The request that came through on a group text to the Crosby kids and their spouses struck like a knife to my heart.
“Soooo,” read the message from my daughter-in-law with the brand new teenager, “Abercrombie is making a comeback with the kids. Anyone have any used/old Abercrombie??”
To understand my visceral reaction to this seemingly innocent request, you have to understand my relationship with this Ohio-based clothing company.
It’s a hate/hate one.
I harbor these entrenched negative feelings for Abercrombie & Fitch first and foremost for how it used risque marketing to sell its overpriced elitist clothing to young people everywhere.
And I’m far from the only one in our local communities who had serious issues with A&F back in its heyday.
Indeed, in 2002, the Naperville School District teachers union called for a boycott of the company for the way it showed youngsters in revealing positions and various stages of dress in its catalog, as well as the way it featured stories on topics like group sex and masturbation.
And around that same time, a teacher and principal at West Aurora High School took up the cause in front of the PTA after a teacher, knowing how popular A&F was with kids, purchased a gift certificate for a student assistant — only to discover it featured a naked model with her hair barely covering her breasts.
In another of its many controversies, the brand also got lambasted for selling padded bikini tops to girls as young as 7, and also marketing thongs to little girls with phrases like “wink wink” and “eye candy” on them.
You get the idea why so many educators and moms were up in arms, and why the company began getting so much bad publicity across the country.
Plus, another reason I hated the brand: It reeked, intentionally so, of moody exclusivity, an attitude embraced by its one-time CEO who once said in an interview, “We want to market to cool good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that.”
It was, as one former nerd described it, the uniform of the mean girls.
The thing is, there are no A&F hand-me-downs on my side of the family, not because my crew wasn’t cool or good-looking enough. We could afford to wander through those cavernous dark stores with their heavy blankets of cologne, pulsating club music and life-size posters of scantily clad teens.
We just couldn’t afford to buy anything.
All of the above are the reasons I was glad to see the brand fade in popularity.
Experts say its decline had a lot to do with retail struggles in general and the fact millennials and Gen Z shoppers were spending less on apparel and more on experiences. Plus, it is harder for companies to keep up with the ever-changing desires of youth who are heavily influenced by so much visual information on Instagram and Snapchat.
Alas, it would appear that, unlike other beloved brands our kids treasured — I’m still mourning the extinction of Toys ‘R Us and Geoffrey Giraffe — Abercrombie has found its groove again, thanks to a new CEO and marketing strategy that is touting a more “authentic tone” and more “effortless American casual theme.”
While many of us older moms may not be jumping up and down at this surprising comeback, it seems to be triggering a trip down memory lane for younger parents who still fondly recall spending their babysitting money — not to mention a good chunk of Mom’s and Dad’s paycheck — in pursuit of hip.
And now some are pursuing it again by rummaging through their parents’ attics.
“Every time I walk by the store in the mall I feel like I’m back in ninth grade,” posted one 30-something on Facebook recently.
“So does this mean the halls of the high school are going to smell like A&F cologne?” asked another. “If so, I’m going back to high school.”
I guess I shouldn’t be so annoyed. From all I’ve read, A&F is dedicated to a kinder, more gentle, marketing strategy. The company, which built its name by dictating what (and who) is cool, got a taste of its own medicine when young consumers, who dislike logos and don’t want to be told what to do by brands, decided A&F was out.
According to one business article, the company has moved from a “brash brand to a somewhat confused brand to a much clearer and more focused identity” — one that is touting quality and affordability.
Hey, everyone deserves a second chance, right? But before I even think about stepping into an A&F store or checking out its new look and attitude online, I know my heart — as hardened as a mean girl’s — has to soften like a chambray shirt-dress or a long suede skirt.