When is “Exclusionary” Okay?

05 May

The clothing corporation, Abercrombie & Fitch is always under scrutiny. People have issues with aspects of the brand anywhere from over priced clothing to overly sexualized ads targeted at teens. Obviously, there is a huge range of topics to be discussed regarding this brand but right now I will focus on race.
Abercrombie & Fitch is known for their attractive models and employees. The CEO of the company, Mike Jeffries, completely endorses this factor:
We hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that.”

On a related note, he also stated: “We go after the attractive all-American kid … A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”

Jeffries “exclusionary” ideal is problematic in many ways, particularly because, until 2003, in addition to excluding “unattractive”, “uncool”, “in-American” kids, he also seemed to be excluding non-white kids. His business model aligns, and has not progressed at all from Kathy Peiss’s descriptions of mass market’s beauty promotion of the 1940 of “profiling images of flawless beauty- mostly youthful, white and increasingly sexualized” Peiss also discusses how “African Americans protested their exclusion from the mass media’s promotion of American Beauty”(257). Apparently, this protest is ongoing.

In 2003, the company lost $50 million in the Gonzalez v. Abercrombie & Fitch case. A group of nine young adults of color sued the brand for not hiring them, limiting their hours or giving them undesirable positions, which kept them out of the public eye. The group was supported by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, and the law firm of Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein. Abercrombie was forced to give up its discriminatory policies and high a Vice President of Diversity.

Since they are now legally obligated, Abercrombie and Fitch does a decent job of incorporating diversity amongst their employees and models.

Encouraging improvements have been made; however, the fact that a loss of $50 million was necessary to stop a clothing brand from promoting white supremacy beauty ideals, only several years ago, is depressing. I would argue that because Abercrombie & Fitch is a successful and sought after company that the image of “beauty” they project is crucial in defining what the youth of America see as beautiful.

Although the company’s racial discriminatory problem is on its way to being reconciled, the issue of hiring teens based attractiveness and only marketing to attractive people remains. The company no longer equates their look of beauty with whiteness, but they still unabashedly try to employee and market to only those whom they deem attractive.

I am not sure what my opinion is of this principle. Should the owner of a private company be able to higher and market to whomever he wants (within the bounds of the law)? Is this problematic? To what degree does this align with Peiss’s statement:
“Those who are beautiful or who achieve beauty according to the imposed standards are rewarded; those who cannot or choose not to be beautiful are punished, economically and socially” (269)?

Is this something that should be changed?

Peiss, Kathy. Hope in a jar: the making of America’s beauty culture. Philadelphia: First University of Pennsylvania Press.

1 Comment

Posted by on May 5, 2013 in Uncategorized


One response to “When is “Exclusionary” Okay?

  1. kelseyjk

    May 12, 2013 at 11:27 pm

    Emily, you make a good point that even though Abercrombie & Fitch have most recently come under some fire for weight-based customer exclusion (their men’s clothes extend to XXL, but their women’s clothes only go up to a 10, though their competitors reach sizes 16 and 18), the company has discriminated against their employees in many other ways, prompting lawsuits based on race, religion, age, and physical ability within the past decade (

    The A&F CEO, Mike Jeffries, has candidly admitted that he seeks to exclude certain groups of people so as not to dilute the coolness of his customer pool: “A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. 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. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either” (

    The company purposefully alienates segments of the populations, and many of those people fought back through lawsuits; notably, though, none of those lawsuits seem to be about weight-based discrimination. A Huffington Post blogger makes a good point about that gap: “Pretend, for one moment, that instead of fat chicks, unattractive people or “not-so-cool” kids Mr. Jeffries had said “African Americans” or “homosexuals” or “single moms.” As a society, we would rise up and crucify any brand that flaunted that kind of exclusionary business plan” (

    It’s commonly said that “weight-ism” is the last acceptable form of discrimination in America, and while we know that other forms of discrimination are alive and kicking, there is a significant difference present in this story.


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