Poor, impressionable souls

Ever since high school I have known there was something shady about Abercrombie & Fitch, which has clothes worn mainly by excessively groomed white kids from suburbia who thought that wearing the company’s logo boasted some sort of righteous statement.

The only message I ever received from these walking billboards was “I paid A&F $30 for a company’s shirt so I could walk nose-up, indebt and love every second of it!” Not very righteous. Oh white suburbia, I thought. What has gotten into you?

Don’t get me wrong. I was used to watching my peers get caught up in spending vast amounts of money on brand names such as Nautica and Tommy, but this fad was different. Wearing Abercrombie was more about representing a lifestyle (even the Web site says so) that seemed to only include an Aryan ideal of what Americans should look like. The Abercrombites in the ads with fair hair, eyes and skin were just like the Abercrombites I saw in real life. The marketing was that good.

I couldn’t help but be disappointed in the poor, impressionable souls.

A couple years later, in 2003, as my teenage angst toward the popular crowd subsided, the truth about Abercrombie’s intent was unveiled through a class-action lawsuit that found the company guilty of promoting and practicing discrimination.

Abercrombie shelled out $40 million to Hispanics, Asians, blacks and women from all over the country who accused the company of discrimination, many of whom were denied front-store sales jobs and offered jobs in the back of the store to either stock up or clean. In one case, an Asian woman was fired after upper management criticized the store owners for not hiring people who looked like the Abercrombie models in store ads: white and male.

A string of controversial items has steadily kept the company in the headlines, and because there’s no such thing as bad publicity, the company continues to make millions year after year.

The latest controversy occurred last week when Abercrombie released “attitude” T-shirts for girls that say “Who needs brains when you have these?” “Blonds are adored, brunettes are ignored,” “Available for parties,” “You better make more than I can spend” and “Do I make you look fat?” printed across the chest.

Thankfully, not all young women are willing to take Abercrombie’s new demeaning “fashion” prints with a grain of salt. A girl group from Pittsburgh, led by a 16-year-old, was so outraged they launched a “girlcott” against the company, complete with an e-mail campaign and numerous TV appearances. The campaign got Abercrombie’s attention. Last Sunday, they pulled the T-shirts the girl group found offensive.

Despite Abercrombie’s blatant disrespect for the equality of the sexes and races, it’s not the company I have an issue with. It’s the countless number of young, educated adults who continue to pine over and support this arrogant corporation.

A prime example: a reporter from RedEye, a division of the Chicago Tribune, interviewed a girl who was against the messages on the T-shirts, saying they were “shallow.” At the same time the girl was in store applying for a job at Abercrombie.

I yearn for some sociological explanation to make sense of my peers’ willful ambivalence. Are we so obsessed with pretty clothes and the age-old dilemma of belonging to the in crowd that supporting a company with no sense of social responsibility is okay? Or is the company and its public relations squad so good that they can brainwash us into thinking that it’s all not such a big deal so that they can continue to make millions?

For all of the offense they’ve caused with their “All-American style,” from perpetuating derogatory stereotypes of Asians and helping 10-year-old girls think they have a right to feel sexy in thongs that say “eye candy” to selling “attitude” T’s that make gold-digging skinny blond girls with big breasts sound like the female prototype, I still see too many shiny, happy A&F followers on a daily basis.

Granted, in this society, racy is cool. Trendy is cool. Expensive is cool.

But supporting a giant corporation that takes the sexist jokes and jabs of frat boys and blends them into snappy T-shirts for women – that’s one slimy snake.

Ladies, it’s time to recognize that empowerment comes from your character and courage to fight for your own voice.

It’s time to wake up and smell the degradation.