Hot Topic is an aesthetic surrounding the fashion and products from the shop, Hot Topic, throughout its long and storied history. Seen as the epicenter for many an aesthetic popular throughout the 90's and into the present day, Hot Topic has faced criticism for being both a bandwagon rider in terms of what's popular as well as being incredibly overpriced (considering you can get a lot of the same merchandise at other stores for cheaper prices).
Hot Topic originated in 1989 in Montclair, California with an emphasis on alternative fashion at the time (goth and punk were rather popular in particular at the time) and supporting alternative music at the time (Grunge and Metal in particular) by carrying their music and merchandise. While many goth and punk elitists would often turn their nose up at a store like Hot Topic, for your average small-town kid who didn't exactly have access to boutiques that specialize in this sort of fashion (like Trash & Vaudeville in St. Marks, NYC) absolutely used this store as a necessity to get the clothing and music they liked.
The Nu-Metal Era
Generally marked as 1996 (the year Hot Topic went public and started trading stocks on the NASDAQ), the Nu-Metal era saw a major focus on the "mall goth" who wore the controversial phat pants and sold band shirts from the Nu-Metal era, as well as entertainment properties that would be considered popular in those circles (such as Buffy The Vampire Slayer, South Park, and WWF). On top of this, Hot Topic also carried fashion that was inspired by the Goth, Punk, Raver, and Lounge aesthetics that were popular at the time in certain counter-cultural circles. If one really put their mind to it, they could use Hot Topic's fashion and accessories to craft a half-way decent Cyberpunk or Cybergoth look. Many former mall goths would actually consider this era to be Hot Topic's "golden period", though how much of that is centered around nostalgia, as opposed to objective truth, is very much open for debate. But as Nu-Metal fell out of fashion, Hot Topic had to make a choice; either stick to the aesthetic groups that made them the raging success that they became or get ready to cycle them out in favor of some new blood and go after the new hot counter-culture movement bubbling up...
The MySpace Era
Around the time Nu-Metal started fading out of fashion (due to most of the fans growing up and outgrowing Nu-Metal because they were wanksty, edgy teenagers anymore), Hot Topic decided to shift its focus away from the aging out Nu-Metal crowd and into the Emo and Scene crowds that were starting to see a surge in popularity thanks to websites like MySpace that were becoming the new hotness at the time. This is also the time when Hot Topic started majorly expanding into malls throughout America and becoming a rather popular chain (which is also why some people automatically assume that Hot Topic was always this way; that was their first taste of Hot Topic as an entity). In this era, gone were the baggy Phat pants, the bondage pants with the straps, the raver and goth fashions, they were now replaced with many varieties of skinny jeans and tutus that were popular among the scene kids and emo kids at the time (though the piercings and hair dyes that were around during the Nu-Metal era did remain) and albums from the likes of KoRn and Marilyn Manson were now replaced by the likes of My Chemical Romance and Asking Alexandria, and this continued on as the Emo and Scene trends continued to ride the wave of popularity, even as MySpace started to fade out of fashion in favor of other social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
The Modern Era
As the sun finally set on the Emo and Scene crowds and geek culture started becoming the new cultural norm, Hot Topic, again, shifted away from the old hotness and into the new hotness, though now it's all but completely abandoned selling music-based merch altogether, focusing more on geek culture ephemera like anime, video games, internet memes, K-Pop, and comic books or things targeted at a younger, more mainstream audience like My Little Pony, Disney, and Cartoon Network. However, that isn't to say there aren't still elements of music in the Hot Topic, they're just no longer the focal point of Hot Topic for the first time in its history. Instead, this space is seemingly filled up more with Funko Pops in place of where the music used to be the focal point of. Where Hot Topic goes from here is open for debate, but if they're able to continue with the business plan of catering to the counter-culture, Hot Topic will be around for years to come.
The Hot Topic company isn't just limited to Hot Topic proper, but also to Hot Topic's many other business endeavors that still, surprisingly, keep in line with Hot Topic's whole business ethos, such as:
- Torrid (a store focused on plus-sized women's fashion which was spun off into its own business in 2015)
- Blackheart Lingerie (a store that specializes in lingerie and women's fashion that was started in 2012)
- BoxLunch (a gift/novelty store opened in 2015 that donated a meal to anyone in need for ever $10 spent)