Content Warning: eating disorders, sizeism, racism
Whether you are a millennial who grew up in the early 2000s or Gen Z who grew up in the late 2000s, you vividly remember the days of dangerously low-waisted jeans, tamagotchi, and shutter shades. You probably also remember the elitist advertising of brands like Juicy Couture, American Apparel, and of course…Abercrombie & Fitch.
In the new Netflix documentary White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch, former employees and customers describe their experiences with Abercrombie & Fitch and the grip the clothing company had on all of us. Many former customers explain they felt pressure to fit in socially and were in love with the lifestyle that A&F marketed so well to their customers.
I vividly remember how detrimental Hollister was to my mental health in middle school. Everyone was wearing Hollister (as opposed to Abercrombie & Fitch, even though they are the same company), especially since we lived on the West Coast and wanted to have that West Coast aesthetic. I felt pressured to buy their clothes since fitting in during middle school was all about what brands you were wearing. My parents didn’t have the money to afford a lot of clothes from overpriced mall brands, but still bought me jeans and sweatshirts from Hollister. My adolescent self-esteem was particularly injured by the sizing of their jeans (not only were the sizes in odd instead of even numbers but they also ran smaller than sizes from other stores), and I was often comparing myself to my peers and/or hoping to lose weight.
About a decade ago, far before this documentary was released, I remember the then-CEO Mike Jeffries receiving a ton of heat about his comments regarding economically disadvantaged people who can’t afford his clothes. In a famous statement that received a great deal of backlash, the now-anonymous manager at Abercrombie & Fitch stated that the brand would rather burn their unsold clothes than donate them to those in need. He famously stated “Abercrombie & Fitch doesn’t want to create the image that just anybody, poor people, can wear their clothing. Only people of a certain stature are able to purchase and wear the company name.” Mike Jeffries also made a comment during an interview explaining that he only wanted conventionally attractive people to wear his clothes and be seen in his stores: “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.”
In addition to being classist, Abercrombie & Fitch also created a great deal of racist graphic tees, with phrases that are offensive and that I don’t feel comfortable including in this article. You can read about these tees in a post from April 20th, 2022 on the Instagram account @diet_prada. I was shocked when I read what were on these t-shirts and even more shocked at how normalized these racist sentiments were back then. Anthony Ocampo, one of the people featured in the new A&F documentary, published an article in NBC News “How Abercrombie & Fitch’s image of masculinity affected Asian men” that explains his racist experiences with A&F, including being rejected from employment there because he is Filipino. One thing was made disturbingly clear: the Abercrombie & Fitch aesthetic was skinny and white, and they wanted to keep it that way.
A brand like Abercrombie & Fitch that is not designer nor luxury, yet acts almost more pretentious and exclusive than brands like Prada and Givenchy. Their clothes are not high quality, and I would go as far as to say they are not fashionable either. How did we justify buying $40 tees with the brand name plastered across the front (simply acting as free advertising for them as well)?
Within the past year, Abercrombie & Fitch has rebranded itself to supposedly become more inclusive with their advertisements and clothing. Since 2017, Frans Horowitz has been the CEO and has not proven to be problematic (yet). What is your opinion? Will you shop at Abercrombie & Fitch with their new sense of “inclusivity,” or do you think their new business practices are only performative?