Former Employees of Abercrombie & Fitch Reveal What Goes on Behind the ScenesBy Anglina Roberts
Ambercrombie & Fitch has hundreds of stores across the world. The company strives to project an image associated with the charming casualness of the mega-rich – a style they describe as near-luxury. Originally founded in 1892, it was once worn by the likes of Ernest Hemingway and explorer Richard Byrd.
Abercrombie & Fitch is a trendy company that’s easy to admire from a distance. However, it has been dragged into court many times by those who really know what goes on behind the scene: its very own employees. The stories they share vary from racially charged policy-making to sexual harassment issues and generally poor employment practices. Nobody on the outside had an inkling that these things were going on – until disgruntled employees took to social media to release the skeletons from Abercrombie & Fitch’s closet, or should we say dressing room?
When an employee reports for work at an A&F branch, they apparently undergo managerial scrutiny, a policy created to make sure that staff members wear clothes that are in line with the company’s image. Being exposed to the brand’s style and fashion, this employee got a nod, except for his footwear.
Since he was already on site, the option to go home was a waste of time and money, so Jake decided to stay and work, which was the logical choice. But he was made to work barefoot, even though only his upper body was visible to customers. They wouldn’t be able to see his flip-flops from where he sat or stood, but management apparently made him take off his footwear. What an odd story.
Repeat customers might notice an unusual fragrance in all A&F branches that permeates every corner of the shop. The smell never lets up, regardless of the change in season. So, when a new shirt is needed for a night out with friends, you’ll be hit with the smell if you decide to buy from A&F.
This is because an employee is tasked with spraying A&F perfume on the clothing every half an hour. The clothes customers buy or try on have been excessively sprayed for goodness knows how many days. Once again, this story is just so strange.
Employees Aren’t Allowed to Talk to Customers
This policy implies the company’s skepticism towards its employees’ aptness, fearing what they might say to a customer, even during short conversations. Since their targeted audience belongs to a higher tier, we guess A&F management fear they might be turned off easily.
Many employees felt confused and appalled after they were expressly informed to avoid interacting with customers while training. All that was required of them was to continually arrange the display and be easy on the eyes.
Instore Dalliances, Foreplay, Action in the Shadows
Good looks and sex appeal are traits that will most likely get a job applicant a sales position at A&F without the manager having to take a detailed look at the resume. It is vital that brand representatives, formerly referred to as models, embody that alluring look the company wishes to convey to its customers.
In an establishment stocked with good-looking staff, an employee shared how their workdays were filled with flirtation. Hook-ups couldn’t be helped, and you’d be surprised what could be going on between two employees in the dressing room with the lights turned off, behind cabinets, or in storerooms during lunch break.
Inflexible Welcome Greeting
Stepping inside an Abercombie & Fitch store is similar to being on stage at the grand theater, where everything is a fantasy being played out by actors, with directors and show producers lurking out there somewhere in the crowd, watching the scene progress.
An employee nicknamed Shermans shared how everything had to be spick and span during store operations. As a store greeter, he was told to stick to a predetermined welcome spiel of “Hey, how’s it goin’?”, affecting a laid-back approach, which was ironic considering how stiff the rules were. One time he deviated from the usual greeting and was yelled at by the supervisor afterward.
A&F Style Guide
The company likes to hire good-looking staff so they can dress them up in a way that embodies the company values, as it were, and that’s why they used to call them models. A&F has since changed the title to “brand representatives”.
It wasn’t just the branded clothes that mattered to management, as this employee would attest, but how they were told to wear them. They had to wear it in a style that flaunted their muscles, and the brand logo had to be exposed, even on their underwear!
Employees Aren’t Allowed to Grow Beards
Sporting a beard can be fashionable too. Some guys become more appealing when they add a touch of sophistication and mysteriousness to their look, and that’s probably what Holden, an A&F employee, thought when he and his co-workers planned on growing beards.
Now he knows that the company is deadly serious with its rules against facial hair. They are, after all, an extension of the fashion business, so it’s important to exude the qualities they value. A&F brand ambassadors are the face of the establishment, but telling someone to use an old rusty blade or be sent back home is just too harsh.
A Vicious Cycle
According to former employees, the price tag put on A&F employees’ fashion lifestyle is too high. They see it as unfair to have demands imposed by an employer that only pays them the minimum wage, further sealing a vicious cycle heavily driven by consumeristic goals. Sadly, it becomes an economic trap for young representatives.
Most of the income this employee earned from work was spent on new clothing purchases so they could keep their job. It’s an endless cycle, leaving the poor worker on a journey with no clear destination.
No Individualism in the Workplace
As the brand models project winsome smiles to every incoming customer in their cool and laid-back outfits, oozing with self-confidence as supposed trendsetters, the general public willingly embrace this idea of personal freedom that A&F consistently tries to express.
How could we have known that these supposed fashionistas had no more freedom than the mannequins in a department store window? According to former employees, everything is so contrived. The projection of individuality is false. In reality, they are painstakingly micromanaged down to the smallest detail of one’s nail polish.
Finding Loopholes in the System
There is hardly a democratic process when it comes to A&F’s policies that govern the workplace, at least insofar as the brand representatives are concerned. They only see a deluge of rules and endless lists of things they can or cannot do.
It’s only a matter of time before the entry-level employees find ways around the system. This particular employee circumvented the uniform policy at the expense of his employer by using what they had in stock. No one will know it’s been used as long as it doesn’t have smudges on it.
Only Neutral Colors
Employees complain among themselves, knowing that their opinions won’t matter anyway, much less be heard by higher management. One of their main complaints? Not being able to express themselves through the clothes they wear. Throughout the year, they are told to sport neutral hues.
The only time they were able to wear red and be jazzy for a change was during Christmastime. As for the rest of the seasons, regardless of how they are spent outside of work, they must be dismally expressed in gray, white, and blue while on the floor at A&F.
After staying on for a while, newly hired brand representatives become immune to the controlled aromatic atmosphere inside the store. From the start of their shift to the end of the day, the heavy fragrance never lets up. It’s like inclement weather that eventually softens the mountains and causes landslides.
During their first few weeks inside their store, with staff spraying perfume on the products every thirty minutes, bolstered by sprays set up in the ceiling, they almost forget what it feels like to breathe fresh air.
By Invitation Only
Members of a community where A&F operates ought to have an equal shot at an employment opportunity. Perhaps they want to be able to work in an internationally renowned company and build a career. However, walk-in applications are generally not allowed.
It does seem like the establishment has very little appreciation for motivated, hardworking applicants unless they look a certain way. Average looks won’t cut it. They only want the campus hunks and the cheerleaders – people who stand out and are “popular”.
Wearing Black Is Forbidden
For reasons undisclosed to the public, the company seems to recoil when speaking of the color black, avoiding it like the plague. It doesn’t merely ask the employees to refrain from wearing anything black – they made them agree to this stipulation in their contracts.
This is the only time we’ve ever heard of wearing a particular color being a legal issue. Employees will have to set their black clothing on the wayside, along with all the shady, dubious, and underhanded color implications that A&F wants far away from their business premises.
Working the System
It didn’t take long for people to learn that the rules A&F applies to its employees aren’t encouraging. In fact, some seem quite overbearing. A former employee shared how this strict system was worked around by new hires. It seems their intentions while applying for a job at A&F were rather questionable.
Someone found a loophole in their policies and utilized it to their advantage. Once hired, they ravaged the company benefits, perhaps so they could resell the goods at a hefty discount. These people made considerable profits and left the company without a tinge of concern.
Maintaining an Environment of Exclusivity
This former employee shared that while A&F wouldn’t openly admit to exerting efforts to maintain an environment of exclusivity, insiders like her were able to uncover the organization’s dubious intentions. She was directly instructed by the manager to lie about an open position being unavailable just because of its infamous “Look Policy.”
It’s clear that this isn’t an organization of average-looking people. Apparently, A&F doesn’t care so much about skills, experience, or other positive qualities. It’s had its fair share of legal battles because of such policies in the past.
Scouting for Potential Brand Reps
While the company doesn’t hold back when listing tasks and duties for salespeople to accomplish in the workplace, some are also verbally assigned, possibly to be pursued beyond office hours. It’s not mentioned if A&F has a referral program, where an employee might earn some credits for successfully endorsing a new salesperson, but they are always on the lookout for potential brand reps.
The real question is, would its current roster of brand representatives recommend the company? Would they put in a good word, especially to people they know, about A&F’s practices?
Mannequins with Well-Toned Bodies
To walk into any A&F store is to visit a well-fabricated alternate world that mainly strives for outward perfection, where physical attractiveness is the ultimate message preached. A&F seeks to cater to the physically gifted and gorgeous and to exclusively attract more of their kind.
Mediocrity is not a trait that’s welcome here. It is the exclusive domain of campus princes and princesses who walk the school grounds proudly, with full knowledge of their self-worth. This atmosphere is reinforced even by mannequins molded with muscled physiques, mirroring what should be, in their estimation, our main aspiration.
It’s All About the Look
One might say that interviewing job applicants at A&F is merely a formality. More or less, the decision to hire them had already been made on-site by investigative eyes who were sent out to search for someone based on a “Looks Policy.”
Does it matter if an applicant has an A in Mathematics? Most likely not. They only have their physical gifts to thank for their jobs. They are so good-looking that being amidst A&F personnel would probably make you question your self-esteem.
Getting Used to Constant Flirtation
It would appear as if what’s being sold at A&F is the whole package. Only the products are being literally paid for, but the overall image – how everything smells and looks and the beauty of its sellers – are all a come-on to customers to buy this fantastic idea of near perfection.
So it comes as no surprise that many of those who visit the stores actually try to hit on the models themselves. It’s almost no different from the experience a Hooters waitress would get, with people attempting all the tricks in the book to get a conversation started – to get that phone number and ask someone out on a date.
After working at a company that eagerly flaunts its assets and good fortune to the world on a day-to-day basis, this employee must have been struck by her conscience. She thought that with all the surrounding abundance, it was high time to give back to the community.
She could no longer stand there and watch the many homeless people across the street from her luxurious workplace. So, she decided to swipe a few pieces of clothing here and there in an altruistic spirit. She started to do what she believed the company should be doing for the less fortunate. She took the liberty of becoming the face of A&F’s unofficial philanthropy department.
Disenchanted Former Employee
It is easy to admire Abercrombie & Fitch from a distance, as this former employee used to, enticed by the shine of its projected values and the trendy designs of its products. However, it seems none of this matters if you’re not one of the community’s hottest and most popular teens.
After working so hard on her diet and exercise routine, she finally got in. She became one of the prominent stylish pacesetters, only to end up disillusioned by the company’s actual practices as opposed to its supposed vision. She quit and gained weight, doubling back in acceptance of who she was before her A&F stint.
The A&F Smell Is Fierce
The amount of fragrance every employee at A&F gets sprayed with is overkill. It descends on them from the ceiling regularly throughout the day. This takes the idea of bringing work home with you to another level – the A&F smell literally trails employees wherever they go.
Even after taking a shower, it’s never completely wiped out. Employees have complained about the Fierce cologne permeating every part of their life, getting under their fingernails, and becoming nauseating. Regardless of gender, A&F staff all smell the same.
Selling Slow-Moving Items
The products that A&F models wear may not look quite the same on a customer’s body. However, as quota-driven salespeople, they had little choice but to lie through their teeth. This was the only way to sell slow-moving items, but many former employees look back on their actions with regret.
While most of the former employees we’ve heard from thus far had sympathetic stories, this one seems a little mean. We will applaud the former employee for giving us the inside scoop, though! When shopping at A&F, remember that the staff members are there for the business, not to help you look good. Learn to know what you really want and heed what your gut says about the items you purchase.
Employment Status: On-Call
An on-call status is effectively no better than not having a job at all, as this A&F substitute employee confessed. A week may pass by with no contact from your employer, no shifts, and no money coming in. That means no income for a quarter of the month. You only get paid when the store lacks manpower, but even then, with many on their on-call list, it’s a toss-up whose turn it is to work.
Life as an on-call employee becomes a waiting game of sorts, and somebody might play this game for nothing for a week or so. How one gets by living that way is anybody’s guess.
The Influence of Seniority
The turnover of employees at A&F is high. Despite the atmosphere of affluence and exquisiteness, the pay isn’t stellar, and employees find many of their policies insensitive. Besides, there are many jobs out there that are more fulfilling than one that requires you, most of all, to be affable and cute all day.
For some reason, a few in the long list of employees stick with the company longer than usual. Every new hire enters the organization assuming they must be supervisors because they know everyone, and if they’re friendly enough, many seek them out for work-related questions. They become the go-to person, which grows their influence in the workplace. If only that translated to a larger paycheck.
The All-American Attitude
Being invited to an interview for a sales position at A&F means the applicant is, more or less, hired. They have passed the “Looks Policy,” and A&F is clearly happy for them to be the face of the company. As we’ve learned, this is more important than being an academic standout, marching in armed with a resume full of good grades.
In addition to attractiveness, however, the company wants a person who is able to perform well with co-workers. They want someone who is friendly, not the type to protest and stand up against the rules. They just want Mr. and Ms. Congeniality on the floor.
Unprofessional Work Attire
Wearing sandals to the workplace is not considered professional in many companies, but A&F isn’t your typical employer. They sell things that the rich would use casually, looking laid back and unhurried. Employees go to work as if they don’t have to – like they don’t need the money. At least they’re made to dress up that way.
The reality is that A&F’s skinny jeans restrict physical activity, making it hard for staff to arrange the clothes and move around the shop. It’s barely a functional creation, but again, A&F is all about the looks.
Clothes Designed Only for the Physically Fit
A brand representative’s good looks demonstrate that their designs are exclusively made for the physically fit. However, staff members are often left to carefully select the right words to express this to larger customers, cleverly avoiding the use of the term fat and its synonyms so as not to appear disrespectful.
Even their large clothing isn’t really large. A large A&F shirt equates to a medium or even small size in other brands. It seems A&F only want their brand displayed on people with six-pack abs and tiny waistlines.
Weird Audition Process
Abercrombie & Fitch’s brand representatives might as well be required to have runaway model experience. Most sales transactions have nothing to do with practicalities or prices. Instead, the brand reps rely on their appeal and winning smiles. Accordion to this former employee, they are also required to parade for management, men with their shirts off, just as any runway model would do to be taken in by an agency.
According to this person, a manager will have to send privately taken photographs to the corporate office, showing who knows what, for them to decide to hire or ditch a model. This sounds so objectifying!
Academics aren’t really the forte of the ideal A&F employee. In fact, this is the kind of place where anyone who doesn’t fit a very specific aesthetic will feel instantly out of place. The job is quite easy, although it can be boring and repetitive at times.
Can you imagine having to repeat the same bland welcome greeting the whole day to every customer, never having the freedom to be yourself? It seems A&F is looking for gorgeous robots who just mouth the programmed words in compliance, not necessarily out of good thoughts or feelings. Obedience, not academics, bound with good looks, is the deal here.
Selling to a Narrow Target Market
Being a business with a strong presence across the US that’s also well represented internationally, there is no doubt that A&F knows how to make an impact on the fashion world. But it’s not only about the profit for them. It’s also about being the best to a particular audience.
They don’t want to focus on curvier physiques, even if there may be lots to earn from that demographic. This is their way of choosing who “deserves” to wear their goods. The bigger sizes are hidden away somewhere for a reason.
Working in a Loud Setting
Abercrombie & Fitch is choosy with its customers, but they can’t legally restrict anyone from coming to shop in their stores. They can’t do so directly, at least, but they’ve found a more oblique way of saying you’re not wanted: by playing their music at loud levels.
Only those who dig the theme A&F sells will want to stay and buy their products. A follower of rap music wouldn’t last long in the A&F environment. Nor would someone who enjoys peace and quiet. This is a practice that takes its toll on the company’s employees, who have to endure and work in the din for hours at a time.
A Workplace for the Young and Good-Looking
At A&F’s headquarters in Ohio, major decisions are made regarding the company’s aesthetic, including how every store should look, smell, or feel. It’s the nervous system to its hundreds of shops scattered all over the world. Unfortunately, only the young and good-looking are, by deliberate design, allowed to participate in its grand enterprise.
A 20-ish job applicant might be deemed at the fringes of a career at A&F. At 23, an applicant was told she was too old to start there. Apparently, she no longer matched the brand image.
Strict Hair Policy
This employee could not contain the disappointment she felt after her hairstyle didn’t pass A&F’s stringent hair policy one day, and management wouldn’t allow a little consideration, insisting she put it down or go home. It’s not that her hairdo was bad. It’s just that buns or ponytails don’t cut it in the A&F world.
This former employee had to wash her hair to toe the line. Management doesn’t want anyone looking different or unique. They don’t want the staff to appear too plain either.
The Neverending Need to Buy A&F Clothes
The giant clothing retailer has been placed on the hot seat for effectively requiring their employees to buy their own products for uniform use. Although this may not be expressly stated in contracts as a condition for employment, this practice, as many staff members claim, has been strictly enforced upon them, creating a legal issue.
Staff had to use their own money to buy A&F clothing to go to work, so they could model with the brand logo for customers to see. Apparently, blending in with a certain look wasn’t enough. They’d have to use the A&F brand. Failure to do so could lead to you being fired.
Not only do staff members rant about having to pay for their own uniforms by directly purchasing A&F products (albeit at a discounted rate), making it hard for any of them to save some dough out of their minimum wage, but they are also told to wear sandals or flip flops regardless of the weather conditions outside.
If A&F wants you to wear summer clothes and flip-flops, it doesn’t matter if it’s wintertime in New York. You’d better show up in your casual flip-flops as if you came to work from the beach with a floral shirt and shades. A&F management apparently don’t care about the disconnect between snow and casual beachwear.
Catchy Introductions to Fragrances
The company figures that, with all the sales strategies employed out there in the market, it has to find a catchy way to introduce its products to customers in person. Consequently, management issued the following command for the staff to follow to a tee.
By introducing their colognes and perfumes as if they were real people they wanted them to meet, customers were surprised and left guessing for a second. Management hoped this would be enough to capture their attention. Though it was a quick cross-selling strategy, it could be effective, so management didn’t care if employees found it corny.
Companies that are too quick to punish employees for the slightest misstep find it hard to gain their loyalty. Even large corporations like Abercrombie & Fitch must realize that their imposition of insensitive demands, and one-way policies, will eventually come back to bite them.
A staff member reported how thieving had become rampant in the company. Some would pretend to work and fill up trash bags with an assortment of A&F products, throw them in the back room, only to sell them on eBay for a huge discount.
An Atmosphere of Mutual Distrust
It is hard to appraise what good might come out of an employee-employer relationship that lacks the most basic element of trust. It’s as if everything one ever does is automatically suspected to be in spite of the other party, and vice versa.
A&F makes this distrust of its own employees no secret at all by forcing them to undergo regular inspections before stepping out of the workplace. This means going through their private stuff in their bags, feeling their pockets, and all that jazz. While this sounds annoying and invasive, we imagine those backdoor eBay deals had something to do with it!