About Hanif O’Neil’s Thesis Project
Abercrombie & Fitch Life, Style, and Outfitting: A Discriminating Tradition
Since the early twentieth century, Abercrombie & Fitch, a successful retail outfitter, has used depictions of virility, adventure, and conquest to establish ideas of ascendancy and distinction in its brand image. The company’s first advertisements published in the New York Times were clearly aimed at the privileged class of European American sportsmen and sportswomen who wore Abercrombie & Fitch merchandise to outfit their dynamic lifestyles as well as to signify their social superiority. This project illustrates how transformations around notions of identity, social mobility, and tradition have made the Abercrombie & Fitch ideal appealing to today’s working-class consumers—and, perhaps more importantly, accessible to them as well.Through its recent exploitation of vintage-style fashion, sexually suggestive images, and savvy display tactics, Abercrombie & Fitch has re-created a manner of privilege and entitlement through popular fictions of freedom and individuality. The veil of individualism purveyed by the brand functions to obscure the company’s discriminatory tradition with a universalized claim to taste, style, and distinction. Because this matter is too complex for any single racial, ethnic, gender-based, or class-based critique, this study looks both through and beyond these conventional lenses to understand their operation in the case of Abercrombie & Fitch. With the company’s image-based advertising campaigns providing a framework, I examine the visual and textual rhetoric used to commodify ideals of difference and sexuality that exist within the coordinates of luxury and authenticity.