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October 25, 2011

Abercrombie & Fitch

by admin

Contributor: Elizabeth Webster

Every year around Christmas time, thousands of teenagers beg their parents for the latest clothes from the well-known trendy retail store, Abercrombie and Fitch. In 2003, parents were not so easy to convince. Just days before the grand start of the Christmas shopping season, Abercrombie & Fitch, suffering from numerous boycotts, ordered its 651 stores to stop selling the latest edition of their A&F Quarterly titled “The Christmas Field Guide.” These boycotts were the result of the forty-five overtly sexual images in the first 120 pages of the magazine.[1] Every four months Abercrombie and Fitch releases a new catalog of this nature targeting teenagers, containing photo spreads by A&F photographer Bruce Weber and articles on lifestyle, sex, entertainment, and travel. As I skimmed through photos in the 2003 version of this catalog, the “Christmas Field Guide,” it seemed to resemble Playboy more than a clothing catalog.  According to a reader who eventually joined the A&F boycott, the forty-five images included “portrayals of group sex, lots of teen and young adult nudity, men kissing, and teens frolicking in a river engaging in sexual activity in multiple group settings.” [2] These pictures were accompanied by advice from a “sexpert” who suggested that readers engage in oral sex in movie theaters “so long as you don’t disturb those around you.”[3]

During this boycott, lead by the National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families, thousands of costumers and parents were notified as to the sexual marketing of A&F. CEO Mike Jefferies said during the time of the “Christmas Field Guide” release the company had received 300 calls per hour from people announcing that they were boycotting A&F stores until the quarterly was discontinued. [4] This information spread like wildfire through the media, newspapers, and magazine articles. Much of this was thanks to the well-known Christian radio host from Focus on the Family, James Dobson, who joined efforts with Chuck Colson and the American Decency Association in the fight to minimize sexuality in sales.

One of Abercrombie’s most famous slogans is “We don’t just sell clothes, we promote a lifestyle!” Well, just what kind of “lifestyle” were they promoting? Although my mother did not join an official movement against Abercrombie and Fitch, she was one of the many parents who did not agree with the sexual “lifestyle” that the Christmas Field Guide encouraged and, therefore, refused to purchase A&F merchandise. From the time I was ten until I left my parents’ household I was never allowed to step foot in Abercrombie or its “sister” store, Hollister, because of its raunchy advertising and sex appeal to young teens. There were times when it seemed unfair and “uncool” that I could not sport the newest Abercrombie t-shirt. A&F was an ongoing fad within my circle of friends, and as a girl who wanted to be “hip,” I wanted a part of this. Because A&F’s inappropriate advertising seems to be ever-increasing, many of today’s children are experiencing this same restraint. Parents’ boycotts continue to be a part of the ongoing effort to censor Abercrombie stores.

The 2003 “Christmas Field Guide” boycott was neither the first nor last attempt to make Abercrombie focus less on the body and more on clothes themselves. Earlier editions of the Quarterly included recipes for alcoholic drinks and resulted in a protest lead by Mothers Against Drunk Driving who accused them of marketing alcohol to underage drinkers. Recently, in 2010, parents were appalled at the release of new thongs for 10-13 year old girls featuring sayings like “Eye Candy” and “Wink Wink.” Abercrombie and Fitch is also in the middle of at least two class action lawsuits for discriminating against non-whites in its hiring practices. In fact, only one out of the 167 models in the store’s advertising photos is African-American.[5]  In addition to this discrimination, the young age of these models implies that A&F may be aiming their semi-pornographic advertising not only at old, perverted adults, but also at children—the key motivation of outraged parents.

Thongs for Kids

Despite the controversy, Abercrombie and Fitch is still prospering and expanding. The company’s total number of stores around the world has risen from 275 in 2000 to 1069 stores in 2011.[6] Though there is much attempt to censor A&F stores and advertising, they continue to bank on illicit images and inappropriate magazines because today’s kids are accustomed to this exposure in the media. Companies recognize that their sexual advertising is resulting in higher profit and continue to increase the inappropriateness, and consequently, children become accustomed to it and continue to buy the product.   As Daniel Gross states in his web article, “The problem is that the teen audience, raised in a climate of highly accessible pornography and lewdness, requires an ever-higher level of raunchiness to be shocked into consumption.”[7] So in the end, if Abercrombie continues to prosper by their advertising approach, is it worth joining individuals like my mother in this boycott?


[1] Kevin Mccullough, “Abercrombie & Fitch to your kids: Group sex now!,”, November 14, 2003,

[2] Ibid.

[3] Nick Carraway, “‘Field Guide’ Bye-Bye: Abercrombie and Fitch stops selling porn.,”, December 1, 2003,

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Abercrombie and Fitch’s White Hot Sex Pitch,”, January 14, 2001,

[6] “Abercrombie’s Comparable Slide.” Zacks Equity Research. February 8, 2011. Retrieved February 9, 2011.

[7] Daniel Gross, “A racy catalog masks lousy sales. – By Daniel Gross – Slate Magazine,” commentaries,, December 8, 2003,

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