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What It Was REALLY Like Working As an Abercrombie 'Model'

04/28/2015 03:45 pm ET | Updated Jun 28, 2015
Alicia Cook

I just read in the Wall Street Journal that the Abercrombie Company said it would stop hiring sales staff on "body type or physical attractiveness" and will relax its infamous "look policy." "Brand Representative" will replace "Model" as the title for sales staff as well. According to the article, overall, the company's marketing -- which was heavily sexualized -- is going be to be toned down.

As a former "model" on the sales staff, what do I have to say about this?

It's about damn time.

When I was in college, babysitting wasn't cutting it during the winter months and I needed another job. I was in the mall one day when an overly-bubbly blonde girl wearing an Abercrombie and Fitch distressed denim skirt with branded flip flops and no stockings (it was December in New Jersey, mind you) approached me.

"Would you be interested in working here?" she asked me, clipboard in hand.

"I am looking for a part-time job, actually."

"Well, we are having a group interview on Saturday at 4. You should totally come! Wear Abercrombie. It helps." She explained.

"Um... OK. Sure." I agreed.

Working in retail never appealed to me, but I needed the extra money.

With that, she crossed off something on her clipboard and pranced off.

I returned on Saturday to find myself sitting in the store's lounge area with a group of people, men and women, around my age. We all looked alike. We could have been related. White. Thin. Straight teeth. No acne. The other thing that separated me from the other girls was that their hair was pin straight, and mine with thick and very curly.

The manager introduced herself to us and got right into what was expected of us going forward. There was no interview process. She didn't know anything about me. She didn't know that I hated retail, that I wasn't the best "people person" and that I didn't always dress head to toe in their brand. She didn't know my availability, which would be limited because I was taking 21 college credits that semester, or that I would have to quit in five months when summer arrived because I babysat for a family full-time. She didn't know if I had drug problem (I don't). All she knew about me, and the others, was our outward appearances.

We were each handed a pamphlet, the cover adorned with a shirtless man. She went over the fact that we weren't called "representatives" or "sales associates," we were to be called "models." She discussed how our hair couldn't be heavily styled or dyed an "unnatural" color. She talked to the girls and explained we could not ever don fake nails (or painted nails in general), heavy eyeliner or colored lipstick. We couldn't wear black... ever, because the company did not make any clothing in black. Flip-flops could be worn year-round, but she rambled off a long list of shoes we couldn't wear when working. Uggs were permitted. I hated Uggs, so I'd be wearing flip-flops even if it was snowing outside.

We would be privy to a 30% discount. The lights were to be kept low, the music high. Every 15 minutes, someone was to go around the store and spray the clothes with a designated cologne. She then went over how every so often, we will need to "recruit" a certain type of person to work with us -- just like how we were recruited. She gave us the checklist of who we would have to troll the mall for, and it was ridiculous. If smartphones existed back then, it would have been online in an instant. It was a checklist that basically was their laundry list of all things that they believed made someone "attractive." At the bottom was a different list for "minorities," which according to that manager, they "needed" every once in a while to avoid a lawsuit.

As we were leaving, another group of kids my age were heading into the lounge area. The manager nonchalantly mentioned that these were people who did not meet the criteria to be "allowed" on the floor to interact with customers, but they would be good working in the "back," which I would later find out was the stock room.

I was young and I needed the money. I remember going home that day and telling my mother that I believed I was hired just based on preconceived notions of what they believed was attractive. I didn't feel flattered. Actually, I felt even more self-conscious.

I worked on and off for the Abercrombie Company for two years, so call me a hypocrite, but I was a full-time college student and they worked around my schedule. I can go on for days about the horrors I experienced there. How one day I forgot to remove my nail polish from the weekend and had to go home and take it off. How we had mandated "overnights" where I would have to work from close of the store until 8 in the morning the next day for certain inventory projects. How shirtless male models would stand outside the store urging young teenage girls to come in and buy something. How a lot of what mattered was literally only skin-deep.

The fact Abercombie is just "getting with the times" more than seven years since I have worked there, even stepped foot into that place, is crazy to me. During my time there I was constantly hearing about lawsuits over discriminatory hiring practices.

Abercrombie never celebrated diversity, be it race, religion or pants size. In real life, every single person is different. Even identical twins have differentiating fingerprints. We didn't hatch from eggs or pods. To think that Abercrombie "got away" with celebrating everyone being "the same" in a very diverse world for this long is astounding.

For Abercrombie, it's sink or swim at this point. Adapt or die. Now, a major thing the company has to worry about is if too much damage to their image has been done to ever bounce back from their bigotry and boost sales.

Unlike when Abercrombie was at the height of its popularity, the world has finally begun to see the immense "beautiful" in the "different." Thus, the less appealing brands like Abercrombie are becoming. Being different is celebrated far more now than it was back even when I was younger.

Cookie cutter clones aren't the prime examples of "pretty" anymore, and for crying out loud, they never should have been from the start.

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