On the Inside of Abercrombie and Fitch
Published: Tuesday, November 9, 2004
Updated: Friday, April 15, 2011 17:04
I started working at Abercrombie in July when a friend convinced me to apply for the job; I needed money badly and the lure of a 30% discount off pre-ripped jeans and "vintage" tees was just too much to resist. After picking up an application and skipping my first scheduled interview, a manager called to persuade me to come in for another interview the following week. Our interviewer told us a little bit about the store and said he had some questions for us in order to get a better feel for "who we really were". He asked us, "If you could be any celebrity, who would you be?" and "If you were invisible for a day, what would you do?" Somehow, my answers to those two rather trivial questions got me hired.
As a conscientious employee, I decided to read through the 55 page "associate handbook" which I had been given at orientation. The most interesting section of this booklet is the "appearance/look policy": a full page of guidelines on how Abercrombie employees should present themselves. The "appearance/look policy" describes a number of limitations placed on how employees can present themselves. For example, makeup, if worn, "must be worn to enhance natural features and create a fresh natural appearance. Foundation, base or blush can only be worn if it is applied in such a way as to look completely natural." The policy even includes a paragraph long section the proper presentation of fingernails!
Other rules that are not explicitly stated in the handbook include a rule that prohibits wearing black clothing because Abercrombie has never sold clothes in that color. One day, an employee was harshly reprimanded for coming in to work wearing a black polo. Nearly every manager spoke with him that day, telling him how important it was that he not wear black because it "did not represent the store." Every employee had to wear flip flops that did not exceed one inch in height. Employees wearing sandals that did not meet these guidelines were lectured on the importance of upholding the store's image.
Although I found these rules to be superficial and petty, they are not what bothered me most about working at Abercrombie. What really got to me -- the real reason I can no longer represent the Abercrombie and Fitch brand -- is the shallowness of the hiring practices.
Even in my first few weeks of employment it became clear that attractive people were much more likely to be hired than average-looking (or below-average looking) job applicants. On one occasion I even observed a manager tell a less attractive applicant to fill out an application form and send it in to the Abercrombie Corporation's head offices through the mail. Then, in the same day, the manager talked with a more attractive applicant and invited him to come in for a group interview that week so that he could start working right away. During back to school season, I was literally told to recruit "good looking" people with the "Abercrombie look."
How is this type of discrimination legal? Abercrombie has a policy included in the associate handbook which states, "Abercrombie associates represent American style. America is diverse, and we want diversity in our store. We do not discriminate, and will not tolerate discrimination in hiring based on gender, age, race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, marital status, veteran status, citizenship, ancestry, or disability." What about discrimination based on physical appearance? This needs to be a part of the anti-discrimination policy.
Abercrombie justifies its employee hiring process by saying that employees are "brand representatives." Essentially, as it was explained to me by a manager, the employees at Abercrombie are not just store clerks; they are also models for the brand. This is why their appearance is so important. This just doesn't cut it as an acceptable justification for blatant discrimination.
The value placed on physical appearance is far too great in our culture and the Abercrombie and Fitch Corporation is one of the biggest culprits in perpetuating this false value; the campaign ads for the company are filled with clear skinned, thin, straight teethed models romping around half-clothed. The stores are filled with similar looking employees. Applicants are chosen primarily on the basis of physical appearance, sending a message that people who do not fit society's standards of beauty are not good enough to work at one of the most popular stores in the mall. Working at a store that perpetuates the value of something as trivial as physical appearance is something that I cannot and will not go back to.
Perhaps if the interview process at Abercrombie involved more important questions like, "Do you feel that everyone should be treated equally?" or "Do you consider yourself a hard worker?" then, maybe Abercrombie and Fitch stores would be friendlier places-- where people could come to buy clothes or work without feeling judged based on their appearance. Making changes in the way Abercrombie employees are hired might even help to diffuse the value placed on physical appearances in a broader sense. What does it say about our society that one of the most popular chains in the country only hires physically attractive employees? How would society change if looks didn't figure as prominently into the employee selection process at Abercrombie and Fitch stores? I think changes in hiring processes of Abercrombie and Fitch stores would have a huge impact on our value systems as Americans and I will not return to work at Abercrombie until changes are made.