Exhausted and angry, I'm recuperating this week from back-to-school clothes shopping with my tween-age daughters.
Like many other K-12 school kids in Miami, they have to wear polo-style shirts with their school's patch on them, so the real hunt was for khaki and dark blue shorts and pants. Sounds simple, right? But you really have to study the school dress code before you embark on this frustrating journey because the type of pants it excludes is very specific: nothing shorter than two inches above the knee, no cargo-style pants, no jeans material, no skinny-style pants.
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The problem is that there is a huge disconnect between middle school administrators and the companies that cater to junior fashion (dELiAs, Aeropostale, American Eagle, Hollister and abercrombie kids, the younger sibling of Abercrombie & Rich Fitch). The few non-jeans on these stores' racks are jeggings and other super-skinny fashions. Which leaves the generic, thick, square-shaped "school" pants at Macy's and Target that fall off my girls' hips and stick out at stiff, odd angles.
To pacify my tearful , size 00 12-year-old, I reluctantly agreed to venture into an abercrombie kids store at The Falls, even though I despise this place for its neo-preppy clothing, pathetic prices ($60 for a kid's shirt?!) and body-conscious teenage staffers. I tried to convince myself that this store was OK since it wasn't promoting five-inch heels and gobs of makeup.
I suffered silently through the booming bad music and bad lighting, but when I joined her in the dressing room and looked up to see this photo on the wall (see above), I exploded. The jeans guide shows bow-legged, stick-thin girls from the waist down posing in various styles (skinny, boot, flare). The inner thigh clearance on each of these young females was big enough to drive a Mini Cooper through.
"Look at that!" I screamed at my startled daughter. "That is so horrible and unhealthy. Nobody looks like that unless they're starving." My daughter was so mortified by my outburst that she hurriedly dressed and dragged me from the store, begging me to shush.
OK, maybe I didn't handle that well. But this photo pissed me off so much that I swore I would never set foot in that store again.
Six years ago, a group of smart high school girls in Pennsylvania organized a "girlcott" of A&F to protest sexist slogans printed on its T-shirts. With the Women and Girls Foundation, the girls launched an e-mail campaign against such A&F T-shirt messages as "Who needs brains when you have these?" "Available for parties" and "I had a nightmare I was a brunette." They received national coverage and the company pulled several of the shirts from stores, releasing an apology to girls.
Since pre-teen girls aren't as savvy and mobilized as some high school girls, I'm wondering if it's up to us moms to stage our own momcott of this "kids" store?
In the past decade, A&F has faced numerous complaints about its racist employment practices, offensive merchandise and sexually explicit advertising campaigns. In 2002, it sold a shirt that featured the slogan "Wong Brothers Laundry Service-Two Wongs Can Make It White" with smiling figures in conical Asian hats. The company discontinued the designs and apologized after a boycott started by an Asian American student group at Stanford University. That same year, abercrombie kids removed a line of thong underwear sold for girls in pre-teen children's sizes after parents mounted nationwide storefront protests. The underwear included phrases like "Eye Candy" and "Wink Wink" printed on the front.
Apparently having to pay a $40 million settlement in 2005 to African American, Asian and Latino applicants who say they were discriminated against hasn't taught the company any ethical lessons. Earlier this year, abercrombie kids faced public outcry for sexualizing young girls after it unveiled a new "push-up" Ashley bikini top for girls as young as 7 in its catalogue. The company's only reaction was to re-categorize the top as "padded" and target it at girls 12 and older.
Rare in its ability to piss off both the right and the left, A&F was cited last year in Corporate Responsibility magazine's first black list of the "worst companies in the world."
This is what I want to know: Does this company have a mom on its staff? And if you're a mom who shops there, why?