I’m a size 12-14 woman, and Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries has laid waste to my entire life with his comments.
In 2006, Jeffries said to Salon writer Benoit Denizet-Lewis that his preppy “all-American” college-kid clothing brand caters exclusively to slender, “attractive” people.
“A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely,” Denizet-Lewis quotes Jeffries, whose stores pointedly refuse to carry plus-size clothes for women.
Somehow, Jeffries’ comments lay relatively dormant for seven years – only to inflame the blogosphere earlier this month.
As I covered all the mirrors in my apartment, other women boycotted Abercrombie and published feminist screeds to shame Jeffries for his “bullying.”
According to Denizet-Lewis, Jeffries restricts his retail hires to “good-looking people,” because “good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people.”
In the nine-page article, I knew the three or four sentences that refer to people’s size were the ones I should obsess over. And as soon as I saw Denizet-Lewis’s condescension toward his source dripping off the page, I knew that such blatant journalistic bias could be met only with unswerving belief in the cultural import of the writer’s message.
I do have to admit, while Jeffries’ fear that a girl of my size might someday pollute an Abercrombie store shook me to my blubbery core, his comments did ease some confusion about exactly what he’s selling. For a long time, given the store windows and bags I wistfully glimpsed on my way to Sears, I was under the impression that Abercrombie sold muscular, naked Caucasian male torsos.
But as soon as Jeffries’ comments had sunk through my Old Navy jeans, off-brand t-shirt and New Balance sneakers, right into my heart, I called my husband to confess.
“Honey,” I sobbed, “do you remember that petite, pretty girl I told you about who used to roll her eyes at me in senior year English? Well…what would you say if I told you only one of us was wearing Abercrombie and Fitch?”
The conversation was short, and the divorce lawyer called at about the same time a cryptic e-mail arrived from my publisher.
She said that while I certainly had had a lot of unique ideas to contribute to the magazine, Mike Jeffries had finally given her the courage to say that I did not have the physique that would attract the kind of stories she wanted to tell. But she wishes me the best.
I logged onto Facebook to update my relationship status from married to single, but saw that there was almost no-one left to see: the only people who hadn’t un-friended me were my mom and my former co-worker’s dog, who somehow maintains his own page.
To try to make sense of it all, I went to the Willow Grove Mall and lingered outside the doors of Abercrombie & Fitch in my purple-rimmed spectacles and worn Timberland boots. A pair of size-two girls with long platinum ponytails walked out talking about the party at Stephanie’s after the big game. But they didn’t invite me, so I wiped my tears and slunk into Macy’s.
Since Denizet-Lewis reports that in 2004 the retailer paid $40 million to settle a class-action lawsuit from minority applicants who claimed they were denied employment or forced to work in back rooms, I wonder if Abercrombie could at least set up a rack for me – perhaps the large sizes could be around back, in a separate but equal store.
But to be honest, the biggest philosophical question Jeffries raises isn’t whether or not I should throw my well-endowed form off a cliff (or whether he should throw himself off, for forcing me to feel that way), but a classic chicken-or-the-egg conundrum.
“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids,” Jeffries told Denizet-Lewis. “Candidly, we go after the cool kids,” which Jeffries defines as the “attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends.”
Given Jeffries’ penchant for luring in “good-looking” shoppers by hiring “good-looking” staffers (to man what looks like a graduation party in Daddy’s wood-paneled study, all under a blasting alt pop soundtrack) I wonder if Abercrombie imparts the cool to its customers, or if it’s the other way around.
In other words, could I have changed the course of my life, finding love, friends and career, if I had marched into Abercrombie & Fitch a decade ago, as if I belonged there, and worn those talismans of cool to campus? Or would the fat-girl alarms have begun to wail as soon as I crossed the threshold, confirming that no brand of clothing will ever render me stylish?
To find out, I pulled on my burlap sack and knocked on the doors of the people who, eleven years ago, in their Abercrombie tees, would not have given me the time of day in the halls. But, as nurses, lawyers, baristas, administrative assistants, ministers, musicians, government workers or all-American wives with stellar Republican credentials and toddlers, they were all too busy to talk to me about it.
As the old saying goes, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. While sensitive Americans affirm their cool by boycotting Abercrombie & Fitch, my non-relationship with the brand has finally, albeit accidentally, resulted in my being in on a fashion trend.
So, in the midst of the storm, infer what you like about my lack of Abercrombie logos. Disregard the tears on my plump cheeks over the cruelty of a man in his late 60’s wearing distressed jeans and dyed-blond hair, whose face looks as if it was just blown up with a bicycle pump. Because despite everything else CEO Mike Jeffries has stolen from me, he can’t take away the habit I have had since the 9th grade: walking right past his stores.