Abercrombie & Fitch, Marketing to Fatties and the Death of “Cool”

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

Do you see anything wrong with that statement? I mean besides the obvious douchbaggery behind it? Mike Jeffries of Abercrombie & Fitch only wants young, attractive (thin), “cool” people to wear the clothes his company sells.

But are all popular, pretty people “cool”?

When I was a young teenager, which is presumably the target market for stores like Abercrombie, the “cool” kids were the ones who hung out off campus so they could smoke. The girls looked like Joan Jett, and jean shorts were only considered appropriate if you were washing the car.

The popular kids, the sporty ones, hell, the RICH ones, with a tennis court and a pool in the front yard and a 30 ft yacht moored in the back, they looked like the models in the Abercrombie ads. Very, very few of them were “cool”. They were pretty, had nice clothes, nice cars and were assured nice university educations, but their lives were too easy and too pretty for them to be cool. They were popular – they ran the student council, they were on all the sports teams, other kids aspired to be like them. But did they have that edge, that spark, that thing about them that drew people to them (as opposed to perfect teeth and shiny hair)? Nah.

Jeffries seems adamant that Abercrombie only wants attractive people wearing the clothes he sells, because it might reflect badly on his brand.

“Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla.”

But I can’t actually tell the difference between the clothes on Abercrombie’s website and stuff sold in a dozen other stores, including Wal Mart. There is nothing at all unique or “cool” about the plaid shirt, jean shorts, grey sweatshirts and tank tops that grace their website.

Maybe that stuff matters to Jeffries’ target market, but what this store sells is the epitome of “vanilla” to me. I get that insecure teens want to follow trends, and that the pretty, popular kids do set those trends for most mainstream teens, but… cool??? Let’s not kid ourselves here. In the great big world outside the school playground, nobody is going to look at a kid (or a pretty model) in Abercrombie gear and think, yeah, that person is cool.

And this is why I’m kind of confused at the uproar about Jeffries’ most recent comments regarding not wanting to sell clothes to fat people (Abercrombie only stocks up to about a ladies size 10). If you’re interested in wearing the bland, boring, cheaply-made duds that Abercrombie specializes in, there are plenty of stores that carry the same stuff, and in larger sizes. Those clothes seem to be pretty interchangeable.

The lack of uniqueness of Abercrombie’s products is oddly part of what makes the clothing so popular – kids searching for “cool” are nothing if not malleable sheep who are happy to follow whatever is marketed to them as long as they don’t stand out or appear different, as long as it’s what the pretty people are all doing, thus making them safe from mockery by the more popular.

And again, I must reiterate my point. This is not the real definition of “cool”.

In recent times, particularly the age of marketing to teens, “cool” has been manipulated in definition to include “popular”, which is the context in which Jeffries uses the word. But the truly cool know this to be false. Cool is about individuality, which is the exact opposite of what a kid tells the world about themselves when they step out in the same bland mass-marketed styles that all the other kids are wearing.

The truly cool are not afraid to be ugly or odd. They revel in being unique, they eschew brands, they are free-thinkers with creative ideas. They are not bland, faceless, pretty people whose best trait is washboard abs or skinny arms.

In fact, I want to look at Mike Jeffries’ comments as a positive thing – for both fat people and (real) cool people. Because if the offensive comments of a corporation’s CEO cause even one person to think differently about shopping there, and make them take their money away from Abercrombie to a different store, then that’s a really marvellous thing. Even better if those same people take their money to a small shop where they can support a local designer, or to a vintage store where they can create a look that is unique to them alone. And better yet, if in their anger at not being able to fit into the clothes at some douchy mainstream mall store, they start making their own clothes, or styling their own outfits and actually revealing something of an interesting personality in the things they wear, that’s more cool than anything.

(Because in case you haven’t guessed yet, personality is what makes you cool, not plaid shirts and washboard abs.)

Finally, I present you with a pair of skill-testing questions.

Which of these two ladies is cooler? The pretty girl with the perfect hair, or the fat girl who looks like she’s crazy fun?


And for the dudes… washboard abs or the guy with the weak chin? Come on, who’d you rather hang out with?


I rest my case.