It was October 2009. I was 15, the eating disorder I would suffer from for the better part of a decade was in its infancy, and Abercrombie & Fitch had just opened its first Italian store in my town. native, Milan.
During those first few weeks, you would see lines stretching all the way around the block; hundreds of teenagers lining up for hours just to catch a glimpse of the shirtless male ‘models’ at the front door, hormones revving up, basking in the irresistible smell of cologne and knowing that you too could be special. If you shopped at Abercrombie & Fitch in the 2000s, you really felt like you were.
A new Netflix documentary, White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie & Fitchdetails how the brand managed to elevate itself to iconic status and how its alleged toxicity ultimately destroyed it – or did it?
Abercrombie’s marketing was elitist and aggressive, with faceless torsos and washboard abs that winked at you on billboards and shopping bags, high prices and an entirely preppy look. American to which all the children on both sides of the Atlantic aspired.
In Milan, sporting their moose logo was an unspoken requirement to fit in – and no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t. Fit their size 00, ie.
A funny thing that happens when an eating disorder takes over your life is that your world suddenly revolves around two things: calories and size. For all my obsession with numbers, my constant delusional hunger, and my single deranged goal of looking like the stars of the day – Paris Hilton, Keira Knightley, Mischa Barton, all the hip bones and legs – I owned a pair white Abercrombie shorts and I probably managed to button them twice. I felt like an outcast, like I didn’t belong. If all my friends wore Abercrombie & Fitch, why not me?
As the documentary claims, this was all intentional. In 2006, former Abercrombie CEO Mike Jeffries said, “In every school there are cool, popular kids, and then there are not-so-cool kids. We go after the cool kids. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they cannot belong. Are we exclusive? Absolutely.”
And if you weren’t sure what the term cool kids refers to, writer Robin Lewis expanded on Jeffries’ brand policy in a 2013 Business Intern room. “He doesn’t want taller people shopping in his store, he wants thin, good-looking people,” Lewis explained. “He doesn’t want his main customers to see people who aren’t as sexy as them wearing his clothes.”
During these years, the association of thin with handsome—as well as white and able-bodied—was pervasive and unchallenged in the wider culture. From the “heroine chic” of the 90s to the ever-so-strong Victoria’s Secret shows until a few years ago, the exclusionary mentality that made Abercrombie the staple of cool only began to wear off. fade only very recently.
And now that we’ve moved a little towards inclusiveness and diversity, Y2K fashion is back and more on-trend than ever, with low-rise jeans, wrap-around sunglasses, t-shirts, and more. baby shirts and even Ugg boots that are exploding on TikTok and adorning Instagram. stream of trendsetters like Bella Hadid and Dua Lipa.
But does this comeback necessarily mean a revival of 2000s fatphobia, or will Gen Z succeed where my generation failed and end the obsession with size once and for all? zero ?
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Sure, the body positivity movement has done an incredible job pushing designers and retailers to embrace more curvy models, but it hasn’t been long enough since the culture has caught on to know if it’s going to happen. will act as a temporary or permanent trend. And despite all the talk of inclusivity, not a single plus-size model took part in the Miu Miu show that marked the start of the famous miniskirt mania, the biggest fashion trend of 2022.
After his 2013 change.org petition garnered nearly 80,000 signatures, ED survivor Benjamin O’Keefe lobbied Abercrombie to expand its offering to sizes XL and larger. O’Keefe is featured prominently in the Netflix documentary and recounts how, following the petition that went viral, he was lucky enough to sit down with senior A&F executives and the CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association , Lynn Grefe, to discuss the brand blind. tasks. “Whether you can fit in at Abercrombie or not, you are beautiful and you belong!” O’Keefe wrote. “It’s time for Abercrombie & Fitch to embrace this beauty.”
To their credit, they did. Jeffries stepped down as CEO in 2014, and a subsequent rebrand took the label back from wrestling to sleek: with plus-size and diverse designs and pride-themed t-shirts, hashtags #abercrombiehaul and #abercrombiestyle get millions of organic views on TikTok. Their sales increased by 20% in 2021.
The cynic in me is convinced there’s more performance than bite to their newfound revival, but they’re back in the graces of younger generations, and that’s all that matters.
So, Gen Z, I beg of you: bring back all the 2000s trends your heart desires, but leave the grossophobia that ruined my teenage years in the past, in its place.