Why I pity Michael Jefferies. Alternate Title: Obligatory Abercrombie and Fitch post

What kind of fashion/feminism/philosophy crossover blogger would I be if I didn’t write about the “controversy” around Abercrombie and Fitch? Of course, there’s the whole “all publicity is good publicity” risk, but I feel like most of the attention they’re getting at this point falls into the “actually damaging” category. And Michael Jefferies is single-handedly to blame for this.

By now you’ve probably heard that the CEO went on record saying that he only wants people of a certain size, shape, and level of perceived coolness shopping at his stores.

And while I freely admit that I shopped there once or twice when I was a teenager — I did, and do, fall into their “acceptable size, coloring and level of fitness” range — I decided that I don’t really like wearing a label on my chest that proclaims a company allegiance. Besides, while I wear size 0-3, even in Hollister sizing, I need some ass room. And Hollister jeans are very much against trunk junk. (Seriously, if you’re not designing for women size 0-12, and you’re not designing for women size 13 and up, who the hell are you designing for? Exclusively preteens? Probably.)

All that being said, I get the company model. It’s a self-reinforcing thing. Make brand appeal to “cool” kids. Splash brand name on everything so there’s no doubt about who’s wearing your clothes. Kids then buy said clothes because other cool kids are wearing them, and they think that will make them cool, too. The kids make the brand cool, and the brand makes the kids cool. And the cycle goes on.

It’s not a bad business model for a culture where youth fetish reigns supreme and name-dropping brands and liquor in music fulfills the same cyclical reinforcing function as slapping a name on your clothes. And they’re far from the only ones; it almost seems a shame to punish someone for being up front about how awful they are, while continuing to support other companies that obviously hold the same views but dance around openly stating them.

I said at the top that Mr. Jefferies is single-handedly to blame for the fact that all this publicity is damaging instead of boosting. What I mean is this: Would people be as upset if he were a younger, suaver, cooler-looking guy instead of the undeniably unattractive mess he is? I can’t help but feel that if he were an attractive man, most people who do fit the Abercrombie & Fitch model would roll their eyes and shrug, or even tacitly support his statements. There would still be outrage from the people who have been insulted, but I doubt the backlash would be nearly so universal. Such a controversial statement, coming from a beautiful man, would probably even boost company allegiance in the target audience.

And that’s where the pity comes in. I believe that Mr. Jefferies has made a huge error. It seems like he was going for a charmingly arrogant beautiful person promoting the kind of club mentality that packs Vegas nightclubs night after night. Instead, he came across like a bridge-dwelling troll casting aspersions on people who he has no right to judge. (Of course, that in itself implies that if he were good looking he would have some kind of right to judge, which I in no way believe.) Sadly, that error lies in his own appearance. The poor guy is getting screwed over by the very culture that he is trying to push and be a part of.

I commented about this on Harsh Reality, which inspired this post, and I have to repeat part of my comment here, because it does sum up how I feel.

“He looks like someone who may have once been one of the cool kids, is getting older, and is trying desperately through plastic surgery to hold on to that fleeting impression of “cool” because to him that’s the only valuable thing.
I guess what I’m saying is that I suspect people are outraged because the whole thing is a highly-visible microcosm of exactly how toxic certain segments of our society are, and how it screws with both the customer and the pusher of that society. It’s easy to get upset by blatant, easy-to-pinpoint examples of what’s wrong with certain aspects of wealthy youth culture.”

Ultimately, I just can’t work up the feminist/humanist outrage to get angry at this guy. I wonder how it feels to realize that you have been betrayed by the very culture you want so badly to be part of and to help shape. It can’t be a good feeling, even if you’re making millions.

On a different note, of course I’m upset by their environmentally unsustainable practices. Burning clothes instead of donating them is horrifyingly wasteful, even if it makes sense from a warped business perspective. And I’m glad that the internet has the power to let people know about things like this. Hopefully there will be a huge backlash on that point alone.

But as for the rest… I can’t help but feel more pity than anger.


One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s