Jewish World Review August 26, 2003/ 28 Menachem-Av, 5763

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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Consumer Reports

My visit to Abercrombie & Fitch | It arrived with the same rhythmic certainty as nightfall's earlier descent. With each passing August day, the impending season sent its signal. Crisp seersucker must cede to red tartan, so Mom hauled us to Gimbel's. Bobbie Brooks and Buster Browns were our raison d'etre during the annual ritual of back-to-school shopping. Children on the first day of school, in brand-spanking-new clothes and shoes whose clean briskness will give way to playground dust in just hours, offer sweet reassurance that mothers and fathers care and the world will survive.

However, the Wall Street Journal reports that parents now pass on school shopping, sending their cherubs to the wilds of the suburban malls to handle shopping chores on their own. Parents grew tired of accompanying their offspring to stores whose ambiance demands music that shakes the liver. Gall stones rattle from the volume and incessant beat. With rap grunge dirges, teen shopping is a two-Tylenol-per-hour experience.

Weary from these suburban anthropologic experiences, parents have made a mistake. They release their children close to the jaws of hell: mall specialty clothing stores.

These stores were incorporated with the progeny of Beelzebub as the target market. For example, a store called "Hot Topic," decorated in black and red, has lettering that looks like a "Rosemary's Baby" or "Exorcist" kind of promotion. Hot Topic carries much leather and many chains, combined, oddly enough, with red plaid skirts. It's Hell's Angels merged with Talbot's.

The hired help in all teen apparel stores are sights to behold. At a "Hot Topic," into which I was sent unarmed for a benign little "Wonder Woman" wrist band, the cashier appeared to be chewing on two paper clips poised at each corner of his mouth. Prepared to issue motherly warning about the risks of choking, I approached with advice and cash for my meager purchase. Upon close contact I realized that Satan's minion had both sides of his mouth pierced and the paper clips were the oral earrings of choice. His parents' school shopping involves one stop at Office Max, for school supplies and accessories, complete with soothing Muzak.

No store can top Abercrombie & Fitch as a wake-up call for parents. This store needs a "No child under 17 permitted without parent or guardian" warning. A&F greets you with a 10' X 12' portrait of a naked girl caressing a boy on each side. Stopped dead in my tracks at this ménage a trios above the cash register, I recalled that I once shopped at Abercrombie & Fitch, a formerly staid preppie haven for people who found nakedness in the shower to be one of life's awkward moments. Button-down collars, blazers, and pink and yellow socks were once the A&F inventory.

No more! Abercrombie & Fitch has become Sodom & Gomorrah. Apart from the art naked deco room-size portraits of very thin people involved in sensuous activities, A&F offers a full line of sexual decadence. For $16 the youth can purchase a subscription to A&F Quarterly. Thankfully, the cover of the fall offering, "The Sex Ed Issue," is covered with a plain white wrapper that includes only a list of articles to wit, "Get Naked at Yale Party with Porn Stars in Your Dorm Room." Without this tasteful cover, you and your children would see a color portrait of two naked men and a naked girl (you're catching the 2/1 theme in A&F photos) in a car, with tasteful leather seats. Inside this 280-page tome are many naked people.

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I am not a marketing expert, but it seems to me that a store trying to sell clothing might be better served by featuring models with said clothing on. There's also an interview with Donna Brazile, the former Gore campaign manager, who explains she would walk 2-3 miles "just to piss off white people." Merv Griffin is also interviewed. Both are clothed; Merv in silk pajamas.

This quarterly began several years ago when the A&F catalog offended most whose mailboxes it hit. Parents protested. So, A&F brilliantly stopped sending the catalog except to those who pay. We were so effective in our protests that A&F now sells quarterly subscriptions.

The nudity and sexual obsession are only the beginning. A&F is socially irresponsible in more than sexual content. It pays miserly wages to high school and college students (called brand representatives) and then requires them to wear A&F clothing. A pair of this fall's jeans there can set you back as much as $98. Ah, that union label. The BRs work to buy A&F clothes. A net loss in wages may not be such a good economics lesson for the lads and lassies.

A&F has outperformed the Dow Jones for most of the past five years. Its margins are 20% of sales, among the highest in the retail industry. It opened 112 new stores in 2002; read all about it in A&F's annual report (cover features a shirtless male, solo - propriety rears its ugly head around shareholders).

A&F now expands its smut with an Abercrombie Kids line. Just the suggestive A&F sells grade schoolers. They don't want A&F clothes for their quality (not there) or look (not unique). They want the clothes because behind every A&F is the thought of S&G. Parents abandoned back-to-school shopping. While the cats were absent from the malls, the rat clothing retailers such as A&F slipped in sex and thongs amidst decibels of music. Every parent should boycott this sleazy store. Hot Topic at least has clothed, albeit paper-clipped, derelicts.

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JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.

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