. “It was all about bonding with your friends. You shopped together with your friends and figured out what was cool together. I remember those Jane Norman bags were all around school! Every single girl had one, and you weren’t cool unless you did too.”

Today, the Jane Norman aesthetic evokes pure nostalgia, whether you shopped there at the time or just looked up to those who did. And as Allwood points out, most trends come back eventually, even those some of us would rather forget.

For Medha, 31, the reason for the revival is quite simple. “Jane Norman was just more fashionable than other brands targeted at teens and young adults at the time. I think it’s making a comeback because there’s a lot of 1990s and 2000s nostalgia going on at the moment,” she shrugs. “Perhaps it’s reminding us of a simpler time.”

@sophlwilson