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

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…


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

  1. Goddammit. I like AA because of their sweatshop-free status, but I don’t think I can shop in their store anymore. Ugh.

  2. Thank u for writing this. I worked for american apparel and they treat their works like garbage. I am glad that I quit now that I am hearing what they do to black women.

  3. This angers me more than words can say. This company needs to go DOWN because they are so evil! I hear you about non-sweatshop and I really hope that No Sweat pulls it back together soon (nosweatapparel.com) so we can have an alternative that doesn’t suck.

  4. Thanks for the great post on this. I own an apparel company that silk screens tees and using sweatshop free tees was something that was very important to me. I refused to use AA from the start – they hire illegal immigrants to work in their LA factories and pay them minimum wage. They aren’t that many steps above sweatshop. I have read accounts of their models being treated horribly. Their advertising is consistently in poor taste and exploitative. The objectification of women is something I will not stand for.

    I have found a truly classy and high quality alternative that is certified sweatshop free and uses tasteful advertsiting: Bella. My company has been using Bella for 18mo now and the quality, fit, and feel are superior. I highly recommend them and support the continued boycott of AA by HGHW.

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