I have to start by saying I was completely unaware that Abercrombie and Fitch was still considered the store for the cool kids. I was also unaware that teenagers still use the terms “cool,” and ” the in crowd,” when referencing the popular kids being that the last I checked, teenagers today are not characters from “Grease,” and use a whole slew of words that most of us born before 1990 don’t even understand. But if the backlash surrounding this article highlighting their CEO’s comments is any indication, the war between the popular kids and the geeks is still going strong. Only now there’s the added stipulation that you can’t be one of the cool girls if your pants size is in the double digits.
CEO Mike Jeffries made this comment in an interview with Salon (several years ago, to my understanding, if we’re all being fair,) ““In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids,” he told the site. “Candidly, 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. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either,” he told Salon.”
So let me get this straight. Essentially, the CEO of a clothing line known for their overtly sexual advertisements showcasing standard-sized fashion models – which is somewhere around a size 2 -stated that they make their clothes with their target demographic in mind. Their target demographic is teenagers who fit the common perception of beauty. And the common perception of beauty for a female is not a size 16. It’s just not.
Is that fair? Fuck no it’s not fair. Is it right? Of course it’s not. Does it need to change? Of course it does. But bear with me a minute. When I was a teenager, there was a store in Woodfield Mall – I’m not sure if they were a chain or not – called 5-7-9. Why were they called that? You guessed it – those were the sizes they carried. Of course, they also carried sizes 0-4, but they didn’t carry anything above a size 9. When I was a teenager, I would have sold my goddamn soul to have bought my dresses from 5-7-9. That’s where everyone who was ANYONE bought their clothes. However, Jesus blessed me with early puberty and a set of knockers that required underwire at the tender age of 12; juniors clothing was out of the question way before I was a junior. Was I overweight? No. Not at all. At 16, I was a solid size eight. (And yeah, it has to be said that OF COURSE I want to go back in time and bitch slap teenage me and tell her that that Mountain Dew addiction was going to catch up in a major way and manifest itself in a lifelong affair with sugar and fast food that she will never, ever shake.) But my point is that I was a very healthy 5’4, between 130-145 pounds, and a I felt like a GIANT compared to my girlfriends. And not being able to fit into clothes from 5-7-9 was kind of heartbreaking. I couldn’t understand. Why did all of their clothes look terrible on me? How did their size 9 jeans not pull over my hips? I wanted their dresses, I wanted their clothes, I wanted to fit in. I didn’t want to buy my damn dress in the Misses section of fucking Penneys, no matter that it looked a thousand times better on me. It wasn’t from the POPULAR store.
Fortunately, my mother has a low capacity for unwarranted histrionics and finally – likely after a hissyfit of giant proportions on my part – put her foot down and said something along the lines of, “Their. Clothes. Don’t. Fit. It doesn’t matter how mad you get about it, they’re still not going to fit. I’m not sitting here anymore.” And while at the time I was probably apoplectic with the anger only a teenage girl can muster, she was so right. And I am so, so damn glad she didn’t let me buy an ill-fitting dress just because it would have made me happy in the short term. Christ knows I have enough pictures of me with a mullet and with a tuba and braces and glasses and perms; I certainly didn’t need to add a too-tight, fuschia-feathered nightmare to the mix.
What’s my point? That was damn near twenty years ago. The stores and the trends might have changed, but the perception is the same. Mr. Jeffries certainly surprised people by coming outright and saying it, but to me, the backlash is misplaced. Saying that Abercrombie hates fat people because they don’t make sizes above a ten for women is like saying that Lane Bryant is discriminating against the single-digit ladies. Boiled down to semantics, it IS the same thing. They’re both making clothes to fit their target audience, to flatter and fit their customers. And Abercrombie isn’t the ones making their audience the cool kids – there’s about a million other societal factors that make the “cool” kids synonymous with the “beautiful” kids. Abercrombie is simply cashing in on it.
There’s no easy answer or quick fix. But I think my mama had it right: this doesn’t work for you, here’s something that DOES, go kick ass in that instead. Who the fuck cares where it’s from, who cares what the label says, who cares what size it is, look at how great you look. Concentrate on that, drill it into your daughter’s head every day. You look beautiful, you ARE beautiful, I love you. No clothing line is ever going to do that. no matter how popular it is.
And if your kids are part of Abercrombie’s “cool” standard and you don’t want them to shop there? Tell them why. They may not get it now, and they might not agree with you because, hey, they’re teenagers. But explain yourself. So many of the comments I’ve seen in response to Jeffries’ statement have been contradictory to what their point should have been, “Well, he obviously wants to try and be around the cool kids now because, look at him, he clearly wasn’t when he was in high school.” What is that proving? It’s okay to make fun of someone’s looks if they did it first? It’s okay to call someone ugly if they call you fat? What does that teach anyone?
No wonder kids are confused. I am too.