When I was a kid and Lacoste shirts were all the rage, I used to cut off the alligator logos before I would wear them. I felt that I didn’t need an ostentatious logo on an article of clothing to define my identity. I knew I wasn’t like everybody else, then or now. Although I no longer remove the embroidered polo players from today’s knit shirts (it is just too much trouble), my distaste for outward labels continues to this day.
Over the last two or three decades, I have found the giant Abercrombie labels especially laughable.
The last time I was in an Abercrombie & Fitch store was in the early ’70s, when it was still an authentic sporting goods store known for its stuffy image. My mother had taken me there to buy shoes, shirts, and trousers which she reckoned would be suitable for my upcoming travels to East Africa. As a result, I have always seen the store’s rebranding as a purveyor to young people of stylish, “look-at-me-I’m-cool” fashion as amusing, to say the least. This new “Abercrombie & Fitch” was a fraud.
Well, Abercrombie & Fitch is, according to Vauhini Vara at the New Yorker, no longer a marker of popularity. In fact, says Vara, it hasn’t been one for years.
“Since the late aughts,” says Vara, “teens have been spending far less at the stores known as the three As—Abercrombie, American Eagle, and Aéropostale—and have been especially disinterested in the T-shirts and hoodies with logos that once made the stores so popular. They’re shopping instead at places like H&M, Zara, and Forever 21, which are adept at copying fashions from the runway and selling them cheaply.”
I am so out-of-touch, I don’t even know what those up-and-comer stores are, but I was pleased to hear that on a conference call Thursday, Abercrombie’s CEO, Mike Jeffries, told analysts and reporters, “In the spring season, we’re looking to take the North American logo business to practically nothing.” Instead, Abercrombie intends to focus on “fashion,” he said.
Steph Wissink, an analyst at Piper Jaffray, compiled reports for more than a decade on where teenagers are spending their money. In the late nineties and early aughts, Wissink said, Abercrombie was the most popular brand among teens.
“During that time, Abercrombie thrived by exalting conformity,” said Vara. “All the popular kids were wearing the Abercrombie logo, the message went, so if you wanted to be one of them, you’d better wear the logo, too.”
This attitude started working against Abercrombie during the recession in 2008. That’s when Wissink started noticing fewer Abercrombie logos in the schools she visited; people could no longer afford Abercrombie’s prices for T-shirts and hoodies. Around this the time, other stores began to thrive by selling super-cheap runway knockoffs. The economy has recovered since then, but the turn toward cheap fashion survived.
Thanks in part to our recent economic experiences, kids today seem less interested in the aesthetic of conformity-through-consumption. They now have better ways of expressing who they are—through social media, for example. Why should a teen send subtle signals about his or her identity by dressing in a certain brand when there are more explicit means available on Facebook and Instagram?
Kids now prefer to show that they’re different from others. To the extent that they do use purchases as social signifiers, they pay attention to tech brands—the latest iPhone or pair of headphones—more than to clothing lines.
I’m sure that when the next new thing comes along, social media will lose their influence as social signifiers. But in the meantime, kids are adopting more creative means than consumption to express themselves.
In my opinion, this trend is a good thing. If it continues, it may well eventually be the salvation of our economy.
Groove of the Day