This week, Abercrombie & Fitch announced that they’d be getting rid of their topless models, as well as focusing on the customer rather than the attractiveness of the staff, after the departure of CEO Mike Jeffries.
The move was widely praised, with new CEO Christos Angelides telling Bloomberg that the company had bowed to Jeffries’ whims for too long – but what does it feel like from the other side?
‘If you work at Abercrombie, and you’re one of the topless guy, it’s a position of respect,’ says an ex-Abercrombie model who preferred to remain anonymous, so we’ll call him Tom.
‘You get bonuses and the respect of the managers as the topless guy. I don’t see anything wrong with it, to be honest, because it’s what we’ve all signed up for. You’re employed as a model and, especially if you’re on the door, you’re there to be looked at.’
Tom actually never got to be a topless model, but that didn’t stop him applying – along with ‘pretty much all the other guys who worked there’ – because the money is better and you get to be outside. The application protest was pretty brutal, though – you send photos to head office and receive a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ with little to no feedback, and you have to wait a certain amount of months in order to apply again.
‘It would have been good, but I didn’t fit the criteria. It’s quite shallow obviously and I’ve heard guys get told they need to have a bigger chest or lose some fat, if they want to be the topless model. My problem was I had really bad tan lines on my arm, and I looked too young. I’ve got quite a baby face.’
Despite it sounding like these guys were treated like pieces of meat, as far as Tom’s concerned, they’re all models. And that’s what they’re used to, and what they’ve been hired for.
‘It’s gutting when you get rejected, but it’s not the end of the world,’ he says. ‘If you think of it negatively, that Abercrombie employs good-looking people, I think you’re being a bit short-sighted. There are other industries who employ other skills that only a certain number of people have. Being good looking is just another criteria. Why does it make any difference?’
He’s keen to point out that the models aren’t solely picked on the basis of their looks and while everyone in the store is attractive, they’re also friendly, helpful and provide excellent customer service, something Tom feels gets overlooked.
‘Sex sells – everyone knows it, it’s the oldest trick in the marketing book,’ he adds. ‘Loads of brands show nudity and, to be honest, I think that there’s always someone with a negative opinion on everything. Marketing adverts that show people who are good looking or have good bodies – a lot of the time they’ve worked for that good body, so why should there be a negativity associated with it? Isn’t that a good thing?’
I ask him whether it makes people feel bad, seeing perfect people selling them hoodies. ‘It’s good for people to feel aspirational and look after their bodies,’ he replies. ‘Being internally healthy reflects your external appearance. If you’re healthy, you’ll generally not be overweight and you’ll look good. When companies promote people as fit-looking and healthy, they’re promoting health.’
That may be, but I know I personally feel intimidated by Abercrombie – and have never actually been inside, because I don’t feel like I’m ‘hot’ enough to merit browsing their tops. I also don’t like preppy American clothing, but that’s beside the point.
‘I get that,’ says Tom. ‘And I think that maybe sales will increase now they’ve got rid of the topless models on the door, because people with low-self esteem won’t feel so intimidated. But, on the other hand, they attracted lots of girls taking photos, who would then have a look around the shop. That’s going to harm sales.’
And it’s not just sales. Tom points out that the Abercrombie topless models are pretty much all working models, who are now sort of out of a job.
‘I feel sorry for the guys, because it’s hard being a model, and if you worked the door at Abercrombie, you’d get model agencies scouting you. It was regular income that got you more modelling work, and it’s a shame that it’s gone.’