American Appalling

“Her hair is bad, and I think that I can see a nose piercing. Also, she’s not wearing our best styles. She will not be considered.”

Early in the new millennium, I was working in a little vintage shop in Toronto’s Kensington Market. Along with second-hand fare, we were one of the first stores in the area to offer custom tee-printing right on the cusp of that particular retro trend. When we discovered American Apparel, we were thrilled. While other tee suppliers offered only standard-fit, coarse, blocky oversized tees, AA came out of nowhere, producing affordable “blanks” with a stylish fit and feel – and they were sweatshop free! Along with stock for the shop, I regularly ordered things just for myself (including two dozen pair of their incomparable “bum bottom” panties which, sadly, have been discontinued). I was totally impressed and sure that AA would soon be a household name.

And I was absolutely right. From their unfriendly business practices (AA refused wholesale to a friend because he wouldn’t match their “suggested” retail markup in his tiny, independent shop), their controversial – and yet still somehow deadly dull – ad campaigns (and let’s not forget founder and current CEO Dov Charney’s well-publicized and rather unsavoury sexual tics), the company has sparked much debate.

So I can’t say I was terribly surprised when I found these screen shots from the company’s intranet posted at Gawker (via Born in Flames). And I can’t say I’m terribly worked up about it – since it’s not something most of us didn’t at least suspect was going on anyway. I mean, what kind of job requires you submit a full-body photo with your resume? (Don’t answer that.)

It is amusing, though. Makes me wonder if some of these people weren’t once part of a sorority sisterhood
american apparel dress code
American Apparel extensive dress code (part 2)


Top image from German Historical Museum.

13 thoughts on “American Appalling

  1. I love that they misspelled “chic” (twice) and “doc martens” – proving once again you don’t have to be clever to think you can tell people what to do.

    Possibly just the opposite.

  2. I don’t think a clothing store is wrong for wanting to promote a “look” (unlike say, the sorority), but when that look stops being about “wearing the type of clothes that are sold here” to “being really, really particular about establishing personal style and oh yeah, that whole judging people’s physical appearances thing” it starts being…whats the word I’m looking for? A little much? Putting it lightly.

    This reminds me of that time Abercrombie and Fitch caught fire for their hiring practices based on looks (wasn’t a girl fired for getting braces?) however, with Abercrombie it was easier for me to judge because I thought their clothes were boring in the first place. With American Apparel, I love the stuff they sell (+ I know a ton of really awesome people who work there and it is putting them through college). I just wish their upper management could stop being so…whats the word I’m looking for? Don’t answer that.

  3. I agree with Anna: it is not exactly wrong to try and promote a certain “look”. However, this does remind me a lot of the “sorority list”.

    I used to work in a store where they would not allow us to wear jeans or any kind of footwear that “did not have a proper sole” (their words). The store did not sell any jeans, therefore they thought employees should not wear something that would not be found at the store. So all of us had to buy whatever kind of pants they did carry. I’ve always thought this was stupid.

    I also like American Apparel stuff and at one point I was considering applying for a job there. So I talked to a friend that works there and she told me about the store policies for outfits – all AA clothing and the already shown footwear policy. Since I currently own only one piece of clothing from AA I would have to get an entire new wardrobe. So I realized that I cannot afford to work for AA (I thought this whole working business was supposed to go the other way around).

    What I am trying to say is that if you already shop mostly at AA and you would like to be in a way a “model” for the store, this whole thing may not seem weird at all.

  4. my hatred for American Apparel runs so deep i usually keep it to myself out of fear of launching into a big ‘ol tirade that no one cares about, but here’s more recent fuel for the fire of anyone who needs any extra convincing:

    (oh and those textiles never were sweatshop free, and they famously denied their employees’ rights to unionize in those famous “East LA” factories)

  5. Sonya – that link was pretty interesting. The argument is certainly well laid out.

    To be honest, though, I feel as though the whole AA ad campaign is, more than anything, derivative. It’s the sort of thing Calvin Klein (the King of Mainstream) has been doing for years. I still remember the crazy fuss when CK launched that series of ads in the 90s (teenagers looking uncomfortable in front of basement rec-room wood-paneled walls) and everyone was up in arms. Stella McCartney did it, too, in illustration form (I want to say for Chloe and but I can’t remember it was so long ago). And in the 70s it was Pirelli calendars, and in the 60s it was Mini ads. Try as I might, I can’t find it controversial because I don’t think its addressing anything previously hidden or taboo. To me, it feels lazy.

    The thing is, I like AA’s product, too. Since I don’t feel like anyone is being unwillingly exploited (I’ll have to look into that unionization thing), I have no problem shopping there. And I think, in general, they’re pretty on top of their sh*t in terms of staying just a breath ahead of trends before they go totally mainstream. I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with making staff adhere to some aesthetic ideal. Most stores do. Whatever – fine.

    (I still think the shoe thing is beyond stupid. I’m appalled at the notion they would dictate hair, nail colour, eyebrows, etc. It’s retail, for godssakes, not the army. And I HATE the idea that they think they’re so special that their staff would need some kind of inherent fashion intuition – as if the whole AA aesthetic couldn’t be “faked” with $100 and a washcloth.)

    But I truly can’t understand why, in 2010, anyone would agree to be judged in that way. (My experience with the people who work there has always been really positive; I’m not judging, just curious.) Even more than that, the idea that the people in charge who, ostensibly, are older and more experienced, would agree to go along with those sorts of policies absolutely mystifies me. They’re old enough to know better. When I read the emails from AA employees on the Gawker site, it seemed as if the corporate mgrs took a perverse pleasure in running their “fash-ist” dictatorship. It feels like bullying and it makes me want to smack them. On that level, think it’s important to make sure this stuff is common knowledge.

    In terms of all AA employees (at any level) it’s their choice and they can do as they please, but somewhere in me I can’t help hoping the staff will mutiny… Just think how much better AA could be if they gave their employees a little respect and the freedom to actually BE the individuals they say they embrace.

  6. We’ve discussed this a bit at one of my places of work (which I know a lot of people think is a big-bad-corporate-company, too, but whatever). One of my co-workers had an interview at AA a while ago and was told at the end of her interview that she wouldn’t be hired because of her appearance – she wasn’t what they were looking for, physically. Not only was she judged by her appearance, but she was pretty much told, “you’re ugly,” and not in such a subtle way as just, like, NOT hiring her. I found that a little shocking and unnecessary. That being said, I like AA’s product and I can understand that any company would want its staff to represent its potential (and desired) buyers. It’s the lengths they go to to achieve that look that rub me the wrong way. Ugh.

  7. Stephanie – that is actually quite humiliating. Is your friend doing anything about that?
    I thought it was illegal in Canada to hire (or not hire) someone based on their looks. Does anyone know for sure?

  8. I happened to work for AA for a very short period of time recently. The management is not so bad for the stock employees (you don’t get bothered too much for your tattoos, hair, and whether you’re ‘in-style’ or not), but that is different for the sales associates. They do get talks on a weekly basis about their looks and how it is a priviledge to be working for the company. Also, AA hires many new people every week or so and fire employees for strange reasons, making them ‘eligible for rehire’ (I happened to want to work three days instead of four, got a three day schedule without any discussion and then got fired; I have to mention the schedules differ every week). It is difficult to make money working for them due to the head to toe AA rule, although you do receive a 120 or 160$ package upon hire… that means two or three tops and a bottom. I am disappointed by the company as the image and the values they pretend to support (all types of beauty, sweat-shop free environments) are not reflected in stores.

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