– by Walt Mueller
2000, The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding
It seems like I couldn’t turn on the radio last August without hearing the hit “Summer Girls” by the band LFO. It will probably be remembered as the signature anthem of the summer of ’99, and the most recognized line from the song is this: “I like girls who wear Abercrombie & Fitch …” It was a catchy tune, and judging from the rapid rise in popularity of clothing with the A&F logo, the song did more than just sell albums for LFO, it further established Abercrombie & Fitch as one of the most-loved brand names among children and teens.
Abercrombie & Fitch has been around for a long time. The company was founded back in 1892 by David Abercrombie, a Scotsman who got started by selling camping equipment in New York. Not soon after, he began to expand his business by partnering with lawyer Ezra Fitch. Long after the two were gone, the company that bore their name went bankrupt in 1977. A&F was then purchased and revived by sports retailer Oshman’s in 1978 and eventually sold off to The Limited in 1988.
While A&F says their target audience is the 18- to 22-year-old market, younger kids are flocking to their stores, buying online, ordering from the catalog and wearing the A&F brand name in high schools and middle schools all over North America. This young fascination is not surprising since one of the marks of adolescence is a conscious desire to look, dress and act older than you actually are.
Why am I concerned about Abercrombie & Fitch? Because it’s become obvious the company is selling more than clothes – A&F is peddling a world view.
It was almost two years ago that I saw the A&F catalog for the first time. A mother had retrieved it from the family’s mailbox and was surprised at what she saw. Out of shock, she handed it over to me. “I want you to see what this company has sent to my kids,” she told me. Both of her kids were in middle school at the time. The A&F Quarterly she gave to me is a thick “magalog” (part catalog and part magazine) printed on heavy paper stock. It costs six dollars and is available by subscription. Full of the company’s latest and expensive trendy fashions (T-shirts from $25 to $40), the A&F Quarterly is designed to “be reflective of American college experiences covering everything from academics to parties.” The articles address a wide variety of topics. The clothing is sold by young and attractive models. The guys are extremely muscular. The girls are waifs. Even more interesting is the fact that for a company that sells shirts, most of their male models and several of their female models don’t wear the shirts! Instead, readers are treated to models in various stages of partial or even total undress. Judging from many of the photos (some of which are pornographic), it should come as no surprise that A&F admits that it sells clothes with sex and shock.
In the summer of 1998, A&F got lots of free publicity when their A&F Quarterly’s content didn’t sit well with parents across the country. Newspapers ran stories reporting on content that promoted alcohol consumption and premarital sexual activity. A&F and their faithful young followers couldn’t understand what the fuss was about. A&F pulled the catalog after the complaints rolled in. But young readers had already seen lots of questionable content including:
- An article entitled “Drinking 101,” featuring directions for “creative drinking” and recipes for 10 different drinks including “Dirty Girl Scout Cookies,” “Brain Hemorrhages,” “Crest Shots” (“four out of five dentists approve”) and “Woo-Woo.”
- A pull-out full color chart that serves as a spinner to use during drinking games.
- An article on “The Rules of Attraction,” offering tips on how to make dorm room sex easier including, “A few simple steps for dorm room seduction,” “It’s okay to start on the sofa but don’t stay there,” and “Invest in a good plush rug – the floor can be fun!”
- A report on the streaking traditions at several colleges.
About that same time, I saw one two-page A&F ad in a magazine that portrayed a bedroom scene. Four girls and one guy, all looking like they’re in high school, are in bed together under the covers. One girl is holding up the guy’s boxer shorts for all to see. Another has lifted up the covers and is looking at his genital area.
That was 1998. Has A&F cleaned up the A&F Quarterly? Not as far as I can tell. On a recent trip to Boston, I visited the downtown A&F store at Quincy Market. I walked in the door to a multi-story shopping extravaganza – loud music set the stage for an adolescent buying frenzy – and there were kids everywhere. After waiting in line, I finally asked a clerk if I could purchase the latestA&F Quarterly. “Sorry, we don’t have them here,” she replied. “We’re not allowed because of the children’s department upstairs.”
I finally tracked down the “Christmas Issue ’99” from a friend and looked it over from cover to cover. Titled “Naughty or Nice,” I discovered why government officials in many states complained about the catalog and why the Illinois Governor called for a boycott of Abercrombie & Fitch. I also found out why they didn’t have them in the Boston store. Here’s a short sampling of what I found in the “Naughty or Nice” edition (along with lots of expensive clothes):
- A full-color drawing featuring what looks like a typical sentimental Christmas scene complete with a crackling fire and decorated Christmas tree. But instead of ornaments, the tree is decorated with beer bottles. Under the tree is a stack of gifts, some marked with the labels “Rubber Vomit,” “Shot Glass Set,” and “Fake Boobs.” In the foreground, one of Santa’s elves is being tied up in strings of Christmas lights by two female elves. Another is snapping a photo of a female elf posed in undergarments as she seductively licks a candy cane. But it’s what’s in the center of the picture that catches the most attention. Santa is on all fours with his hands cuffed while a large leather-clad and masked dominatrix whips him.
- Several photos of topless female models, their hands covering their breasts.
- A two-page spread recounting “The History of Naughty and Nice” illustrated with several full-color cartoons. One cartoon depicts Bill Clinton sitting at his oval office desk with his hands behind his head and a smile on his face. Monica Lewinsky is shown under the desk performing oral sex on him.
- A two-page spread on comedic actor Andy Dick. Page one is a full-page photo of Andy Dick standing in the middle of a street naked. He’s pointing to his crotch, which is covered with a piece of cardboard advertising “hot nuts.” The second page features an interview in which Andy Dick says (in rather graphic terms) that what keeps him motivated in life is oral sex.
- A two-page feature on pornographic film star Jenna Jameson. Page one features the almost naked Jameson in a seductive pose. The second page features an interview where Jameson graphically offers up her top five tips for “Pleasing a Woman.”
- A two-page photo and interview with drag-queen “Candy Cayne.”
- A two-page photo of a naked young man sitting bareback on a horse.
- A two-page photo of a fully naked young woman (looking barely 14 or 15 years old) laying bareback on a horse.
- A two-page full color game board for “Chimneys and Loot,” a game modeled after “Chutes and Ladders.” In the game, players can land on spaces that give instructions including the following: “Use Frosty to make frozen Margaritas,” “Tape over Mom’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ with amateur porn,” “Drop a nude photo of your ‘ex’ into a Salvation Army Santa’s pot,” “Replace Mary and Joseph in the Nativity scene with Star Wars action figures,” “Replenish your roommate’s condom supply whether he needs it or not,” and “Leave Dad’s credit card at the mall in the adult pleasure store.”
There are several reasons why I’m concerned about the rising popularity of Abercrombie & Fitch. Here are a couple for you to think about. First, the fact that adolescents yearn to wear clothes featuring the A&F logo is one more sign of how the need to look and dress “right” has entrenched itself in contemporary culture. Our “appearance priorities” have gotten way out of whack. And second, and maybe even more important, I’m concerned about the world view promoted in the A&F Quarterly. Abercrombie & Fitch is not just about clothes – it’s about a lifestyle. From what I’ve seen, it’s a lifestyle that is clearly contrary to God’s design and order for His creation.
We need to talk to our kids about the imprint A&F is leaving – on clothing, on young lives and on our culture.
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