How Forever21 Actually Represents Being 21 — Because Fragile Things Can Be Beautiful, Too

Forever21 is known for its fast fashion, which is not typically a category known for its quality and, if we're being honest, is usually only worn once. For some weird reason, however, Forever21 is not often commonly associated with actually turning 21 years old. Yet on my own 21st birthday, just yesterday, the brand was all I could think about.

21 is a big birthday. It's not unusual for people who turn 21 to be in college, surrounded by friends (and, let’s be honest, alcohol), and living the young and wild and free life without any major responsibilities. I would easily place myself within that demographic. I am currently living a relatively cushy college life, with not much to do outside of homework, writing part time, and maintaining my social life. That being said, I am graduating a full year early and actual responsibility is looming over my near future. And while I would love to be able to say that I know exactly what my next step in life is, I don't. Which is why I got to thinking about actually being forever 21. And no, it is not all about discovering how many shots you can take before you collapse. (Although that's certainly part of the journey.)

Those with steady incomes might not usually shop at Forever21, unless, that is, they need a pair of super affordable flats or are searching for a basic tank top on a budget. But for some reason, whenever I’m shopping I admittedly always end up in the store with multiple items in my hand, rushing around the floor to make sure I didn’t miss anything and ultimately buying a haul of clothes I didn't even think I needed.

On the morning of my 21st birthday, peering into my closet to see which pieces would become my birthday suit for the day, I realized that my contribution to Forever21’s business is inevitable. I am a young, college student trying to live on the cheap. I earn money, but not a lot of it. I don’t have the time to travel to higher-end malls, and I don’t have the luxury to spend tons of my dollars on single designer items like a Prada bag or even nice Nike sneakers. Even online shopping is out of the question because we all know those shipping costs can be ridiculous sometimes. So what is a girl to do? Forever21 is a 15-minute drive from my campus, and has (almost) every clothing item I could ever ask for (except a Prada bag). Plus, it’s affordable. It may not last my whole lifetime, but I don’t need it to.

In that way, Forever21 reflects the common situation 21-years-olds sometimes find themselves in. Yes, we’re young and have everything to look forward to. But in reality, we’re also struggling to keep our lives together between classes, work, and maintaining a social life, on top of attempting to prepare for the "real" world. Forever21 essentially does the same thing, except in the form of a clothing store. If Barney’s is the CEO of a huge company with lots of responsibility and power, then Forever21 is the intern at that same company who has a tendency to check personal social media accounts on work computers and consistently plays the same Beyoncé song over and over again. Without headphones on.

I’m not saying that every 21-year-old is bound to be a hot mess (although it's okay if you are one, at any age). But if you think about life at the age of 21, it’s not all that fabulous. Sure, once you turn 21 you’re finally legal and have officially lived two decades and have your whole life in front of you. But you’re also probably going through an identity crisis in trying to decide what to do with your life. Or perhaps you're working your ass off to achieve what you want to do with your life. Or freaking out about classes and work while dealing with drama you thought you were done with in high school. Or just struggling to decide what to eat for dinner because your friend wants Chipotle but you ate there the day before. (Granted, that last one isn’t actually a real reason, but you get my point.)

Ultimately, being 21 isn't as fabulous as some might think. In fact, it's been a pretty underwhelming 24 hours. The age that's in Forever21's name is often associated with instability, vulnerability, and a lot of tequila, and besides the immeasurable amounts of alcohol consumed, I don't know why anyone would want to be 21 forever.

Maybe I'm over thinking it. Maybe the business people who created the store just picked a number out of a hat and put forever in front of it. But considering the significance of a 21st birthday, that seems unlikely. Either way, turning 21 really solidified the idea that I am not much different than that $1.90 tank top I bought from Forever21 last week. I'm fragile. I don't know what I want to be. I might change into something totally different without a moment's notice. But I'm still pretty cool.

Or maybe that's the leftover vodka still in my system talking...

Images: Author's Own; Giphy