What happens when you have a creepy looking CEO obsessed with Caucasian youth, sex, and beauty that inspires the rest of his company to follow in his douchebaggery? You get the clothing store Abercrombie & Fitch led by a plastic goblin like Mike Jeffries.
Retail jobs are some of the best jobs out there for young, good looking college kids looking to earn some money part-time. But aside from long hours folding clothes, what most kids aren’t prepared for at a company like A&F are how they value everyone only for their bodies and teach them to discriminate everyone who isn’t “really, really, ridiculously good looking.” Both Abercrombie & Fitch and Jeffries have made headlines before with lawsuits alleging their race driven hiring process, religious discrimination, and their anti-fat chicks marketing strategies.
Oliver Lee Bateman lived that life after college, discovering soon after that he wasn’t about it. In a revealing blog about his time working for A&F on Salon, Oliver details the poisonous culture that regional managers encouraged and how even if you were a great worker, you are still shit if you don’t fit their mold.
Oliver’s journey with the Abercrombie & Fitch clique began at a college campus job fair where he met a recruiter who liked the way he looked- caucasian and muscle bound. Oliver described his recruiter:
“He was dressed like an aging actor who had been miscast as a teenager in a hot college comedy. Three too-tight t-shirts, one layered atop the next, with each shirttail exposed. Several shell necklaces. Beaded anklets on each ankle. “Distressed” cargo shorts. Flip-flops.”
After being recruited by who we imagine to be Billy Ray Cyrus, Oliver explains what working for A&F as a store manager was like:
“I cut every corner imaginable, counting down registers that were always fifty dollars short or fifty dollars over, overlooking a staggering amount of employee theft, and sleeping or otherwise screwing around in the back office while the more competent “brand representatives” (i.e., the minimum-wage employees recruited for their looks) closed down the store. I was a master of the slowdown: I’d punch in, set up my protein powders and other exercise supplements, and immediately go on a mental strike.”
“We’d grade every single brand representative working in the store on an A-F scale based on his or her appearance.”
“One of the two store managers would read off the names, and the various assistant managers would begin chiming in. ”Yeah, the regional manager wants to see less of him,” someone might say. Or “hmm, maybe we can recruit better than her but she’s okay for now and doesn’t call off.” Or “gawd, he’s hot, but he can’t fold for shit and it’s a shame he’s not straight.”
In terms of the kind of people he worked with, Oliver describes one female assistant manager’s reply to a customer looking for a less than ideal size of pants:
“No ma’am, we don’t carry size 16 in those pants,” our cattiest assistant manager, a former cheerleader with a rail-thin physique, would gleefully inform potential customers.
“No ma’am, we don’t carry size 16 in those pants,” I soon found myself saying. First sadly, then automatically and cattily. First time as tragedy, second time as farce, amiright?
Those big bodies didn’t belong in “our” clothing, you see… ”We” were hot and “you” weren’t.”
Here is that same assistant manager whom Oliver may or may not have fooled around with outside of work.
“Ooh, Oliver, [name deleted] isn’t ever closing with you again,” she said.
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“What am I talking about,” she repeated in a teasing manner. “She’s nasty as fuck. That’s nasty. You’re nasty. She’s a C.”
“She never calls off. She’s always on time,” I said.
“Whatever–don’t tell me you don’t like fat girls,” she said.
Then, a few months later, I found myself putting sensors on merchandise alongside the same assistant manager. Since this manager was the most vociferous on all matters related to brand representative grading, I decided to solicit her opinion about my appearance.
“Where do I rank on the scale?”
“Like a solid B or B-minus,” came her matter-of-fact reply. “But you’re a smarty-pants, you know. You should be doing something else.”
Whatever arrogance I once harbored was gone, finito, kaput. To this vain and superficial person, I’m at best a B or B-minus. I should be doing something else. I’m a smarty-pants.”
When it comes to dealing with the higher ups at A&F, expect to be treated like shit:
“As near as I could ascertain from my rare meetings with the upper ranks of Abercrombie & Fitch management, the top brass consisted primarily of extremely fit, extremely tan white men who despised women, minorities (particularly individuals of Asian descent), everyone who had a BMI in the overweight/obese range, and…anyone or anything that wasn’t “collegiate” and “quality,” really.”
“I’d sometimes go on walkthroughs through the store with our regional manager, whereupon he’d drop one nugget of bitchy wisdom after another. ”That form [mannequin] is a fucking disasterpiece. Those lights look like shit. Are you retarded? Are you blind? And why the fuck aren’t you wearing more layers and jewelry?”
“I sweat a lot,” I explained. ”And the necklaces don’t actually fit around my neck.”
“Put them around your ankle, then. You need to show more layers.”
“More layers? It’s 95 degrees outside. And I’m not wearing an anklet.”
“Like after you get to work, I mean. Maybe a jean jacket and a polo and a fitted T, and pop up all the collars. And you’re going to wear an anklet.”
Back when A&F still issued their softcore porn like quarterly, if you were ridiculously good looking and caucasian enough, you might have gotten featured. If you were only good looking, you were cast out like a piece of meat. Oliver was one such steak, as a one regional manager told him:
“We like rugby boys for that, not pro wrestling boys,” which was followed quickly by “Do you think we can convince [attractive male brand representative] to do it? He is just gorgeous, just so gorgeous. You cannot see him and say he isn’t so perfect in the way he looks.”
But if you weren’t good looking, then you weren’t working. One of Oliver’s finest and trusted workers was tall, chubby, black, had braces, was openly gay, but actually cared about his job.
“Although we tried to avoid scheduling him when we knew the RM was due to visit, chronic labor shortages on account of the company’s low starting wages and obsession with brand representative beauty ensured that he was often working 30+ hours per week.
“You have to get that guy off the floor,” he’d tell us. “He’s a fucking disasterpiece.”
That same worker was eventually cut from the schedule because he didn’t fit the A&F mold, despite not having anyone else to fill in the shift. That worker still came in on lonely nights though, when Oliver was working by himself folding clothes past midnight.
“He just wanted to hang out, he’d say. Did we have any extra hours on the schedule, maybe a single four-hour shift? No, I’d tell him, we don’t. But he could look around and see that there had to be hours to spare. How could there not be when there were never any other employees in the store?
Then, for reasons I’ll never understand, he’d ask if I needed some help anyway. And I’d tell him no, but my no wasn’t a firm no because I really did want to get the hell out of here. So he’d obligingly fold down the denim walls, perfectly creasing and size-tagging each pair, in a fraction of the time that the process would have taken me.”
So what have we learned? If the CEO of your company looks like the offspring of Joan Rivers and Gary Busey, quit your job. If your manager refers to things and people as “fucking disasterpieces,” quit your job. No superficial job that takes away from hard workers is ever worth your integrity. Hey, that’s why we become entrepreneurs, right?