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Abercrombie Autocrats

September 6th 2013 / Anna Hunter

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The militant nature of Abercrombie & Fitch in hiring its staff is just plain wrong, writes Anna Hunter

Forget the army - Abercrombie & Fitch will have you marching in line in no time, complete with regulation haircuts and directive dance routines. According to a report in The Independent, a leaked email has revealed that members of staff in the company’s Milan store were forced to perform military style push-up and squat exercises in order to maintain their customary strapping physiques. In another red-faced secret squirrel release from A & F published by Buzzfeed, the chain’s internal ‘Hairstyle Sketchbook’ has revealed the management’s punishing and prescriptive appearance edicts. You may end up wishing you that you’d joined the navy after all.

According to the manual of coiffure commandments:

“Highlights should appear as if the hair is naturally highlighted by the sun and not manipulated by unnatural bleaching methods.”

In addition, ‘there should be no streaks, blocks or chunks of contrasting colours’. Make-up should be kept in check too (more on this later), facial hair is not acceptable and ‘fingernails should not extend more than ¼ inch beyond the tip of the finger’. The illustrated handbooks demonstrate the looks that the Abercrombie authorities are going for, should you not get the written memo, and anyone found flaunting the rules will face ‘disciplinary action’. We’re quaking in our boots (sorry, flip flops).

I have personal experience of this authoritarian appearance policy. I was approached by an employee from the company and asked if I would like to interview for a job in a London store. Having just moved to the capital and on the hunt for work, I naively thought that London’s streets were paved with gold. Not so, as I discovered when I went to my interview, along with about 25 others (group interview… we all had a Polaroid taken).

Little regard was paid to my previous work experience or educational record; instead I was told in no uncertain terms that my hair clips, flicked eyeliner and foundation would have to go. I was not to ‘fraternise’ with junior staff, and apparently was expected to wear next to nothing despite ice age weather conditions. I left the interview pretty sharpish, and didn’t respond to their ‘model callbacks’.

The physical favouritism that seems inherent to the Abercrombie and Fitch ethos is nothing new, and even the CEO himself declared back in 2006 in an interview with Salon that the company was ‘exclusionary’:

“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. 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.”

Charming. After several significant discriminatory lawsuits and pay outs to former employees, Abercrombie has apparently since backtracked on this statement, pronouncing that the company is committed to ‘anti-bullying’ and in support of ‘diversity and inclusion’. Unfortunately, we don’t quite buy this and neither does France’s official human rights watchdog, which in July launched an investigation into the US retailer’s discrimination of applicants based on their appearance. It appears customers have stopped buying too, as in August this year Abercrombie & Fitch sales were down by 10%.

The fact that Abercrombie & Fitch also recently stopped stocking clothing in anything over a size 14 for women (you can still purchase XXL for men, but that’s to accommodate those bulging jock pecs FYI), also smacks of body bigotry and insincerity. Ellen DeGeneres does a cheer-worthy takedown of that particular policy here. Torturously tiny shirts are for tiny minds.


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