When it comes to building a brand for the teen market, Abercrombie & Fitch has done more than make a name for itself. It's created a larger than life, utterly irresistible, almost mythic personality, luring those young adults away from other stores with saner prices. In fact, good luck to my fellow mothers if they happen to be at the mall in search of something practical — say, a sports bra or new gym shoes — for their offspring.
"Can we just look in Abercrombie? Puh-leeeeeeese?"
The stores are dimly-lit (the better to keep you from actually examining the merchandise or the price tags) with amplified, throbbing music. It's so loud that you can barely hear yourself think, much less hear your teen's negotiations for just one more pair of distressed skin-tight jeans. It honestly feels like hell (and I don't even believe in hell). This is strategic, no doubt. After a few (a very few) minutes, you are desperate to leave and no longer thinking clearly.
"Must get out of here. Take my MasterCard."
Not a brand to leave out any of the senses, Abercrombie has its own distinct smell. They douse the clothes and the fixtures — and probably the staff — with their signature scent. It wafts out the store's shuttered entrance and down the walkways of the mall. And once you've made a purchase, it follows you back to your car. Invariably, I have to drive home from Abercrombie's with the windows open.
Then, there are the practically pornographic shopping bags — featuring studly young bucks, tousled hair, six-pack abs, and their jeans pulled down to there. On more than one occasion, I've thrown away perfectly good Abercrombie bags because, really, I'd be too self-conscious to re-use them. I'd feel like a cougar.
And finally, to complete the Abercrombie experience, the stores only hire picture-perfect people. The supernaturally breathtaking are given jobs as greeters, welcoming you to this adolescent Shangri-La. The drop-dead gorgeous work the cash registers. And the merely beautiful are relegated to folding and stocking shelves.
Those with zits or unruly hair (a.k.a. regular teenagers) are not welcome. Neither are fatties. And, not just as employees. Abercrombie doesn't want to sell to them either.
According to Abercrombie CEO, Mike Jeffries, "We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in Abercrombie], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely."
"That’s why we hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that."
This is an adult speaking?
So that's why the store doesn't have a size XL. (And, trust me, there ain't nothin' particularly large about their L either.) Their jeans only go up to size 10, although they start at 00. For the record, the average American woman wears a size 14.
It's hard for anyone other than a not-quite-developed teenager to squeeze into Abercrombie jeans. But there are plenty of teens who can't either. Alas, they are forced to forego Abercrombie and shop at American Eagle Outfitters, Aeropostale, H&M or Forever 21. I certainly don't feel sorry for any lost revenue on the part of Abercrombie & Fitch. But, I do think it's a shame that a large number of larger teens have yet another reason to feel self-conscious or somehow less than those who happen to weigh less.
My own teen daughter, always lean and athletic, is getting curvier as she gets older.
Hello? Women have curves.
In the past few years, my daughter's gone from the coveted 00 to a plain single-digit 0 to a 2 to a 4. Soon, she may actually need a size 6. Sacre bleu! (Time to send her to a fat farm, obviously.) The thing is, a teen girl should be considered more attractive with hips and breasts, not less. Abercrombie is promoting an unrealistic ideal — why should a young woman covet the figure of an emaciated boy?
As much as Mr. Jeffries' comments disturb me (disgust might be a better word), there is a bright side to all of this.
Now, I finally have the perfect reason to boycott Abercrombie.