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Are you ready for the return of the Limited Too aesthetic?

In some 2023 collections, a sparkly flash of recognition: the colorful, sometimes head-scratching mishmash of millennial middle-school fashions at the mall

It's the summer of 2006, and 8-year-old Maylen Williams is shopping for jeans at a Limited Too store in New York. Although the chain is long gone, that Limited Too vibe is having a comeback. (Mark Lennihan/AP)
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I bought the most confusing garment I’ve ever owned at Limited Too. It was 1999, and I found a black, ankle-length skirt made of ripstop nylon, with big cargo pockets and a crinkly elastic waistband, on the clearance rack.

What the practical use for a parachute-pants skirt might be — for anyone, let alone a very indoorsy fourth-grader — I could not say. What season it was meant to be worn in, similarly, was a mystery. But I strutted into my classroom wearing it with a hair scarf (a la Lizzie McGuire) and a neon-green top that read “Limited TOO.” The “TOO,” and perhaps this is redundant, was sparkly.

“Limited Too,” I have wince-laughed to myself remembering this outfit in the years since. What a weird and hilariously loud formative chapter in the sartorial lives of so many millennial women.

So, imagine my face last September at Cynthia Rowley’s show at New York Fashion Week, when a model came down the runway wearing a chunky-striped, cropped turtleneck and … a long, billowing blue skirt made of something distinctly parachute-y, with a drawstring waist and cargo pockets.

The return of the going-out top

Limited Too, the mall brand spun off from The Limited in 1987, became a tween-focused brand in the late ’90s and hit its peak popularity in the mid-2000s. Today, the distinctive Limited Too aesthetic is something a certain subset of the American adult population simply knows when it sees it. (Like pornography, but its similarities end there.) Limited Too apparel had several distinct hallmarks: glitter and sequins; cartoon flowers; neon pinks, greens and oranges; touches of gentle ’60s and ’70s psychedelia; pastel knitwear with subtle sparkles; faux fur in both earthly hues and in colors that evoked troll dolls. Much of it felt experimental in a low-stakes kind of way, particularly its girlish stylizations of the sporty styles of the day (see: shrunken “LTD2” football pinnies; silky, petal-pink camouflage-print cargo pants; and, of course, skirts made from ripstop nylon). Highlighter-colored, juvenile, whimsical — perfect apparel in which to clothe a sassy 11-year-old in that brief window of time before she graduated into the more muted color palette (and more PG-13 messaging) of Abercrombie & Fitch.

Limited Too disappeared from malls in 2010, three years after the end of The Limited, and the vast majority of Limited Too’s former stores were converted into Justice: Just for Girls. Like a lot of derelict mall staples (Sharper Image, the Disney Store, Structure), the Limited Too brand name has resurfaced in the inventory at low-end department stores. Now, however, a trio of 2023 fashion collections indicate that the cheeky, hyperfeminine, fantastical spirit of Limited Too may be on offer once again, this time for adult women.

Rowley’s spring and summer 2023 collection is a feast of girlie delights. A T-shirt dress in iridescent lavender summons the coveted silk Limited Too pajamas that were once all the rage at sleepovers. Models at her show last year came down the runway in silk cargo pants, a baby-blue faux-fur skirt, flower-embroidered bell-bottoms and even deconstructed football jerseys with glittery stripes on their baggy sleeves.

That same month, Rodarte showcased a spring-summer 2023 line that included several dresses in classically loud disco-era abstract prints, some with cartoonish flower appliqués affixed to them, as well as two cheeky, midriff-baring plays on the skirt-and-sweater set — both sparkly, one red and the other lime green. Rodarte designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy reprised that verdant lime hue, a staple on a handful of runways at Fashion Week earlier this month, with a glittering monochrome outfit (complete with exaggerated bell-bottom pants) in their fall-winter 2023 collection.

It was Anna Sui, though — one of the great sources of whimsy in the ’90s and ’00s for women older than the Limited Too range — who recently cemented the idea that Too-core might be back for a revival. Her Feb. 11 show at downtown Manhattan’s Heaven Can Wait opened with models in silk minidresses, one light pink and one light green, dancing to Joey Dee and the Starliters’ 1961 hit “Peppermint Twist” — introducing the pink-and-green confectionery theme that would continue. One model jaunted down the runway in a ruffle-lined hot-pink tweed jacket, another in a matching skirt. Another wore a lush, grass-green faux-fur shrug. Two wore camo-print parkas, one in bright magenta and the other in emerald, with faux fur of the same color on the hood.

Thus far, the ’20s have resuscitated a number of styles that turn-of-the-millennium adolescents swore off forever: Flares, platforms, low-rise jeans, wraparound shades. As fashion professor Emma McClendon told me last year, “It’s a lot of stuff that, a few years ago, if you’d asked me, I would have been like, ‘That stuff’s never coming back.’ ” And yet: Grunge is back. Indie sleaze is back. Going-out tops are back. “Whale-tail” exposed G-strings are back. Popcorn shirts — a Limited Too staple themselves — are back, even. It’s all come back to haunt us.

Collections like these three, though — clothes that exude romp and playfulness — serve as potent reminders of what was actually good about Limited Too, not to mention what was good about the years many of us spent wearing it. Limited Too was bold and funky and unabashedly fun; it was about individual garments that brought maximal delight or novelty. It was about layering them into outfits without so much as a whiff of tasteful grown-up restraint.

With the worst years of the pandemic only just now fading into memory, many will likely see the appeal in a little bit of youthful, silly indulgence. So, notch another tally mark: Yet another “We’re never going there again” that may, in fact, already be hurtling back our way.