The discriminatory practices of Abercrombie & Fitch have been well documented, especially in a 2003 groundbreaking lawsuit filed against the retail clothing company by several minorities and women (the company settled for $50 million).
Now we have an inside view, a mea culpa, written for Salon by UNC graduate Oliver Lee Bateman. In 2002, he worked as a manager (and by his own admission, a lousy one) at the A&F outlet in the Streets at Southpoint Mall in Durham. Bateman calls his time there “the year I discriminated against everybody,” noting that the company’s “top brass consisted primarily of extremely fit, extremely tan white men who despised women.”
Each staff member’s physical appearance was evaluated on an A-F scale, reminiscent of that awful early ’00s TV show. “Are You Hot?” Regardless of their ability to fold clothes and greet customers—preferably customers who wore Size 0—those with Aryan good looks worked the floor while the lesser physical specimens were exiled to the back room.
But Bateman, now a history professor, was astonished to learn he ranked only a B minus, according to one of his team members, due in part to his pro wrestling physique; for men, rugby body types were preferred. As for his clothing choices, he needed to “show more layers,” his regional manager told him. “Maybe a jean jacket and a polo and a fitted T, and pop up all the collars. And you’re going to wear an anklet.”
While the employees were expected to layer their clothing as if they were onions, customers were also sized up. Women whose bodies did not resemble that of a 12-year-old boy were subjected to catty comments and subtly ostracized until they—and their curvy hips and oversized facial pores—headed for the door.
For those of us and our less-than A-plus physiques who have strolled past an A&F—and likely choked on the contrails of cologne that seep from the store—none of Bateman’s confessional is particularly surprising. The sad fact is that A&F still exists.