Does anyone still shop at A&F? Last I checked, it was 2003 and only tasteless suburban families bothered with it. Through the years, the only news I’ve heard about the brand has been negative – that it was on the verge of bankruptcy, that the only consumers propping it up were Asians, in Asia. I certainly haven’t stepped foot in a store since high school, if not earlier. That changed last week.
In the gay community, Abercrombie sat on a bit of unique pedestal for quite some time. It was the purest representation of cornfed, youthful, middle-class Americana, with a focus on the perfect male physique. It was prep school colors, hearty fabrics and cuts, and rugged finishing that made it look instantly vintage. Naturally, gay men flocked to it as a symbol of toughness and masculinity (and therefore sex appeal), which lasted only as long as it took the majority of gay men, who were neither tough nor ultra masculine, to sport its boldly branded tee shirts, shorts, and other accessories.
When I walked into the Tampa A&F store last week, I was quite literally brought back to my 15-year-old self. At that time, the brand represented everything I wanted to be, but wasn’t. I wasn’t big enough to fit into even the smallest sizes (not kidding!). I didn’t have hair on my belly, and my biceps didn’t bust out of the polo sleeves like they were supposed to.
Today, Abercrombie has changed very little. The aesthetic is the same, men’s consisting of bold (but primary!) colors, prep detailing, khaki shorts, and tight tee shirts and polos in repp stripe patterns. The most notable change, though, is in sizing. Whereas before I had a hard time filling out a Small, now I can barely squeeze into a Large tee shirt. Now I’m only ever a Large at places like Zara, which are cut for skinny Europeans. I’m convinced that, despite staying true to a Midwestern collegiate look, Abercrombie actually now cuts its wares more appropriately to Asian and/or gay male sizes. If you have prior experience with the brand, I encourage you to revisit the store and try for yourself – I guarantee you’ll require a size up.
With that revelation, I had some fun in the dressing room with things I might have bought and worn ten years ago. I didn’t purchase anything with free Abercrombie advertising all over it, but I did find a pair of shorts, and a pair of jeans that both fit well. I happened to be in during a sale, too, so for $60, I took them both home. It was a coup unlike any I’ve experienced in a while, regularly paying upwards of $100 for shorts and $200 for jeans at Diesel.
I’m not planning on making A&F a regular stop, but for the occasional trip down memory lane, with the potential for a wearable memento, it’s worth a look.