In a move that should probably shock no one at this point, full-time distributor of pictures of scantily clad women and occasional clothing retailer American Apparel has once again generated an uproar over a sensational new ad. I don’t have to tell you that this is gross. I don’t have to tell you that this isn’t an ad about a skirt, it’s an ad about using a woman’s body to sell a skirt. American Apparel’s advertising has long been more about what its models aren’t wearing than the clothes they’re actually selling. This is not about selling a short skirt. I will absolutely defend anyone’s right to wear whatever length of skirt they please, and any clothing store’s right to sell such a skirt. This is not about a woman choosing to wear a short skirt. This is about a woman in a skirt being told to pose in a way that has nothing to do with this woman or the skirt she’s supposedly modelling and everything to do with American Apparel’s “Sex sells, and controversy sells more” approach to advertising.
It’s easy to go “Ugh, American Apparel, you’re gross, I’m not going to buy your stuff,” which is a legit response. I’d consider no longer shopping there, except I already don’t shop there, mostly because their clothes don’t fit me well and I don’t like spending that much on basics. However, I acknowledge that their stuff costs more because the company is dedicated to paying its workers in LA a fairly decent wage. And therein lies the quandry – yes, the company has some questionable advertising practices, but it’s also done some good things, like paying its workers better than the average clothing factory, and supporting immigration reform and LGBTQ rights. It’s this commitment to social issues that makes it a little harder for me to completely dismiss American Apparel as a brand.
At the end of the day, American Apparel is a business, and from a pure marketing standpoint, these sorts of ads are great. I mean, the whole internet is talking about this ad, so is the problem really with us as a society and the fact that we’re giving this ad the attention it clearly wants? You could argue that the problem isn’t even American Apparel, it’s our culture, and it’s not the company’s fault for knowing what people will talk about and cashing in on that. However, American Apparel tried to change a culture where paying workers a pittance was the norm, contributed toward changing the culture when gay marriage wasn’t allowed in California, so what’s to stop it from also changing the culture when it comes to how clothes are advertised? The company has taken a stand for other group’s rights, why not a stand for women’s rights, one in which women are treated like actual people, rather than just sexual objects? That kind of forward thinking would make me way more willing to consider buying their clothes than this particular ad.
Of course, American Apparel is far from the first clothing label to stir up controversy by trying to sell clothes with half-naked models. A decade ago, Abercrombie and Fitch was putting out catalogs you had to be 18 or over to get. Of course, barely-dressed models aren’t the only thing these two brands have in common – just as A&F was name-checked in LFO’s “Summer Girls”, I currently can’t get that “American Apparel underwear” song out of my head, so perhaps the best we can hope for is that like Abercrombie, American Apparel will slowly fade from relevance and we won’t have to worry about their questionable advertising tactics anymore.