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Dude, I’m not an old fart
February 11, 2014 12:27 PM   Subscribe

Why Abercrombie Is Losing Its Shirt
"...sensibilities have since evolved; casual prejudice is not as readily tolerated. Today’s teens are no longer interested in “the elite, cool-kid thing” to the extent that they once were, says Gordon, the Michigan professor. “This generation is about inclusiveness and valuing diversity. It’s about not looking down on people.” And with the help of social media, for the first time critics have succeeded in putting Abercrombie on the defensive. Last year, blogger Jes Baker drew blood with her spoof photo series “Attractive & Fat,” which satirized the iconic Bruce Weber images."
posted by frimble (90 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
So basically human nature has come to an end?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 12:29 PM on February 11 [4 favorites]


Couldn't happen to a nicer brand.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:30 PM on February 11 [15 favorites]


Couldn't happen to a nicer brand.

Dunno, Lululemon and American Apparel have been mocked around the block, too.
posted by sukeban at 12:36 PM on February 11 [5 favorites]


This generation is about inclusiveness and valuing diversity. It’s about not looking down on people

That's adorable.
posted by en el aire at 12:40 PM on February 11 [35 favorites]


It's always about looking down on other people. How else can one feel good about one's self? Only the brand changes.
posted by three blind mice at 12:45 PM on February 11


do you deny that there has been significant backlash against abercrombie (and other retailers) for diversity reasons or do you just want to kneejerk against the radical concept thus put forth that society's mores can change or what
posted by titus n. owl at 12:46 PM on February 11 [17 favorites]


I just want to say that the last picture in Jes Baker's series actually made me laugh out loud.
posted by chatongriffes at 12:47 PM on February 11


Most people forget that, way back in the mists of time, A&F was more of a more-fashionable L.L.Bean than a soft-porn boutique. I still have an A&F sweatshirt from ages ago...with an embroidered duck on the front.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:48 PM on February 11 [5 favorites]


I think it's more the sweeping generalization about generations that has people's knees a-jerkin'.
posted by entropicamericana at 12:50 PM on February 11 [3 favorites]


Shrinking middle class wages and opportunities and an inability to keep pace with fashion is probably more to blame. $65 for a grey or blue hoodie with Bush II era faux-athletic logo graphics on the front is about all you need to know. An image problem on top of it all as identifying with the fortunate at the expense of those less so didn't help.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:50 PM on February 11 [13 favorites]


This generation is about inclusiveness and valuing diversity. It’s about not looking down on people.

God, I hope so. It's about time, if true. Parents of MeFi, what's your take on this? In your experience, do Kids These Days really think this way? I would love for it to be true, but I'm skeptical.
posted by Scientist at 12:51 PM on February 11 [3 favorites]


But oh boy I would be thrilled if that generalization turned out to be true. Like, the rising generation is become less punch-downy then its predecessors? Sounds like a good thing to me.
posted by Doleful Creature at 12:52 PM on February 11


I'm a little surprised that Abercrombie didn't decide to age along with their 90s demographic (as Gap did) and morph into a slightly more legit version of Madewell. I mean, Abercrombie actually has the preppy, outdoorsy, high quality, long-beloved street cred that Madewell had to invent for themselves.

My favorite oversized flannel shirt in junior high was one of my dad's old shirts from Abercrombie in the early 80s.
posted by Sara C. at 12:54 PM on February 11 [3 favorites]


There's still plenty of venal shits, just like their parents, but from what I can tell doing LGBT outreach, the kids are getting better on balance.

"I'm a little surprised that Abercrombie didn't decide to age along with their 90s demographic (as Gap did) and morph into a slightly more legit version of Madewell. I mean, Abercrombie actually has the preppy, outdoorsy, high quality, long-beloved street cred that Madewell had to invent for themselves. "

They tried that with their Ruehl No. 925 brand. It tanked for a lot of reasons.
posted by klangklangston at 12:55 PM on February 11 [4 favorites]


This makes me like A&F so much more:
Above all, Jeffries, who was once married but is now openly gay, sought to sell an image of American beefcake sexuality as he saw it: a world of hairless, amply muscled men tussling in a pastoral Eden. That this world was so highly homoeroticized—the roughhousing in the catalogues seemed perpetually on the point of turning into a full-on orgy—is one of the most poignant ironies of his success. He was persuading straight jock teenagers to buy into a gay man’s fantasy of a jock utopia.
posted by wemayfreeze at 12:56 PM on February 11 [31 favorites]


I mean, Abercrombie actually has the preppy, outdoorsy, high quality, long-beloved street cred that Madewell had to invent for themselves.

Had, not has. The "old" Abercrombie brand identity is, at this point, pretty far removed from its mainstream perception and has moved straight into "obscure quirky fact" territory. You may as well talk about Nintendo making playing cards.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:58 PM on February 11 [12 favorites]


(What I mean by that is, for Abercrombie to re-establish itself as outdoorsy, high-quality, and long-beloved would be just about as difficult as positioning itself that way without any history to fall back on.)
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:59 PM on February 11 [4 favorites]


I would bet that Abercrombie's decline has less to do with kids becoming kinder and more inclusive and more to do with Forever 21 grabbing a large chunk of their customer base. On top of that, all the A&F clothing lines are built around a very specific (down to the color scheme) casual-preppy aesthetic that meshed well with what teens were wearing in the late 90s, and trends have just moved too far. If you can spend five minutes in an A&F store without the dim lighting and earsplitting music getting to you, you'll see an incoherent mishmash of their old 90s-esque styles and newfangled neon stuff. The brand doesn't know which way to go, and it's interesting to watch it unravel.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:05 PM on February 11 [12 favorites]


Slap*Happy: Shrinking middle class wages and opportunities and an inability to keep pace with fashion is probably more to blame.

This is actually addressed in the first link:
Concept Four launched in 2004 as Ruehl No. 925, complete with a fictional backstory, involving a nineteenth-century Greenwich Village merchant, concocted by the marketing department.... And in order to enforce the luxury nature of the brand, he stipulated that apparel prices should be 25 to 35 percent higher than they were at Abercrombie stores.

But Jeffries badly mistimed his entry into the market. Already, online sales were generating an ever-growing pile of revenue for the apparel industry, and fast-fashion retailers such as H&M were churning out low-price approximations of high-end items. Consumers failed to see the appeal of a line that trafficked in the same basic style as Abercrombie, especially when it was prohibitively expensive. In 2009, after spending untold millions, Abercrombie closed all 29 Ruehl storefronts nationwide. “He has a tough time moving past that classic American aesthetic of jeans and polo shirts,” a former Ruehl designer told me.
Though this was about the up-scale Abercrombie sub-brand, I think it still tells a lot about A&F's downfall. The Abercrombie style lost its edge to the more affordable companies who created the same style, if not the same quality.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:08 PM on February 11


My 13-year-old daughter loathes Abercrombie for reasons including the "stupid music," the "crappy clothes," and the "awful advertising." She also writes a column about LGBT issues for her middle school website/newspaper and her latest creative writing project focused on human rights and poverty. And her friends are all very much like her.

So yeah. Her generation blows me away.
posted by cooker girl at 1:11 PM on February 11 [47 favorites]


do you deny that there has been significant backlash against abercrombie (and other retailers) for diversity reasons

For me, at least, it's connecting a "significant" backlash on the web (which may or may not represent the views of society at large since having Internet access skews the sample) with the end of pointing and laughing at people who are different. Today's generation may be more inclusive and value diversity, but doesn't mean kids are going to stop trying to create cliques and exclude others. If I had to guess, for young people or people in general, being inclusive and valuing diversity are things they do in the abstract. It's easy to Like a cause on Facebook. What's hard is to stand up for a kid who's being picked on.

One of the things the Internet is best at is sweeping statements of Change based on how the Internet makes things different. There are no technological fixes for problems of human nature.
posted by yerfatma at 1:11 PM on February 11 [4 favorites]


//Parents of MeFi, what's your take on this? In your experience, do Kids These Days really think this way?//

From what I've seen from my 18 and 19 year old and their friends, pretty much yes. They seem to simply default to inclusive in just about every situation.
posted by COD at 1:19 PM on February 11 [7 favorites]


The "old" Abercrombie brand identity is, at this point, pretty far removed from its mainstream perception and has moved straight into "obscure quirky fact" territory.

Sure, but Madewell was a denim company name that J. Crew bought to create a more tomboyish/individualistic line.

And Ruehl No. 925? That is such a terrible name for a clothing line that it's almost sabotage.

complete with a fictional backstory, involving a nineteenth-century Greenwich Village merchant, concocted by the marketing department.... And in order to enforce the luxury nature of the brand, he stipulated that apparel prices should be 25 to 35 percent higher than they were at Abercrombie stores.

Yeah, this is exactly where they went wrong. They should have ditched the whole teen demographic entirely, done basically what Madewell is doing, except instead of making up a fake story about a 19th century merchant and making everything stupidly expensive for no reason, just used their actual brand that they already had and kept the prices the same.

Where they went wrong was the whole "luxury" thing, not making clothes for adults in general. The days of the 90s boom and "hey let's spend $50 on a t-shirt, why the eff not" are over. Period.
posted by Sara C. at 1:19 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


I remember being a fatish kid in junior high trying to squeeze into their less-front and center shirts and cursing them.

Zeus has answered my prayers. Or changing trends. Whatever the case, thank god.
posted by glaucon at 1:22 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


way back in the mists of time, A&F was more of a more-fashionable L.L.Bean

More than that: Abercrombie & Fitch began as a no-shit safari outfitter, the sort of place a gentleman (or his guide) might stop into while passing through New York before boarding the steamer for Cape Town. In case you had a sudden need for an extra elephant gun or something. (Oddly enough, they were also the first company to import mahjong sets to the United States.)

The current business of selling overpriced casuals to insecure teenagers can only be explained as the result of a Mephistophelean bargain between Jeffries and the Devil himself. I can only imagine that the terms of the agreement probably involve him spending eternity as a fat kid relegated to the stockroom, folding sweaty t-shirts that smell like Axe body spray.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:24 PM on February 11 [10 favorites]


cooker girl: My 13-year-old daughter loathes Abercrombie for reasons including the "stupid music" ...

YOU MEAN THEY DON'T GO HANG OUT IN A&F AND JUST, YOU KNOW, CHILL, WITH THAT MUSIC PLAYING ALL THE TIME? I CAN'T FATHOM WHY THEY WOULDN'T.

Oh sorry, I was just remembering the last time I went into an A&F. I was glad I didn't have to say anything to anyone in there, because it was the loudest music I've heard anywhere that wasn't a club.

cooker girl: She also writes a column about LGBT issues for her middle school website/newspaper and her latest creative writing project focused on human rights and poverty. And her friends are all very much like her.

Sweet, the kids are alright. More than that, some of them are down-right awesome.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:28 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


Not to denigrate cooker girl's daughter in any way - f'or she is to be lauded - but there are actually kids like that in every generation, not just this one upcoming. (I was one in the 80's.) Their numbers may wax and wane, and their visibility may recede and grow, but they're always a few around.

It's still awesome to hear about them, though.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:36 PM on February 11 [5 favorites]


Oh sorry, I was just remembering the last time I went into an A&F. I was glad I didn't have to say anything to anyone in there, because it was the loudest music I've heard anywhere that wasn't a club.

I once had to read through the entire environmental health file for my local mall, because Reasons, and the #2 most frequent complaint citizens made to the Town Health Department was "Music At Abercrombie and Fitch Is Too Loud."

The A&F music complaint was only slightly behind the #1 complaint, vermin in the food court. (My personal #1 complaint would be the stench that Abercrombie pumps out just outside of their stores -- that shit has to be carcinogenic.)
posted by pie ninja at 1:43 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


My personal #1 complaint would be the stench that Abercrombie pumps out just outside of their stores -- that shit has to be carcinogenic.

I really don't know who decided the smell of a middle school locker room flooded with Axe was an alluring enticement into their place of commerce, but it manages to be both revolting and the cause of flashbacks of horrible dances of grinding thirteen year olds. Thanks, dude.
posted by jetlagaddict at 1:47 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


"Oh sorry, I was just remembering the last time I went into an A&F. I was glad I didn't have to say anything to anyone in there, because it was the loudest music I've heard anywhere that wasn't a club. "

I used to canvass in Pasadena near the AF in Old Town, and even downwind a block it could still give me wanger headaches on bad days. The level of perfume and cologne just made it smell like an inept attempt to disguise a corpse in a whorehouse.
posted by klangklangston at 1:52 PM on February 11 [6 favorites]


I remember the fifteen minutes that Ruehl (agreed, Sara C., that is an awful name) was in business. They used the exact same strategy as all of the other Abercrombie brands: make Abercrombie & Fitch clothes, but slap a different name on it. (Example: here is an A&F t-shirt. Here is a Hollister t-shirt. Here is a Gilly Hicks t-shirt. They are the same damn shirt.) That was the only appreciable difference. That and the price point, I suppose, but the clothes were so dull I didn't bother looking at the price tags. If you're going to make clothes for a completely different demographic, you need to try a little harder than that.

Adults will pay higher prices for clothes, to an extent: the "premium denim" trend caught on a little over a decade ago, and $150 jeans are still selling. But they'll only pay those prices if they perceive the quality or brand cachet to be worth it. An obviously-repackaged Abercrombie sweater has neither.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:53 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


Considering that in my generation a teen being labeled "gay" was the absolute worst thing you could call them, and it's clear from numerous polls that today's teens are generally accepting of gays and gay rights... Yes, the youth of today are clearly more inclusive than previous generations.

Another way of putting it: We've finally added LGBT rights to "socially unacceptable ways to discriminate", along with racism (yes, it still exists, but there's a public onus upon it now: it must hide in the shadows and rely upon dog whistles, compared to, say, the 1950s).

Sexism is hobbling along, one foot in the shadows, and one foot in plain sight. Still, a clear improvement over times past, in the western world.

Handicapped kids are allowed in mainstream schools, instead of homeschooling or institutionalizing them. Again, much better.

Things are getting better. May no gay kid today suffer as much physical and mental abuse as this straight-labeled-gay kid did throughout middle school & junior high. Most won't - I was hit, shoved down, or made to feel real fear every single day - and that is terrific!
posted by IAmBroom at 1:55 PM on February 11 [14 favorites]


I love the nostalgia (or lack thereof) for the piece of shit, t-shirts with logos bullshit "brand" with some clever marketing and intersection with recent cultural/sexuality zeitgeist moments.

I'm an old fart, so I am remembering Abercrombie Fitch

Its been a long time since Hemingway or Teddy Roosevelt would swing by to gear up for a trip
posted by C.A.S. at 2:02 PM on February 11


The loud music is to cover the screams of all the boys getting their body hair waxed.
posted by srboisvert at 2:03 PM on February 11 [3 favorites]


This generation is about inclusiveness and valuing diversity. It’s about not looking down on people.

For those experiencing dissonance, keep in mind this is just what people want to believe about themselves. It's what gets them to buy/subscribe/share.
posted by michaelh at 2:16 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


Considering the obesity crisis plaguing the USA right now, I'm not surprised that A&F's profits are down since their target market of non-obese individuals is ironically shrinking.
posted by Setec Astronomy at 2:17 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


Adults will pay higher prices for clothes, to an extent

The problem here is that adults will pay higher prices for clothes than the prices at Forever 21 (sssshh, Sara, pretend you don't still shop there), H&M, Delia's, Urban Outfitters, etc.

Abecrombie is more expensive than that already. So to add another 25% to the price tag and sell largely the same clothes just doesn't work.

Also, WTF is their obsession with logo graphic tees? Nobody fucking wants that shit. That's a decade out of style, at this point. A contemporary clothing company trying to convince consumers that they are "luxurious" devoting themselves to logo t-shirts and hoodies in 2014 is like a clothing company in the 1960s trying to come off as hip and groovy by selling poodle skirts.
posted by Sara C. at 2:18 PM on February 11 [7 favorites]


This generation is about inclusiveness and valuing diversity. It’s about not looking down on people.

True, at least from what I see firsthand in my friends' kids, all of whom are MUCH better people than any of the little assholes we went to school with back in the day. And they won't put up with nonsense from adults, either, which I really respect!
posted by bitter-girl.com at 2:25 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


keep in mind this is just what people want to believe about themselves. It's what gets them to buy/subscribe/share.

Sure.

It gets people to buy clothes like this, in the belief that they are being "inclusive" and liberal and saving the world.

Abercrombie & Fitch can't even manage that. When a company run by right wing Republicans makes your company look narrow-minded, you really have to ask yourself how behind the times you've fallen.
posted by Sara C. at 2:25 PM on February 11


I'm with Sara C. A&F just looks so horrifyingly dated.

Although I'm not actually sure What The Teens are wearing these days. My sole exposure to teen culture is Teen Wolf and theyre not great about wearing clothes on that show.
posted by The Whelk at 2:28 PM on February 11 [9 favorites]


The deal is, the good kids have the internet so instead of being alone and depressed they can go online, make a badass Tumblr, find other kids with badass Tumblrs, discover all the good shit online about inclusiveness and feminism and so on and realize that there are a lot of other good people out there. It gives them the strength to push back and tools/arguments/knowledge to do so.

They are in a different universe than I was as a kid, and I think overall it's a better one. It's not that there are more kids interested in social justice vs. being assholes than before but maybe that the social justice kids have megaphones and motivation that they didn't before. They were always there, they just weren't as visible.

More cynically, A&F is an aging brand, and younger kids are going to be more inclined to find fault with it for that reason alone.
posted by emjaybee at 2:35 PM on February 11 [7 favorites]


WTF is their obsession with logo graphic tees

I have an absolutely amazing ANF graphic tee story. I played lacrosse in high school. We played indoor winter lacrosse at a local prep school. You don't wear shoulder pads in these leagues so jerseys are just t-shirts. Ours were bright red with a snow man carrying a lacrosse stick and the name of the prep school on top.

One of my friends younger brothers was a member of the Duke lacrosse team at the time of the rap allegations. In one of the team socializing pictures that were in media at the time of the controversy my friends brother was rocking said winter league lacrosse jersey as a t-shirt. I remembered seeing it as thinking "oh that must be XXX"

A few months later I'm in New Orleans at a bachelor party - and across the room I see a guy wearing a t-shirt that was literally exactly the same as our winter league jersey except the league name (which had been rendered in a bit of a unique font - and was still in this same font) had been changed from the name of the prep school to something Abercrombie related.

So TL;DR - ANF took a t-shirt design from one of the team pics related to the Duke Rape allegations.
posted by JPD at 2:35 PM on February 11 [16 favorites]


A&F projects intense bro and frat duchebaggery, and there's a huge backlash against that. So what are you left with, if the brand is odious? The quality of the clothes? Design? Price? All sub-par or no better than competitors at a fraction of the price. Decline seems quite understandable.
posted by VikingSword at 2:46 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


Lululemon and American Apparel have been mocked around the block, too.

I think American Apparel is on its way out simply because it epitomized last decade's aesthetic too much. And I think it differentiates itself from A&F by having at least one or two positive aspects in addition to all the awful shit (plus anecdotally I still like the few things I have from them, purchased maybe 8 years ago? That shit has held up.)

As for Lululemon, well, one minute I'd never heard of them and then the next they were solely used as shorthand for "those women who make yoga worse for the other women." And that was all in the past two months or so.
posted by Navelgazer at 2:55 PM on February 11


My teen and tween nieces have all forsaken A&F but they still seem to be shopping at Hollister (along with the aforementioned Forever 21) - Maybe their money will still keep bit of fuel in Mike's plane.

As for me, I've never been their target, but about a decade ago I had a few casual A&F button-down shirts given to me as gifts, and they were amply sized, comfortable, and wore like iron. Maybe I got lucky?
posted by jalexei at 2:59 PM on February 11


I love the concept of the photo shoot. Two notes from a lay observer.

a) Reads way more as Calvin Klein than A&F.

b) Since when are there women in A&F ads? There's topless buff shiny muscle boys, and the occasional dark-haired, sweater-wearing subject of desire.
posted by PMdixon at 3:00 PM on February 11


Remember the episode of M*A*S*H where BJ and Hawkeye order a canvas bathtub from what Radar calls "Abalone & Fitch?" Maybe that points toward their new direction. Or something.
posted by jonmc at 3:01 PM on February 11 [3 favorites]


Wasn't there a previously a few years back about Zizek writing hilarious post-modern ad copy for an A&F flyer that read like a bizarre parody, but maybe wasn't?
posted by ovvl at 3:04 PM on February 11


michaelh: "For those experiencing dissonance, keep in mind this is just what people want to believe about themselves. It's what gets them to buy/subscribe/share."

For those experiencing dissonance at THAT, keep in mind that cynicism is something old and busted people hide behind when confronted with evidence that perhaps the world is not exactly how they've always imagined it to be.
posted by danny the boy at 3:09 PM on February 11 [3 favorites]


Remember the episode of M*A*S*H where BJ and Hawkeye order a canvas bathtub from what Radar calls "Abalone & Fitch?" Maybe that points toward their new direction. Or something.

Ha! Probably a better strategy than mimicking the time BJ got a steal on that nice pin-striped wool and the cheap tailor he found made him a suit with the stripes going horizontal...
posted by jalexei at 3:12 PM on February 11


That was Trapper, dude.
posted by jonmc at 3:22 PM on February 11 [4 favorites]


That was Trapper, dude.

[Smacks head] Of course! The weird thing is I can play the scene in my head with either one and it seems right. Ah well.
posted by jalexei at 3:25 PM on February 11


For those experiencing dissonance at THAT, keep in mind that cynicism is something old and busted people hide behind when confronted with evidence that perhaps the world is not exactly how they've always imagined it to be.

Irrelevant. First, I am more optimistic than you. Second, what self-perceptions buy from which brands can be considered independently of what people actually think and do with their time (and money outside of the purchase.) It is rare to meet someone whose purchases entirely reflect or symbolize who they are.
posted by michaelh at 3:49 PM on February 11


Abercrombie & Fitch began as a no-shit safari outfitter

You beat me to it, Kadin2048. A&F was more virile, more interesting, Victorian Orvis. It's history is really interesting, pre-poseur.

If there's any justice in the universe (and, clearly, there isn't), anyone and everyone involved with turning that into the vapid no-really-being-gay-is-cool-as-long-as-you're-really-hot purveyor of medium-low quality clothes will be consigned to special place in hell overrun with hairy backs, bad skin, doughy bodies and completely devoid of sexual release. Fuck each and every one of them.
posted by kjs3 at 3:56 PM on February 11


My personal #1 complaint would be the stench that Abercrombie pumps out just outside of their stores -- that shit has to be carcinogenic.

Here in Happy Valley Pennsylvania, the downtown A&F pumps that garbage INTO THE STREET when their doors are open when the weather is nice out. I hate walking home past there; sometimes I take another route to avoid it.

During the Arts Festival here in mid-July, every business on Allen street has their doors open to hawk their wares to out-of-towners with money to burn. A&F, mysteriously, keeps its doors closed. I assume the State College borough wants to prevent a public health hazard.
posted by dhens at 4:25 PM on February 11


"I think American Apparel is on its way out simply because it epitomized last decade's aesthetic too much. And I think it differentiates itself from A&F by having at least one or two positive aspects in addition to all the awful shit (plus anecdotally I still like the few things I have from them, purchased maybe 8 years ago? That shit has held up.)

AA's decline came from related causes to AF — AA way over-invested in storefront real estate. They took a bloodbath, but the core business remains profitable and they've even recently expanded their manufacturing again.
posted by klangklangston at 4:52 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


I never shop there (because stench and music and aesthetics) but from what I notice in ads and in their displays, the amazing thing about them is how unchanged their clothes look. That makes sense for a place like llbean that is selling to older demographics, but not so much for marketing to teens.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:56 PM on February 11


There's a great episode of MASH (who am I kidding-they were all great besides that one with the chicken who was really a cryin baby on the bus) where it's a heat wave so Hawkeye and BJ order a canvas bathtub from A&F. Hijinks ensues.
posted by atomicstone at 5:01 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


From the second link:
Abercrombie and Fitch has faced a number of lawsuits over discriminatory hiring practices — including recruiting at predominately white sorority and fraternity houses.

In 2004, Eduardo Gonzalez, a lead plaintiff, said he was urged to apply for an overnight stock position and that the store manager favored two white applicants in a group interview


While in college (2005 or thereabouts) me and a friend were shopping at a Hollister for a gift for a friend when we were approached by one of the employees--sorry, models--about a part time job there...specifically for the night shift.

Our first day on the job, the overnight/stocking staff is 85% Filipino (along with the overnight manager), 10% black, with one or two white guys. Contrast with the day staff, maybe 90% white, token Asian female. A few weeks later, a bunch of managers from other stores (mostly college-graduate-aged, all white) come in to help "direct" us in the reorganization/clean-up of the store for a few nights; word was that the CEO himself (I assume Jeffries now but wasn't aware who that was at the time) was going to visit.

One of those nights, one of my bolder co-workers straight up asked a visiting manager:

"Do you guys hire colored people?"

There was an awkward pause, and I don't remember her response exactly but approximately included something around the lines of them always looking for people "with great style, regardless" or some dodgy BS that we all laughed about later. This was after the lawsuit.

Abercrombie & Fitch has always existed in this kind of fragrant, expensive "white kids only" vacuum. I thought it was common knowledge that they discriminate(d). On the other hand, their flat-out racist hiring practices are hardly different from, say, Hollywood.
posted by jpolorolu at 5:12 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


This generation is about inclusiveness and valuing diversity.

Meanwhile, spokespeople for this generation assure us that glittering generalities about all generations are assuredly true. Especially generations that embrace glitter.
posted by Twang at 5:14 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


I don't know a heck of a lot about fashion, but it seems to me that tying a brand's success to a particular CEO's taste is going to be a doomed formula sooner or later, even if it worked spectacularly well at one point. I'm surprised Mike Jeffries has lasted this long, especially after the stock crashed to < $1/share. Even the fashion moguls cultivate aspiring designers to work under them and try to ride waves over time rather than push a single concept to the point of futility. Fashion trends come and go, and being successful in fashion means you have to navigate those trends. Dude, you don't have to try to be young forever. Sooner or later you'll come across as trying too hard.
posted by krinklyfig at 5:15 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


I forgot to add this detail to my story, and it's probably obvious, but my other point is that me and my friend wonder if we would've been approached specifically about the night staff job in the first place if we weren't Filipino--just like the rest of the night staff! We'd fit in perfectly!
posted by jpolorolu at 5:17 PM on February 11


Another thought: Explaining this away by attributing an increase of diveristy is cherry picking examples and ignoring standard retail trends where some shitty brand emerges, sells their product, finds their niche, eventually over-expands, and then collapses when fashion changes. Like their predecessors, Abercrombie & Fitch unfortunately did not change their style fast enough when New England Fratboy fell out of fashion. They needed more hipster.

Gap has survived by being little more willing to change their look, and by leveraging Old Navy as an entry level brand and Banana Republic as a specialty niche. Abercrombie dropped parachute pants and popped their color well enough, but even Bros don't last forever.
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:31 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


DON'T YOU SAY THAT KIND OF THING ABOUT BROS!
posted by Navelgazer at 5:41 PM on February 11


It's about money. Kids don't have the money teens had in the 1990s and they're certainly never going to waste it on crappy product.
posted by etaoin at 6:00 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


A&F was more virile, more interesting, Victorian Orvis. It's history is really interesting, pre-poseur.

Far be it from me to defend Abercrombie & Fitch, I'm not a particular fan of the brand or its purposely offensive impact on the culture, but by "pre-poseur" do you mean Victorian era wealthy white men who, after a hard day of crushing the working class, stopped in before heading off to Africa in order to kill as many different animals as possible to be used as home decorations?
posted by ActingTheGoat at 6:16 PM on February 11 [4 favorites]


Those were the days!
posted by basicchannel at 6:30 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


Explaining this away by attributing an increase of diveristy is cherry picking examples and ignoring standard retail trends

OTOH, I do think A&F's reputation as a "popular kid" jock/sorority/bro brand probably doesn't help its cred right now.

Even the preppy brands these days are going for more of a rustic or grunge or posh/tweedy image, and not so much that All American baseball cap kind of aesthetic that has been Abercrombie's bread and butter for the last 20 years.
posted by Sara C. at 6:35 PM on February 11


Yet another reason it is just STUPID for them not to rebrand based on the company's history. They could do dapper SO FUCKING WELL.
posted by Sara C. at 6:36 PM on February 11


Sooner or later you'll come across as trying too hard.

Dude have you ever seen a picture of the guy?

Of his hair?
posted by The Whelk at 6:44 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


If you can spend five minutes in an A&F store without the dim lighting and earsplitting music getting to you,

That's 4:55 more than I've ever managed. I've rarely encountered a more hostile sales environment, can't abide their stores.
posted by arcticseal at 6:45 PM on February 11


There is a lot more tweedy/sweater vest stuff out there now, isn't there? I was getting worried about how much I was starting to blend in someplaces.

Like with all things I blame Doctor Who.
posted by The Whelk at 6:45 PM on February 11 [3 favorites]


The woman in the Jes Baker photos could cosplay the fuck out of Pam from Archer.
posted by bswinburn at 7:00 PM on February 11


"Dude have you ever seen a picture of the guy?"

Dude looks like Gary Busey's anaphylactic cousin.
posted by klangklangston at 7:22 PM on February 11 [6 favorites]


Sounds like discrimination to me. Uppity white folks gotta have clothes too.

(Or am I thinking Ralph Lauren or some shizz? Shows you how with it I am.)
posted by nowhere man at 7:54 PM on February 11


Wait are we talking uppity white people fashn cause this is my area of expertise.

Ralph Lauren? Please. Dude wishes he could conjure up an air of monied new England respectability, total copy of a copy of a copy although that line ( with Polo) has actually bothered to change with the times by reaching out to other groups in a gate keeper kind of role, like buy lots of Ralph Lauren and you to can be fashionable and Very American but also Traditional but also Cool.

I mean the clothing is kind of ...whatever but an effort is being made to change with the times. Of course actual WASPy old money outfits are kind of aggressively unattractive cause that's the point.
posted by The Whelk at 8:07 PM on February 11


I'm just glad someone finally confirmed for me that A&F was in fact an old camping prepster sort of brand back in the day. I was beginning to think I'd imagined that and the faux military surplus at Banana Republic. /old and not particularly fashionable.
posted by immlass at 8:42 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


I got an A&F flannel shirt for Christmas in the mid-nineties. It was from an uncle who had no idea what to get me, and no clue that, unlike his kids, I had never actually set foot in one of their stores. It was an awesome shirt, thick and warm, not garish, not covered with logos. Just a really nice flannel shirt, which I wore on and off for the next ten years until it's thick warm fluffiness has receeded into an almost silk-like thinness. I've never worn-out a piece of clothing quite like that before. It didn't tear, I didn't accidently stain it. I just wore it to death.

Because of that shirt, from time to time I would stop in an A&F store and see if they had anything similar. I never saw anything like it, and as time went on, it became very clear that my body type wasn't anything they were designing clothes for, and disdainful sneers from high school kids isn't anything I need to experience while shopping. When you're brand mystique is built on the idea that snubbing other people makes you look cool, you're marketing to assholes. I'm not willing to say assholes are a dying breed (cough Affliction t-shirts cough), just that they might have more places to shop now.

A&F opened a store in Tokyo last year, or maybe two years ago. They made a big show of hiring a dozen or so rail thin tall foreign male models to stand around on the sidewalk in front of the store for the opening. Something something aspirational bullshit pushing unobtainable ideals of body image on non-western cultures.
posted by Ghidorah at 9:17 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


My baby-faced half-black-half-white old roommate in college was an AF model for a very short while. He sometimes worked up to seven hours per month. Tell me that isn't pretty much a fashion internship right there.
posted by oceanjesse at 10:26 PM on February 11


immlass: "I'm just glad someone finally confirmed for me that A&F was in fact an old camping prepster sort of brand back in the day. I was beginning to think I'd imagined that and the faux military surplus at Banana Republic. /old and not particularly fashionable."

Someone on another forum I frequent told a story about how in 1964 he went to the Abercrombie & Fitch on 45th St. in Manhattan when he was 18 to buy himself a watch. "Back in the day Abercrombie was THE store for all things of the highest caliber (guns, safari as well as clothes)." Where he ran into Walter Cronkite, who was buying a Tudor. "I asked him why a Tudor? (I was ready to buy a Rolex) He looked over at me and replied 'Its like driving a Bentley rather than an ostentatious Rolls'."
posted by danny the boy at 11:22 PM on February 11 [4 favorites]


I mean the clothing is kind of ...whatever but an effort is being made to change with the times. Of course actual WASPy old money outfits are kind of aggressively unattractive cause that's the point.

The brilliance of Ralph Lauren was to realize that one could create knock offs of already iconic fashions and charge more for them than the originals.

While it is probably true that teens are not nearly as inclusive as they claim to be, that image, like the Abercrombie wealthy preppie image of the 90s, is aspirational. You may not actually be accepting and inclusive, but you want to present yourself as though you are, and you will gravitate towards brands that cultivate that image, and Abercrombie definitely does not present that. So claims about human nature aside, I can see how Abercrombie fell behind the fashion times.

What always blew my mind as a former teenage preppie is that Abercrombie was charging a lot for an aesthetic that could be had relatively cheaply. I was thinking, "I know exactly how to dress like that. Why do I need to buy their stuff to do it? And why $50 for a tshirt?"
posted by deanc at 6:29 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]


"...sensibilities have since evolved; casual prejudice is not as readily tolerated. Today’s teens are no longer interested in “the elite, cool-kid thing” to the extent that they once were, says Gordon, the Michigan professor.

I have definitely seen this trend in action with my 13-year-old nephew. An anti-bullying ethos has pervaded all public schools he has attended since Day One of kindergarten. I wonder if the school shootings post-Columbine was the tipping point. People started realizing that maybe you shouldn't bully that outcast if he's going to come to school next day with an AR-15. In fact, I found this interesting quote from a CNN coverage of Columbine in 1999:

"They shot at everybody," says senior Nick Zupancic, "including the preps, the jocks and the people who wore Abercrombie & Fitch clothes. But it would be hard to say they singled them out, because everybody here looks like that. I mean, we're in white suburbia. Our school's wealthy. Go into the parking lot and see the cars. These kids have money. But I never thought they'd do this."
posted by jonp72 at 6:57 AM on February 12


Above all, Jeffries, who was once married but is now openly gay, sought to sell an image of American beefcake sexuality as he saw it: a world of hairless, amply muscled men tussling in a pastoral Eden. That this world was so highly homoeroticized—the roughhousing in the catalogues seemed perpetually on the point of turning into a full-on orgy—is one of the most poignant ironies of his success. He was persuading straight jock teenagers to buy into a gay man’s fantasy of a jock utopia.

I feel like I have to take a shower after reading this. Jeffries looks like the sort of chicken hawk so self-hating as he ages that he's had surgery to make his face ridiculous, but that's just how gay men are because we so fear looking our ages... then there's the claim here that this "hairless" jock "utopia" is what all of us jack off too because this facially disfigured freak does. I DON'T.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 8:02 AM on February 12 [2 favorites]


I like a good case of schadenfreude as much as anyone else, but after finally getting around to reading the NY Mag article and looking up the financials, I think this is pretty far from happening. The article mentions that A&F posted a quarterly loss of $15.6M last year, prompting investor outcry. Well, that is true but that was only one quarter, for the year their net income was $237.01M on about $4.5B revenue. In fact A&F's financials definitely seem to be trending upward:

Revenue:
2009: 3.54B
2010: 2.93B
2011: 3.47B
2012: 4.16B
2013: 4.51B

Net Income:
2009: 272.26M
2010: 78.95M
2011: 150.28M
2012: 126.88M
2013: 237.01M

http://www.marketwatch.com/investing/stock/anf/financials

A&F's gross margins are around 60%, well above the retail average and nearly what industry darling Apple runs at. Even higher than GAP (about35%) and Lululemon (about 50%). And the company is sitting on about $600M in cash and cash equivalents. Not bad for a company whose market cap is only about $2.5B. Liabilities are a bit high, but that is what they are closing stores to take care of. Arguably, this dumping of unproductive stores is proof that Jeffries did a good job of keeping the company flexible enough to make these moves.

And that "investor outrage" to dump Jeffries seems to be limited to the one investment group. Yes, the company is mixing up the board of directors because of it, but bringing in someone from Sears (what a mess that place is) hardly sounds like a good decision.

I'm surprised Mike Jeffries has lasted this long, especially after the stock crashed to < $1/share.

Umm…that's because the stock never did fall that low, I think you are thinking of American Apparel and their Jeffries hipster equivalent, Dov Charney. A&F's stock isn't performing great, but it is hardly in dire straits. Anyone hoping for Jeffries to by burnt on a stake for running the company into the ground appears to be hoping for a comeuppance that doesn't look like it is coming. Don't get me wrong, I can't stand the guy, but it is hard to say he hasn't done really well (and continues to do well) in a business that is extremely difficult (retail clothing).
posted by roquetuen at 1:37 AM on February 14 [4 favorites]


I don't know a heck of a lot about fashion, but it seems to me that tying a brand's success to a particular CEO's taste is going to be a doomed formula sooner or later, even if it worked spectacularly well at one point. I'm surprised Mike Jeffries has lasted this long

I am too, but I think fashion comes across as very mysterious to a lot of investors; it's not the sort of thing where you can just parachute in a crack team of McKinsey consultants to overhaul KPIs when there's a bad quarter. The tolerance for crazy behavior on the part of CEOs (and designers / figureheads, etc.) as a result seems rather high. They get away with it because they're shamans, doing their crazy dances and making fools of themselves but then occasionally making it rain cash money.

That said, even Wall Street does have its limits. Jefferies was recently relieved of his responsibilities as Chairman of the Board, although he'll remain as Director and CEO. It's hard to read that as anything but him losing his seat at the big kids' table and getting sent back to the playroom.

Kids don't have the money teens had in the 1990s and they're certainly never going to waste it on crappy product.

Analysts seem to agree, at least sort of. I think the idea of a "flight to quality" is optimistic; I think it's more that kids are fleeing to what they can afford, which may not be any higher-quality (it's not like H&M or Target are known for being buy-it-for-life quality) but it's certainly a lot cheaper, probably just due to the lack of branding. Also, it's my understanding that some clothes that are really popular now (like yoga pants and leggings for women) are not at all hard-wearing, and actually wear out before they become unfashionable — generally the opposite of the last few decades of teen clothing. That could do interesting things to the secondary market. Men's clothing seems to be less affected though.

That article also suggests that today's A&F customers may be choosing to spend their money, and demonstrate their status to peers, with things other than clothing. Rather than an $80 shirt and $90 pair of pants, you might get a $15 shirt and $20 pants and then put the extra $135 towards a new smartphone. That seems pretty believable to me. I'm pretty suspicious of the idea that kids have just decided to stop finding ways to count coup against each other using economic status indicators (would that it were!), but it's totally possible that they've found different ways to do it than overpriced logo t-shirts.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:46 AM on February 14 [2 favorites]


And why $50 for a tshirt?

I call that getting swindled and pimped, I call that getting tricked by a business - that shirt's hella dough, and having the same one as six other people in this club is a hella don't.

I had to.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:55 AM on February 14 [4 favorites]


I did appreciate A&F an iota for sneaking some soft-core gay porn into my high school in the form of the catalog. But man, look up "aging gracefully" in the OED and a picture of Mike Jeffries will be there under "antonyms."

Plus looking at A&F as an out gay adult, the direct line from their branding to the "masc only, white only, <30 only" bitter-dbags-of-Grindr mentality is impossible to miss, and it's so friggin skeevy and sad.

(Still, Dov Charney is yet skeevier.)

That Attractive & Fat photoshoot is awesome, BTW, and not just as parody.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:24 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


by "pre-poseur" do you mean Victorian era wealthy white men who, after a hard day of crushing the working class, stopped in before heading off to Africa in order to kill as many different animals as possible to be used as home decorations?

OMFG did I actually reference a previous generation of white people in a off-hand, light hearted comment without shitting on them? Jeebus I'm sorry. Can I make it up by pointing out that Einstein was philanderer and Lindbergh was really quite a dick every time they ever come up in any context forever, because talking about their successes without dog-piling their flaws is bad or something. Right? I'll try and do better.
posted by kjs3 at 9:14 PM on February 17


C'mon, man, if it's not all right to bust on old imperialist rich people, who is it OK to bust on? They're not busting on you — unless you've got a gorilla vest we should know about.
posted by klangklangston at 10:22 PM on February 17 [2 favorites]


It's faux-gorilla. Pinky-swear.
posted by kjs3 at 5:23 AM on February 18


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