Abercrombie and Fitch, and the style crime

August 13, 2013

I heard on the radio today that a French watchdog group is protesting against fashion retailer Abercrombie and Fitch. Their crime? it’s alleged that Abercrombie have been hiring men of male-model handsomeness t0 hang out in their stores – presumably to add a bit of glamour. But these Adonis-like creatures are, so it is said, just thinly disguised shop assistants. So Abercrombie are accused of discrimination: specifically, discriminating against shop assistants who may be able to say “Can I help you sir?” with more conviction but are not quite so buff.

Excuse me! A third World War could be erupting in Syria, the world is running out of money, and the weather has gone deeply strange. Yet Defenseur des Droits, as they are called, are up in arms because a style shop is employing stylish people. Whatever next? Will hospitals start discriminating in favour of staff with an interest in medicine?

I wonder if these sanctimonious French killjoys have ever been into an Abercrombie store. Because the whole point of their stores is that they’re a cool place to be. Which makes Abercrombie a cool brand to buy. There are shops where you want the assistants to really know their stuff: the success of John Lewis owes much to that. But Abercrombie is not such a store: their customers are buying a vibration not an in-depth knowledge of the two-year guarantee. The people who spend in Abercrombie want to buy cool stuff, and they want a cool place to buy it in. Staff who live up to the fantasy are an essential ingredient.

If Defenseur des Droits win this one, what follows? Perhaps they can have a go at Hollywood, which tends to cast good-looking types as the romantic leads. But isn’t giving the part to Brad Pitt discriminating against other actors who don’t look as good? And maybe fashion models would be required to look plain, to avoid discrimination in favour of the pretty ones. Ah yes, you say, but but fashion models need to look great – it’s part of the job. I agree. Just like Abercrombie staff need to look great, because it’s part of their job too.

I’m bored with folk who radiate disapproval against anything and everything. (It’s a cheap shot to suggest they may be dealing with their own anxious jealousies, and perhaps some of them aren’t quite Johnny Depp or Kate Moss – but you do wonder). If they don’t like Abercrombie, they don’t have to shop there. But for those of us who do want a bit of style and excitement, as well as a shirt, why shouldn’t we have it?

If the sanctimonious killjoys have their way, how many extra jobs will they create?  Precisely none. They’ll simply switch the employment from someone the customer might like to someone else they might like a bit less.

There really isn’t any logic to their case. After all, discriminating in favour of someone who is brainy is seen to be ok. But being brainy is simply a fluke of inheritance. And good looks are a fluke of inheritance too.

Why should I care so much about all this? Because real discrimination – discrimination over colour, race, belief, sexuality – is a hugely important blot on our culture. And making a great fuss about the Abercrombie non-issue trivialises the issue that does matter, the serious discrimination that we should all (even Defenseur des Droits) be angry about.

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