I Worked At Abercrombie And Its 'Rebranding' Comes 7 Years Too Late

by Alicia Cook
PA Photos

I just read in the Wall Street Journal that Abercrombie & Fitch Company announced it would stop hiring sales staff on “body type or physical attractiveness,” and will relax its infamous “look policy.”

Brand Representative will replace “Model” as the title for the sales staff as well.

According to the article, in general, the company’s marketing, which was heavily sexualized, will be toned down.

As a former “model” on the sales staff, what do I have to say about this? About damn time.

Now, it seems the company just has to worry about irreparable damage that may have been done to its image, in order to bounce back from their bigotry and boost sales.

Abercrombie & Fitch Company, housing the likes of Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister, was a staple during my high school and early college years (2000-2007.)

It quickly became a ruler used to measure one’s status in the hallways.

If you wore Abercrombie, it meant you (or your parents) could afford style, and I do not say this lightly.

For example, a small piece of denim, ripped and torn to shreds, appropriately named the “micro-mini” was a whopping $50 at the time.

And yes, I purchased it and wore it even though I couldn’t bend over if I happened to pick something up.

And more importantly, if you wore Abercrombie, you were small enough to fit into their clothes.

I recall their jean sizes beginning at a “00,” but not ever housing plus sizes.

In college, babysitting wasn’t cutting it during the winter months and I needed another job. I was shopping there one day when an overly-bubbly blonde girl wearing the micro-mini with branded flip flops and no stockings (it was December in New Jersey, mind you) approached me.

“Would you be interested in working here?” she asked me, clipboard in hand. “I am looking for a part-time job, actually.” “Well, we are having a group interview on Saturday at 4. You should totally come! Wear Abercrombie. It helps,” She explained. “Um … okay. Sure.”

I agreed. Working in retail never appealed to me, but I needed the extra money.

With that, she crossed off something on her clipboard quite obviously and pranced off.

I returned on Saturday to find myself sitting in the store’s lounge area with a group of people — men and women — around my age. We all looked alike; we could have been related.

We were white, thin, had straight teeth and no acne. The thing that separated me from the other girls was that their hair was pin straight and mine with thick and very curly.

The manager introduced herself to us and got right into what was expected of us going forward. There was no interview process. She didn’t know anything about me.

She didn’t know that I hated retail, that I wasn’t the best “people person” and that I didn’t always dress head to toe in their brand.

She didn’t know my availability, which would be limited because I was taking 21 college credits that semester or that I would have to quit in five months when summer arrived because I babysat for a family full-time.

She didn’t know if I had drug problem (I don’t). All she knew about me, and the others, were our outward appearances.

We were each handed a pamphlet, and the cover was adorned with a shirtless man.

She went over the fact that we weren’t called “representatives” or “sales associates” we were to be called “models.”

She discussed how our hair couldn’t be heavily styled or dyed an “unnatural” color.

She talked to the girls and explained we could not ever don fake nails (or painted nails in general), heavy eyeliner or colored lipstick.

We couldn’t wear black… ever, because the company did not make any clothing in black.

Flip flops could be worn year round, but she rambled off a long list of shoes we couldn’t wear when working.

Uggs were permitted. I hated Uggs, so I’d be wearing flip flops even if it was snowing outside.

We would be privy to a 30 percent discount.

The lights were to be kept low, the music high. Every 15 minutes someone was to go around the store and spray the clothes with a designated cologne.

She then went over how every so often, we will need to “recruit” a certain type of person to work with us, just how we were recruited.

She gave us the checklist of whom we would have to troll the mall for, and it was ridiculous.

If smartphones existed back then, this would have been online in an instant. It was a checklist that basically was the company's laundry list of all things it believed made someone “attractive.”

At the bottom was a different list for “minorities,” since according to that manager, they needed every once in a while to avoid a lawsuit.

I remember the word “Asian” being next to a checkbox. I am sure I am leaving out some of the other ridiculous standards dictated to me that day, but it was 10 years ago.

As we were leaving, another group of kids my age were heading into the lounge area.

The manager nonchalantly mentioned that these were people who did not meet the criteria to be “allowed” on the floor to interact with customers.

They would be good working in the “back,” which I would later find out was the stock room.

I was young and I needed the money, but I remember going home that day and telling my mother that I seriously think I was hired just based on preconceived notions of what they believed was attractive.

It didn’t sit well with me. I had crazy hair, my nail polish was always chipped and I loved black eyeliner.

I worked on and off for Abercrombie for two years.

Some may call me a hypocrite, but I was a full-time college student and they worked with my schedule.

I could go on for days about the shallowness I experienced there.

One day, I forgot to remove my nail polish from the weekend and had to go home and take it off. I was dragged to photo shoots, well aware I was not meant to be a “model” in real life.

We had mandated “overnights” where I would have to work from the close of the store until 8 in the morning the next day for certain inventory projects.

Shirtless male models would stand outside the store urging young teenage girls to come in and buy something.

A lot of what mattered was literally only skin-deep, however, there was a flip side of this coin.

Some managers were nicer and more realistic than others. I did meet some really great people as well, many of whom I still consider friends.

The fact that Abercombie is just “getting with the times,” more than seven years since I have worked there, is crazy to me.

During my time there, I constantly heard about lawsuits over discriminatory hiring practices.

The difference now compared to back then, when Abercrombie was at the height of its popularity is this: The more the world finally begins to really see the immense “beautiful” in the “different,” the less appealing brands like Abercrombie will become.

Being different is celebrated far more now than it was back when I was younger.

For Abercrombie, it’s sink or swim at this point, or more appropriately, adapt or die.

Cookie-cutter clones aren’t the prime examples of “pretty” anymore, and for crying out loud, they never should have been from the start.