Jewish World Review Dec. 12, 2003 / 17 Kislev, 5764

Lori Borgman

Lori Borgman
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Consumer Reports

The way they dress, "boxers or briefs?" isn't a question | Meet Matt. Matt is a 19-year-old college student in a large Midwest shopping mall who is wearing absolutely nothing except for red and white boxers. Oh yeah, and a Santa hat and red socks.

Matt is a holiday greeter for Abercrombie and Fitch. It's the Wal-Mart concept without the blue vest - and pants and shirt and shoes.

"What does your mom think of this, Matt?".

"I told her I was doing it and she was, like, cool. Do you want to call her and talk to her?"

"Oh, like, maybe later. So, Matt, do you get paid extra for standing around half- naked?"

"I do," Matt says, flashing perfect pearly whites.

"Hmm. Say, I'm wondering if you had to parade with other sales clerks to see who was the most buff?"

"No, I would have lost," Matt says.

Matt is being modest. Matt has exactly the look A&F goes for - white, athletic frat boy with a big smile and tousled hair. A&F aims for the casual chic buyer comfortable in Destroyed Vintage Chugger Boot denims (100% cotton, blown out knee, oil and bleach stains, wallet mark on back pocket, blasted and whiskered, walked-on hem). Goodwill would heave the jeans into a trash bin, but at A&F teen shoppers blithely pay $69.50 for a pair.

"Matt, I can't help but notice that this female greeter standing next to you is fully clothed." Well, I should qualify that. Her pants are slung low, the top of thong is visible and her flimsy tank top wouldn't offer protection from a window fan. You'd think an old-school outfitter like A&F would know something about dressing for cold weather, but go figure.

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"Matt, does it strike you as a double standard that you're standing here in your skivvies and she's wearing regular clothes?"

"No," he says.

"Looks like exploitation to me, Matt."

"Well, I don't do anything I'm not comfortable doing."

The 2003 Quarterly Christmas catalog, the latest in a long line of A&F catalogs, has made a lot of people very uncomfortable. Boasting of"280 pages of Moose, Ice Hockey, Chivalry, Group Sex & More," story headlines too vulgar to quote, and plenty of nudity, the shrink-wrapped catalog, available only to buyers 18 and older, was recently pulled from distribution.

Previous catalogs have featured erotic book reviews, an interview with a porn star (with how-to tips) and suggestions for binge drinking. Earlier this year, the chain promoted a line of thong underwear for girls 7-14 featuring sayings such as "eye candy" and "wink wink."

"Exactly what are you selling here, Matt?"

"Shirts, we're selling shirts," he says, pointing to a table of shirts waaaaay behind him. Ah, but A&F sells so much more than shirts. A&F sells teen sex - promiscuous sex, casual sex, group sex, sex without commitment, and sex without conscience. A&F has a knack for making the most vulnerable, intimate act between two human beings look so casual, so flip, so scratch-my-back and I'll-scratch-yours.

"Matt, have you looked at the catalog?"

"No," he says.

"Well, good boy, because I think Larry Flynt edits it."

I thank Matt for talking to me and go for the handshake instead of the hug. "Stay warm," I call to him.

Nice kid, but he seemed a touch uncomfortable. I doubt he is used to adults engaging him in conversation. Like so many other young people, Matt is used to moms and dads shelling out cash and then looking the other way. But then, A&F counts on that. They count on it all the way to the bank.

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JWR contributor Lori Borgman is the author of I Was a Better Mother Before I Had Kids. To comment, please click here. To visit her website click here.

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© 2001, Lori Borgman