American Apparel's New Low: This Miniskirt AdAndrea Greb

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.

Image via 360b / Shutterstock.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=651810127 Sally Rusbatch

    Perverse.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1009028408 Graham Robertson

    “…I don’t like spending that much on basics” lets keep in mind that they actually make their clothes in the US and not in sweatshops. The fact that you won’t pay that much says that you agree with buying cheap sweatshop produced clothing.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002182901200 Alice Tonks

      American Apparel make a profit from each garment they sell which covers the cost of buying the material and paying those who made the item (as i’m sure you’re aware) Their gross profit in the second quarter of 2013 was $83.9 million – so I think she is right to imply their ‘basics’ are over priced and in no way does she ‘agree with buying cheap sweatshop produced clothing’.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=513767944 Rebecca Emily Darling

      Just because the clothes are being made in America does not mean they are not being made in sweatshops. Every person I’ve known who has visited an American Apparel factory (I live in LA and work in fashion so I’ve known quite a few) has said that the workers are kept in sweatshop conditions. I’ve also heard multiple reports that undocumented immigrants are often paid less than minimum wage by the company. The more you know!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=582293478 Kim Niles

    I agree – totally disgusting and NOT an ad that any parent of a daughter would support. What I really don’t get about our society – Maybe it’s just that women are SO used to women being objectified that it’s just not even noticed anymore – but I’d like to know why we have ads like this, Victoria’s Secret “angels” seductively modeling underwear on prime time TV, and yet Kmart took a LOT of heat (mostly FROM women) about their comical Joe Boxer Christmas ad?! You would never see men in clothing ads in such a pose. I have a daughter. I have a granddaughter and THIS ad does not tell them to buy this skirt. THIS ad tells them their value in this society is only what’s under their skirt. :(

    • derek

      if this is what is telling your children/grandchildren what their value is in life you have failed them

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=550000149 Andy Mepham

    How many years have Calvin Klein had men in just their briefs for their adverts? I don’t think ‘rock hard abs’ have anything to do with selling clothes either, but that’s been the norm for decades. It’s tit-for-tat honestly, sex does sell – it’s the oldest trick in the advertising book and claiming “women as sex objects” in this day and age is preposterous. Sex sells is a two-way street, if equality is what you still strive for: get over it.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1269401566 Ante Deschain

      You’re goddamn right sir.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1452694716 Jackie Cates

      Calvin Klein showed the guys faces in there ads, this one doesn’t even look like an ad but a picture someone took as soon as she bent over.

      • derek

        umm ive seen hundreds of ads where its just the dudes abs and the waist band of some underwear saying calvin klien(omg what am i just muscles and a penis to you??!?!?!?) or whatever plz stop acting like this is ONLY happening to females, its not. you guys are just the only ones getting bent out of shape about it

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=524585759 Crystal Zampino-Coons

      a++

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=513767944 Rebecca Emily Darling

      Calvin Klein used models in underwear to sell……. their underwear. There was slightly more context going on.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1646852771 Julie Richards

        I’d like to point out that AA is not only selling the skirt, but this is also an ad for their underwear….

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=691120977 Bob Cole

        so it’s the context that matters then. if they sell bath soap, then they can be naked?
        I can’t believe people get upset about this stuff. it’s harmless. now go back to watching your violence on cable shows. lord knows watching someone get their throat cut is much less damaging than a girl in a short skirt bending over.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1122321770 Jenni Caitsith

    This comes off as a defense of those “upskirt” shots taken of women in public without their consent. It’s gross and not cool.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=508042169 Natalie Anne Useche Storm

      That was the EXACT same thing I thought when I saw this picture.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=706072393 Michelle Berntson

    I appreciate this article for looking at the company as a whole, but I’m still disgusted with this ad, and will never support American Apparel or Abercrombie & Fitch.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=746946170 Candy Lutz Rosenbaum

    Every day I thank my lucky stars that I didn’t have daughters. That girl bending over is someone’s baby… yes sex sells, but the pedophile and creeps looking at her crotch aren’t buying the skirt. The girls who would buy a skirt because it shows her whole crotch are already hopelessly desperate and that is just sad. The model in the ad needs to talk to her agent about getting better work. American Apparel’s ad team ought to know that a hint of sexiness is wayyyy more sexy than a full on display of crotch… but I think they are hoping bloggers pick up on it as this one has ;-)
    but, I also don’t buy from them because I never saw anything I liked or that looked good on me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002182901200 Alice Tonks

    American Apparel make a profit from each garment they sell which covers the cost of buying the material and paying those who made the item (as i’m sure you’re aware) Their gross profit in the second quarter of 2013 was $83.9 million – so I think she is right to imply their ‘basics’ are over priced and in no way does she ‘agree with buying cheap sweatshop produced clothing’.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=628575401 Amy Heck

    YES YES YES to this:
    “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?”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=647776388 Dan Rodemsky

    They are in business and they know how to make money. I don’t buy their clothes, but I don’t look good in skirts. The picture got my attention. It did its job. Sex sells. It always has and it always will. Denying that fact is just silly. Not many ugly people star in TV and movies. The model got paid. Is she a minor? Comments about pedophiles don’t apply here. Everyone is happy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1412628402 Analiza Juliet Boehning

    All I can think of when I read this article is something one of my student teachers told me. “Abercrombie and Fitch, it’s a clothing brand. Yet they have half naked dudes on their bags — where are their clothes?” I thought it was funny but it really did open my eyes. People aren’t buying the clothes, they’re buying the brand. It’s all just original “sex sells” marketing here. I don’t shop at either store because…I guess I just feel like I’m smarter than that?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1368217515 Cally Sarnowski

    Yes they may be catering to exactly what society wants, but that doesn’t mean they should. Of course a big corporation will purely for financial gain at the expense of society. It’s the standard money-hungry mentality.

    If large corporations weren’t all about making money they could change society by not cashing in on “what society wants” but rather promote things that help society not hinder it. It’s entirely possible to sell items without stooping low with this type of marketing.

    • Matt Sullivan

      If large corperations werent all about making money theyd be failed corperations…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=538871754 Derek Hobson

    Andrea,
    Thank you for this! I love how torn you are about writing them off completely for all the reasons you mentioned. That was hysterical (and I learned a thing or two)!
    Great article!
    And completely disregarding any social commentary, this ad is a failure if only because it’s geared towards men and not the women who would supposedly buy it.

    • Matt Sullivan

      Its a win because it gets AA in young mens minds.
      Thats all its doing, just drawing young men, the same reason hollisters and abercrombies have young shirtless guys. Or full size pictures of them outside, and most young girls are wearing hollister/abercrombie jeans, go figure.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=6903264 Tessa Valyou

    I agree, this is frustrating. What few people know is they they are really one of the only companies making blank apparel in the USA. I run a screenprinting business with my husband and this bugs us all the time. People want USA made apparel, they want sweatshop free apparel at a decent wholesale price. American Apparel is literally the ONLY ones really doing it. Wide range, great colors, decent fit (women’s is a joke, so small). Everyone else is trying to copy them. Their wholesale business is amazing, their factory is great. They are RUINING it with their advertising. I truly don’t get it. All those small time artists screenprinting on garments are using them, those Etsy shops, that guy at your local farmers market and craft show. They keep us in business yet do things like this, come on. I dont think its right and I hope they change their message. I do think people have to look more at the whole picture. There are no other options in the USA. On the whole we don’t make clothing anymore (with the exception of high end denim). I would agree that the working conditions and quality of clothing made cheaply is a much bigger problem. How can you say you wont shop at AA but will buy non USA made clothing? Such a struggle.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002837811363 William Bruce

    I stopped reading at “This is about a woman in a skirt being told to pose in a way”.

    She could have said no. No one “pose raped” her. No one FORCED her to pose this way.

    Women need to take control back. The quickest and easiest way? Say no. “No, I won’t pose that way.”

    Sure this will cause the advertising/marketing department to fire her. But after enough “no, I won’t pose like that”s, enough having to fire a model and replace her, enough times of AA not being able to find models to pose the way AA wants them to, maybe they’ll understand women want and deserve respect. Unfortunately, until then, the women facilitating this type of behavior are to blame, in my opinion.

    We, as a society, are quick to blame companies for their advertising campaigns, but how about placing the blame on those who are truly responsible?

    Do you honestly think the majority of women are looking at this thinking “HOT crotch shot! I’m buying that skirt!”? As a man, I don’t see this ad and immediately want to go out and buy the skirt… so I don’t think the “sex sells, blame the company” argument works here.

    Simply put, if you want the company to stop advertising this way, get the women modeling their apparel to say “sure, I’ll model your clothes, as long as you show me due respect.”

    • Julia

      Shut up. Stop blaming these models for this. Men are quick to blame women for this kind of thing…

      • Andrew Wilson

        Yeah because when woman wanna whore around its all our fault… No that’s their choice. Not all would do so but more would than wouldn’t. The only person to blame are the people doing it to themselves. Regardless her mother and grandmother don’t even know its her from that view, but im sure the 6 guys that pulled a train on her last night knows who she is frog that view.

        • Julia

          You are a prick. Men like you should be castrated.

    • Jennifer Porrett

      Despite what people would like to believe, there is still a LOT of pressure on models in those situations – if you’re ‘difficult’ you won’t get another job. If you don’t want to bend over with a barely concealed crotch – we’ll find another girl who will and you won’t get paid, and when models start out they don’t get much.

      It’s the industry, not the women, and the industry won’t change all the time people look at ads like this and *shrug*.

      • http://boards.4chan.org/b/ Topher Brink

        Why is it my responsibility to assume the worst of everyone?

        This lady took a job making significant money to do nothing but be photographed.
        Why must I assume shes uncomfortable? Maybe shes not constrained by the puritanical values that seem to be behind shaming nude or nearly nude women.

        Maybe she’s a porn actress and this is her going legit.
        I’m a consumer, ads are developed because they work, and yes, if we all stopped responding then they would stop, but its hardly our responsibility.
        Maybe those in marketing need to decide what values their brand stands for, and yes, its ultimately up to the model to decide if she wants to work for that company.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=7412340 Brock Heubusch

    The reason American Apparel does things like give its workers a few dollars more, supports LBGT rights, or whatever socially liberal pandering you’re talking about is to ensnare people like you into buying their things. It’s the smug factor, and it is also a marketing ploy. The fact that you didn’t even acknowledge this is the hilarious part. The bottom line for them is that employing smug factors sells more yoga pants and thus offsets the costs of paying their garment workers a marginal amount more. You said it yourself–they might be objectifying women, but the fact that someone in the HR department of the company said “hey we support the rights of a small percentage of the population” you considered buying their stuff. Just shows you how easily your dollar is won, doesn’t it? Don’t you think that decision was calculated?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1763366950 Amanda Andersen

    I don’t get the big fuss about this. Sex sells… Everybody knows it, and a lot of companies use it as sales-trick. The big difference is just that American Apparel use it in such an obvious way, they literally put a butt in your face. I am a girl, and I am not offended by this. Especially when I look at some of there pictures on there website where you see real girls with curves and even acne and cellulite. Not all of there pictures look like this, there is a lot of pictures with girls wearing clothes without showing any “sex-related” part of there body, so I don’t think that American apparel is reducing women to “sex-objects”. They are a pretty well-known company so the model posing on this picture probably knew what she was going into, so honestly I can’t get upset about this.

    • Matt Sullivan

      I think too many girls take what are used solely as a draw to get young men in the store as a personal attack on their image. No, its not modeling the clothes, and i dont think that was anywhere near the point either

    • willby

      Women have fought for years for equal rights. That includes the right to expose themselves this way. Men tend to be visually stimulated, this includes their typical sexual foci. Doesn’t allowing this woman to earn money to be photographed in scant apparel count as suporting womens rights? Its not like you get to choose who will be turned on when you dress provocatively on camera or in any public forum. Your right is to dress however you want. You choose who to pursue relationships with. How people respond to your choice deals with their equal right to choose. I agree with Amanda, this is a non-issue.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000542550963 Robert Remillard

    This illustrates the fine line between selling and selling out.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=703255038 Lady Lee Anne Mendeloff

    While I do agree that sex sells, this is not a sexy image. How old is this girl? Where is the rest of her body? These cheerleading skirts are uniform for teenagers. Whose crotch is this ad showcasing and why does no one care to ask? For this image to change from offensive to sexy I want to see the person attached to that crotch. A whole woman is sexy. A faceless pair of legs and a crotch is disturbing.

    • Matt Sullivan

      I Disagree, it is sexy, nobody cares to ask because nobody but the author and a few other women really cares. A whole woman is the worst part. A faceless pair of legs anda crotch is a perfect woman

      • Jennifer Porrett

        If she went out with a guy who was just a torso and penis they’d be the hottest couple ever!

        • willby

          Touche, way to out-troll the troll!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1411690998 Brett Ness

    They have good marketing. The ads are smart and doing the job. Move on… there is no problem here. If you don’t like the ads or the clothes, don’t shop there. Otherwise, this isn’t a social issue… this isn’t a problem. This is an ad, using good techniques to gain attention and to get people talking about it. Whomever is behind this deserves a raise!

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