Hey suburban parents—let’s stop spending money at Abercrombie and Fitch

Not long ago, I followed my daughter to Abercrombie and Fitch in a suburban mall.  I and a legion of other middle-aged parents were fairly stunned by the throbbing background music and frenetic atmosphere. I was also fairly stunned by the high price of the clothes.

Abercrombie and Fitch is now in court because the company declined to hire an otherwise qualified young woman because she wears a Hijab. Apparently she didn’t fit the company’s preferred look.

Shabby treatment of this Muslim young woman is just the latest infraction. Abercrombie and Fitch has attracted controversy for its refusal to sell women’s pants above size 10, its icky soft-core advertising, its apparent race/ethnic bias in recruitment, its mistreatment of an employee whose prosthetic arm ran afoul of the company’s “look” policy, and—not least–its CEO’s casual description of its cool-kid marketing philosophy:

In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids… We go after the cool kids. 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 our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.

To paraphrase Barry Goldwater, every attractive all-American kid should deliver this guy a swift kick in the pants.

Our kids, particularly our daughters, are forced in so many ways to contend with a predatory commercial culture that reinforces the most crummy and stupid aspects of adolescent life.

As adults, this is partly our fault. We bankroll many purchases in stores that can’t be bothered to sell a pair of pants to somebody’s wonderful 16-year-old girl who wears plus-size pants.

I have no idea whether Abercrombie’s various policies violate various employment laws. I know that this company that doesn’t deserve my money. If every parent did the same, maybe the people hawking stuff to our kids would at least pretend to some basic decency.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect, tnr.com, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

24 thoughts on “Hey suburban parents—let’s stop spending money at Abercrombie and Fitch”

  1. So well put! Can we share this on Facebook and other places? A & F needs to change or go down. They are nauseating. My daughters turned away from them years ago.

  2. I've posted on it before, but this seems a good place to reprise Nikolay Lamm's remaking of Barbie in the actual average proportions of 19-year-old American girls. So it's not all about a cult of youth and attractiveness. In the rag trade, it's also a death cult of anorexia.

    You would think stores would find it paid to stock clothes reflecting the observed size distribution of their customers, weighted by disposable income. They clearly don't.

    1. It's the disposable-right-here-income part that I think you're missing (deliberately or otherwise). They get a certain set of young adults to spend lots of money there precisely because certain other people aren't welcome. It's the equivalent of the old private clubs that used to say they would suffer a huge financial loss by admitting black people because all of their racist white members would leave…

  3. Once upon a time I was consulting to CMS (Medicare), and was examining the policies of a number of predatory private insurers, who were engaging in redlining, blacklisting, cherry-picking, etc. One of the worst violators, a tri-state firm we can call S, put me in touch with their head of marketing. She said "we make it a point to only solicit applications from a younger, hipper clientele."

    I replied: "younger I understand, that means cheaper, lower loss-ratios, higher profits….but hipper….what do you mean? Not coke-sniffing club mavens, not young men swigging high-end scotch as they drive their Ferraris at fatal speeds. What, no capezios, no Lacoste shirts, no docksiders, the sort of signs that are posted outside Lower East Side nightclubs?"

    She laughed, and said, no, hipper means more likely to be vegetarian, to belong to fitness clubs, to mediate and do yoga, to do mountain biking and take eco-vacations. "Ah", I replied, "you mean rich and white?"

    "Yes exactly! It would erode our brand image to have people think of S Healthcare as someone that insures poor families and older people and and fat people and minorities and union workers."

  4. I have been vaguely aware of this case as it has percolated up through the legal system. Just as I'm only vaguely aware of A&F in its post WASP sporting goods/stuff to wear on safari incarnation. But, again based on very limited knowledge, I have a question.

    I went to their website and fid a Google search. Bearing in mind the caveat that I'm neither a parent nor particularly sensitive to such issues are are raised in the original post but it looked to me like a sexualized version of Land's End. Nevertheless, my supposition is the these stores aren't likely to be a place where a religious person would be comfortable working or shopping.

    Why would a young woman who feels compelled to make an outward manifestation of her piety want to work at A&F?

    Having now had a couple of hours between writing the above and gaining access to the Internet, I want to mention something puzzling that I've noticed among some Arab and Maghrébin young women in their late teens or perhaps early twenties.

    Their clothing and mannerisms seem very much like their American counterparts. Indeed, in retrospect, it seems to me that many of them dressed even less “modestly” than their American counterparts on the A&F website. But they were also wearing the hijab, which is related to the supposed requirement that women should dress “modestly” in public. I find such a way of dressing to be baffling.

    1. The hijab is a part of their culture, not just a religious requirement. This idea that religion is the only reason that Muslims do the things they do needs to stop. I've had multiple friends from Muslim countries (Somalia, Morocco, and Indonesia) that had stopped being religiously observant and no longer considered themselves Muslims but they still refused to eat pork because it was culturally ingrained.

      So, your assumption that wearing the hijab is a manifestation of piety is quite possibly wrong. She may just like to dress that way. And this sentence, "Their clothing and mannerisms seem very much like their American counterparts," is just flat out clueless. There's a very good chance that she is an American. Like all immigrants, those from Muslim countries have kids after arriving here and they will generally display cultural preferences that are a mix of their parents' and those of Americans. Sometimes that mix will include things that seem very odd together if you aren't familiar with it.

      1. I don’t understand what you mean when you say that the wearing of the hijab is an aspect of culture and not a religious statement. I know a very little bit about Moroccan culture but nothing of Somalia or Indonesia. Nevertheless, in Morocco it is considered a female counterpart to the fez and I don’t understand why Somalia or Indonesia would have a style of dress that is commonly associated with religious practices as a part of their culture except as a manifestation of how Islam represents an integral part of their cultural identity and, consequently, one would assume that the wearing of the hijab is supposed to be an expression of modesty.

        This is certainly not an area in which I have expertise but during the debate over the recent legislation in France there was extensive discussion of the hijab during which the hijab was described universally as both a manifestation of religiosity and as expressing a religious requirement of modesty. Again, if that’s the case, we are seeing what would appear to be a clash of symbolic dress—the hijab representing modesty and the miniskirt representing the decadent West.

        So the explanation of something being ingrained in the culture seems incomplete. Similarly, the question of eating pork seems to simply be another example of the cultural confusion many practicing Muslims are experiencing in adapting to European or Western customs. I’m not making a political argument; for me, this is mainly an interesting cultural observation and I’m not sure that it has a larger meaning.

        You may also be right that the wearing of the hijab by many of the young women that I’m describing is more of a fashion statement than a religious one (although I doubt that any of them were actually Americans) but it seems to me that this is less of an explanation than it is the same question expressed differently. Perhaps you are also right that this is a form of gradual casting off of the “old country’s” cultural requirement and might thus be seen as a straddling of the old and new.

        1. It began as a religious requirement. It has become a cultural expression that transcends religion; even if you strip the latter away, the cultural element remains. And, frankly, you don't seem to understand the issue at all.

          1. So it would seem. Perhaps you could help me to understand how the wearing of the hijab came to have cultural significance and what is being expressed by wearing it?

        2. I suspect that more than a few women in France approved of the ban on hijabs as it gave them cover for not wearing what they didn't want to wear in the first place.

    2. Mitch

      When I lived in Tehran, one of the amusing sights was the young woman scurrying along the street, eyes modestly down, chador held tight under the chin. Sees an attractive young man coming the other way, turns to plate glass window, "adjusts" chador. Miniskirt and see-through blouse under. Young woman scurries off demurely, leaving young man standing dazed.

      There was the official code, and then "the code".

    3. You don't know very many Muslims, do you? The young women you describe are indeed very much like their American counterparts. They watch the same movies, listen to the same music (and also some extra music which is never marketed to their poor, culturally deprived American sisters). They like the same clothes, too, why should that be a surprise? They wear hijab for a number of reasons. Mostly as a statement: "Chill, I'm a Muslim too, I'm not going to give you any grief about it.". Sometimes to avoid a row with their parents (my grandfather once chewed out my father for going out without a hat; this was less than a hundred years ago.). Sometimes, as one girl explained it to me, because she liked to wear her hair long and putting a scarf over it was the quickest and easiest way of keeping it under control when she went out. Modesty too, where modesty is defined as "going to the trouble of wearing hijab", but I dare say they take it of to have sex with their boyfriends.

      (Anecdote: I was once in a hospital waiting room and there was this woman walking up and down, doing her job, wearing hijab over a see through blouse.)

      Most Muslims, like most Americans, believe in God and are fairly up front about it. However, the overlap in the Venn of "wearing hijab" and "being particularly pious" is far from 100%,

      1. Yes, you are correct that I know very few Muslims and those few are all people in France or Tunisia whom I correspond with by email about politics and secularism but have never met in person, although I would like to meet them if the opportunity would present itself. It is possible that there are Muslims among my circle of casual acquaintances but, if so, they are secular in the sense that they do not display outward signs of their faith.

        My point was that there seems to be a cultural contradiction between wearing a garment intended to express piety and modesty in combination with clothing that is, let us say, inharmonious with those sentiments. The women wearing both the hijab and the “see through blouse” isn’t really an explanation so much as she’s simply another variation on that theme. I see the example of hijab wearing women having sex with their boyfriends similarly.

        I certainly take your point that the overlap between those women who (voluntarily) wear the hijab and those who dress “modestly” and act piously is far from 100 percent. But I think that simply begs the question.

        1. " The women wearing both the hijab and the “see through blouse” isn’t really an explanation so much as she’s simply another variation on that theme."

          Yes, and the theme is that this is a much more complex issue than you are crediting.

    4. When I lived in Indonesia, some observant Muslims wore a hijab, some didn't. I'd guess that about 1/3 of women wore one and 2/3 didn't. Some of the women who didn't wear a hijab explained their choice as "It's more important to be Muslim on the inside than on the outside."

  5. I've listened to some of the oral arguments on CSPAN.
    The Supremes are arguing about some arcane details.
    I was really put off by the "meta" nature of the discussion.
    I'm so glad I'm not a lawyer.

  6. Amen Harold. Trick I think is to persuade parents that they are not harming their kids by refusing to buy them into the cool class.

  7. According to my daughter, it’s only a few of the Asian kids at her school who shop there.

  8. Everything you state in this is of the Abercrombie and Fitch of old. The company has made drastic changes in the past two years. Changes they were called out to make, changes you have chosen to ignore simply to make a point. The CEO made those comments back when those comments fit their brand image. Those comments no longer reflect what the company stands for. The CEO is now gone. “Plus” sizes are now available. They run an anti-bullying campaign and raised money for an anti-bullying charity within this last year. i can tell you from working with the company for the last four years an overwhelming majority of the employees are not happy with what went down with the company under Jeffries and there is an overwhelming desire to be a better company. And the bad apples within the company are still being weeded out to this day. People called for this company to make a change. What happened in the past does not represent the values of the company today. The company hears the complaints. From being more welcoming to customers, to turning down the music, and brightening up the stores. But the old Abercrombie and Fitch makes for a better story and is something for people to complain about and changes being made will continue to be ignored.

  9. I found your story to be composed rather than an actual anecdote. Abercrombie prices have decreased dramatically, loud music is no long loud, and the CEO which stated that disgusting remark no longer works for Abercrombie & Fitch (that comment was stated in 2006 with an apology afterwards). I believe that Abercrombie & Fitch is a very hip and reasonable place to shop at. The company is changing from what it once was to something incredible.

  10. In addition, at the time the woman applied for the job and started to work there, there were certain dress codes that would have prevened her from wearing that head piece. It was her fault for applying for a job that didn’t accept her practices

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