Why AEO's Beating ANF, or, I Am So Very Old Now
Want to feel seriously old? I'm talking full-on, John McCain, early-bird-special, get-off-my-lawn ancient? Walk into an Abercrombie & Fitch chain.
It doesn't matter which one, apparently; they all seem identical on the inside. My girlfriend and I visited a Hollister in North Carolina last weekend, in search of a gift for her teenage cousin. It was the first time I'd ever set foot in an Abercrombie store, after spending my own teens and twenties scrupulously avoiding them. With any luck, it'll be the last.
The store was dark and cluttered, the music so loud we could barely talk to each other, the air reeking of obnoxiously generic perfume. Enormous portraits of barely dressed thin people stared at us from the walls. I felt like I was stuck in the waiting line for the worst Disney World ride ever. ("The Scantily Clad Surfer Dudes of the Southern California," maybe.)
As for the clothing, apparently there's something in this world called an Awesome Butt Boot. I did not previously know this, and was happy in my ignorance. The skirts looked more like slightly oversized, frilly belts, and the shorts were, to steal a line from cartoonist John Allison, essentially just a shelf for the pelvis.
Everything on the racks had a threadbare look that belied its premium price, and the fabric felt thin and flimsy, ready to fall apart at a moment's notice. And the vengeful third-world orphans who'd stitched this stuff together seemed to have attacked the clothes with scissors when their overseers weren't looking, cutting huge gaping holes where huge gaping holes really should not be. Especially when worn by very young teenage girls.
None of the store's female mannequins seemed to have ever heard of the existence of a bra. You'd really think they'd want to look into that, given how far down their shirts were unbuttoned. Then again, I saw one mannequin wearing a flannel shirt on top of another, identical flannel shirt, so at least it'll stay warm.
The only remotely entertaining part of the whole experience, beyond my girlfriend's and my own feelings of stunned disbelief, was the sight of miserable and occasionally furious-looking parents. They sat motionless in the periodic clusters of armchairs as their teenaged offspring shopped, all seemingly counting the seconds until they could escape. I'm guessing I won't find that so funny by the time I have kids. (Or maybe I'll luck out, and Abercrombie will go well-toned-belly-up by then.)
After finding nothing that either of us would have been comfortable giving a 14-year-old girl (although Hollister's one of her very favorie stores, apparently), we escaped to the American Eagle Outfitters just across the way. AE was bright and airy, the music slightly less generic and quiet enough not to drown out conversation, the air blessedly free of cologne. At the ripe old age of 31, I still felt at least 10 years too old to wear anything in the store. But the clothes looked sturdy and appealing, and some of them -- especially the men's sweaters and jackets -- seemed really well-made and fairly priced. (My girlfriend found her cousin a stylish, affordable magenta hoodie with no strange holes in it. It turned out to be a big hit with its intended recipient.)
More importantly, no one inside looked miserable. And while Hollister made me feel ready for the nursing home, in AE I just felt a little older and wiser.
But if I see any of them dang Abercrombie models runnin' around all shirtless and frolicky on my lawn, I'm still calling the cops.