Wednesday, January 16, 2008

a study in mallitics ...

i'm standing in line at abercrombie, the proverbial meat in a glee sandwich, book ended by customers who found a sale table and have two arms with which to fill with 18 dollar t'shirts and 29 dollar sweatshirts. there is a woman in front of me who's face has been eaten by her own excitement: she is a glow of shiny teeth. the woman behind me is buried under hangers filled with her daughter's branded cotton whims. me, i'm a bit more even-keeled. i mean, i really want this sweatshirt, but this is taking forever. the vacant-eyed muscle behind the counter is puzzled by ole teeth's check, her ID, her check again ... and the line is growing.

there are piglet squeals coming from the fitting room: one girl is lounged lazily on a leather couch while her friend performs archiac dance moves. mc hammer meets a barbershop quartet, knees flailing, testing the mettle of a pair of sweatpants with "abercrombie" scrawled in tiny letters across the tiny ass. after retreating back into the fitting room, the girl calls out to her friend: i don't know! i don't want to look like a lesbian gym teacher! and there is a collective sigh of relief from lesbian gym teachers everywhere.

the vacant-eyed muscle is wearing a chunky silver wedding ring. he looks younger than the 12 inch strand of hair that has been protruding from my stomach since 10th grade. i search the store for which equally-vacant-eyed pixie he knocked up at junior prom. his arms are cartoonishly out of proportion to the rest of his body. they going to bust through the sleeves of his polo shirt. there is going to be striped pastel flying everywhere! that's no kind of advertising.

he hunts and pecks at the cash register -- no amount of muscle will make this easier. he struggles folding three consecutive tops, seems overwhelmed by the various sizes of bags he can select. wonders what to do with the receipt.

when we first got an abercrombie in rochester, i remember hearing that only certain people would be hired. an aesthetic must be met. i wonder if that is still true, and i wonder how this is justified. still, i've been shopping at abercrombie for years and i've never seen a flabby arm or muffin top. frizzy hair or acne.

everyone who works in this store is wearing flip flops. you may think this is the misguided footware selection of teenagers with cute feet who think life is a beach. you are only half right. a few years ago, i bought a pair of complicated pants with zippers and buttons and a strange amount of flare and cargo pockets and i asked a girl what kind of shoes i should wear with these pants. she led me to the abercrombie break room and showed me a chart of appropriate, abercrombie-approved footware. it was very specific, listed brands and styles and colors. with photos.

"you have to wear certain shoes?" i asked.
she shrugged.
"most of us just wear flip flops," she pointed to the flip flop photo. "that's the easiest."

two girls join muscle behind the counter. one is texting; the other is playing with a security tag. they look bored. i bet i look annoyed. "you got this covered?" one asks muscles. "'cuz we're leaving. ... and we don't know where keeley is." he nods slowly.

recently a friend told me that a fued had unfurled between abercrombie and hot topic, which is about three doors down. something about loud music and management got involved.

"mall politics," chuck said when i told him the story later.
"mall-itics," i corrected him.

muscles greets me cheerfully when it's my turn. another customer he can put into a trance with what seems to be a mime of what he would look like ringing up customers underwater. i wish that abercrombie had a self-check out, like cub foods.

i then skip through barnes and noble for a spontaneous book buy. i'm met with such efficiency that i begin writing a 'what if' scenario in my head: what if the employees of barnes and noble and abercrombie switched jobs for the day?

later i try to explain why i continue to shop at abercrombie. on this day, it's because the softest sweatshirt i've ever felt is on sale. two weeks ago it was because i needed new jeans. and i like how the store smells?

"would you wear a sweatshirt that said 'montgomery wards' on it?" chuck asks.
"absolutely not," i say.

i think it is because i dress the same every day. some version of jeans, a tank top and a sweatshirt. and abercrombie is rich in all of the above. its like going to your favorite restaurant, unsure of what you'll eat, but positive you'll like it. other stores like that don't exist for me, not in duluth. i could drop abercrombie cold turkey in favor of the gap -- but about four times a year i walk into the gap and it looks like it was broadsided by a minivan filled with PTA members. and everytime i have purchased gap jeans, i've felt like there was enough room in the crotch for two or three of my own.

so, whatever. i don't shop often, but this is where i shop. among the vacant-eyed, flip flop wearing sector that i will continue to mock. whatever. i like their clothes. they fit how i want, they're comfortable and until i put them on my person, they smell good. and this sweatshirt? this sweatshirt is awesome.


Sproactually said...

I can't wait until you go to, i dunno... say Tractor Supply...

Muffin Tops are a pre-req to work there. I think they hired EVERYONE that worked at AMES when it went belly up.

traceydee said...

Oh man I worked at Abercrombie way back in 1993 when the MOA opened. This was the ere of "the big shirt" and it was cool for gals to wear guys cloths too...'specially if they were flannel and looked like they were bought at Fleet Farm, but cost way more. Anyhow we had to dress in the clothes from the season they were selling. In muggy hot August they were selling "the big sweater" and "the big shirt" .. oh AANNDD we had to layer! So imagine if you will, 1993, 95 degrees outside, and I'm going to work in my '89 sunbird with kahki shorts, timberland boots [shudder], a henley, a big flannel shirt, and a two sizes to big for me giant sweater. There's no way you could have seen the muffin top under those layers.

Times have changed.

Beret said...

Oh wow..$18 for a shirt and $29 for a sweatshirt? That's not much of a sale. But what do I know I've never stepped foot in an Abercrombie.

Do they still have The Buckle at the Miller Hill Mall? When I was just out of high school it opened and they only hired an elite class of pretty people. The rest of us were stuck working at JCPenney (me, in the jr. deptartment), Maurices, or god forbid, DEB.

Good thing I moved up in the world and started working at Macy's in the MOA. ;) Also in 1993 Traceydee.

L Sass said...

My friend's mom actually negotiated a settlement with Abercrombie over their discriminatory hiring practice. So, yes, I do think they only hire pretty people.

nanners said...

you just described me and my love of j.crew. i'll wear abercrombie only if i'm trolling for 14-year-old boys.

Lollie said...

This was priceless - thank you. I couldn't go in some A&F stores in Boca because of the live male models hanging around just inside the entrance. I felt intimidated. I didn't feel worthy to make eye contact.

Whiskeymarie said...

I've never set foot in an Abercrombie. It scares me.
I'm more of a Gap girl myself- but I totally get the "roomy crotch" thing. What do they think we need so much room down there for? Books? Cosmetics? Snacks?
Usually 1 out of every 15 pairs of jeans there fits the way it should.

Will said...

I hate all the things you mention about Abercrombie (but I hate the smell, too). Its saving grace is its dress shirts, which are the only ones in Duluth that are actually slim enough for people who leave the couch to wear without looking like they got trapped in a parachute. Plus, if I buy it, my torso will magically become sculpted and I will develop a sensual, lazy stare. If I buy enough, my life will suddenly become black and white.

christina said...

i totally forgot that abercrombie has had live models. oh my.

Kristabella said...

I have to say it must be SOME sweatshirt and you must have the patience of the saint. Because I can only stand about 2 minutes in that store before wanting to shoot myself in the face. Stupid teenagers.