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

comments

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  1. But also maybe if people just stopped talking about the ads then the “no publicity is bad publicity” standard that lies within the company would completely fall through. Idk just a thought

  2. lol i just tried on that skirt and bent over that exact same way today !!! :’D

  3. What she is trying to say is that yes, sex sells, but by using it to advertise a company, you are objectifying someone’s body so that it is not about the clothes anymore. Advertising and marketing does have an effect on its audience, so that a percentage of the people seeing these ads think that it’s okay to not view a person in their total essence, but seeing them only sexually.

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  5. I agree with one of the comments below…. No one forced the model to pose like this. If she didn’t want to, all she had to do was say no. And they’d find another model that would be willing to do it, All us women can do is be secure in our own skin, and recognize that there will always be advertisements like this, and there will always be women willing to pose in them. I’m not offended by this ad, because I don’t feel like it objectifies me. It objectifies that model, sure, but that was her choice. I am an individual, with my own thoughts, beliefs, and I don’t let anyone treat me in any way I don”t want them to. I am not ‘women’, I am a woman, and I’m proud of it, and in any length of skirt I choose.

  6. Objectifying women and seeing us as a series of body parts and not as people is a real issue. Stop trying to justify that by harping on about a liveable wage. We shouldn’t be applauding those who treat their staff slightly better than a sweatshop. That should be normal. So should portraying women as more than just an entry hole.

  7. If you have a problem with their advertising, posting about it is not the way to make it go away. I didn’t know about this ad until I read about it here and now I’m reminded that I could use a new American Apparel hoodie.

    I don’t love their advertising but I do love their clothes and how their clothes are made.

    I wish people who took the time to write/read/think/comment about the inappropriateness of American Apparel would instead look at the ACTUAL inappropriateness of sweatshop labor used to produce a lot of the clothes we wear. Slightly raunchy photos are a non-issue compared to sweatshop labor conditions, children making the clothes and employees being trafficked into sexual slavery which is the harsh reality of a lot of the clothing factories in the world. Lets all APPLAUD American Apparel for what they get right and use our energy to fix real problems.

    • While I agree with your point that many clothing companies continue to maintain horrific working conditions for their sweatshop workers, and that this is absolutely not okay, I can’t agree with the notion that their photos are “slightly raunchy”.

      I mean, has anyone seen the photo of the girl on the bike “modeling” a mini and thong? Her ACTUAL a**hole is showing. Not just her butt-crack. That’s one a**hole too far, sorry.

  8. 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!

  9. 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.

  10. This illustrates the fine line between selling and selling out.

  11. 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.

  12. 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?

  13. 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.”

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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?

  18. 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.

  19. 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?”

  20. 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’.