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American Apparel’s Classy-Vintage-Chic-Late ’80s-Early ’90s-Racist-Sexist-High end brand

By June 29, 2010 8 Comments

What appears to be AA's only model of color shows off her "trashy" and "classy" poses.

We’ve talked about American Apparel before. You all know how we feel about the company’s creeptacular history and about how AA ads constantly and consistently make women’s bodies into objects for public consumption.

Just when I thought they couldn’t get worse, something new and insidious surfaced.

Gawker wrote recently about AA’s looks-based hiring policies, leaking internal documents that discuss AA’s “New Standard”: “Classy-Vintage-Chic-Late 80s-Early 90s- Ralph Lauren-Vogue-Nautical-High end brand.” Their employees are the front line of the brand’s new image, and should represent the company accordingly.

So who are they looking for to help represent the new look? The more important question is (and always should be in cases like this), who aren’t they looking for?

“None of those trashy [black girls],” said one e-mail from corporate. “We’re not trying to sell our clothes to them. Try to find some of those classy black girls, with the nice hair, you know?”

Let me just repeat that for you for a second: “some of those classy black girls with the nice hair.”

Women of color have long been victims of a white beauty standard that others them. Black women in particular are generally represented as animalistic and hypersexualized. AA’s policy plays directly into those stereotypes, defining black women as either “trashy” (good) or “classy” (bad) based on outer appearance, as though a woman’s hair reveals all about her personality, politics, and ability to be a fashionable employee.

We’ve blogged about this before, but hair has always been a huge point of cultural contention, especially when it comes to a white-male-defined standard of beauty. Natural black hair has been seen in the past as ugly, lower-class, and even threatening. Other employee comments on Gawker suggest that when AA says “nice hair,” they mean “natural hair”—two employees were told to stop straightening their locks.

I’m sure American Apparel is patting itself on the back for this, like encouraging black women to wear their hair “naturally” is some kind of slap in the face to oppressive beauty standards. But really, all it’s doing is continuing a long history of white men telling black women how to look and act, lest they be deemed undesirable.

Why does anyone still support this cesspool of a company? Yeah, ethical manufacturing and no slave labor, blah blah blah, but at this point it’s clear that anything AA does for workers is coming not from a place of respect, but of pseudo-liberal principles that allow the company to earn cred with upper middle class white youth who think of themselves as so damn progressive.

AA can print “legalize LA” on as many pairs of brightly-covered briefs as they want, but it is becoming increasingly obvious that people of color, women, and especially women of color are nothing to this company but objects to be played with and adorned as the company desires.

P.S. CEO Dov Charney seems to be none too happy about the buzz this news is generating: employees are now bound by a confidentiality agreement regarding the hiring process. Any employee found giving information to media will be sued for—wait for it—ONE MILLION DOLLARS.

But I’m sure Dov has nothing to hide…