My impressions of Abercrombie & Fitch were mostly formed 17 years ago, when I was 17. I had a crush on a beautiful freshman girl with straight blonde hair, perfect posture, and a haughty mouth that I never could quite stop staring at. I hung on her every word, especially the casual way she tossed off “Aa-bercrombie,” as if it were a destination worthy of abbreviation, like “Vegas” or “Rio.” But I was no prepster like her. It was baggy jeans, Wu-Tang Clan, and unrequited love for me.
The next year, I moved to New York City, and Abercrombie & Fitch became nothing more than a place I tried to avoid when I was back home in Rochester doing a little post-Christmas shopping at the mall. Dim lights, pulsing dance music, perfume so powerful it overwhelmed the food court.
So imagine my surprise this year when I opened a present from my parents and found a gray V-neck Abercrombie & Fitch sweater inside.
“I love the moose,” my mother said enthusiastically, indicating the ostentatious insignia on the left breast.
The tag said “large,” but when I tried the sweater on, it was impossibly tight. Relieved, I boxed it back up and added it to the pile of clothes to be exchanged.
My family makes two yearly pilgrimages to the mall. During the first trip, my mother and father do the Christmas shopping. During the second, my father, brother, and I exchange the original items for ones we actually like/actually fit. (My mother likes everything, and everything fits her.) This year, my brother’s wife joined us too.
Oh, the mall! The Marketplace. Shop Till You Drop!
We see you, you beautiful behemoths, sitting on those benches with your 18 bags and giant cups of ice cream! You will never drop. Not from shopping. You would live in this tinny, fluorescent wonderland if you could.
But no one in my family knows how to linger at a mall a moment longer than necessary. Efficiency is the name of our game.
We waited patiently at Jared the Galleria of Jewelry, although as I stared out the window at the snowy parking lot, I wished I still smoked cigarettes. We whirled in and out of JCPenney in almost no time at all, now the proud owners of shirts and pants that fit/we liked. Only Abercrombie & Fitch was left to vanquish before we’d be on our way home.
As we approached our final foe—that dark, throbbing, cologne-drenched monstrosity of a store—my dad peeled off abruptly to the left: “I’m going to get a Starbucks,” he called out as he hurried away, his voice swallowed up by the din.
“Brace yourself,” I said, turning to Phillip (my brother), and his wife, Sandra. I was already anticipating their desertion as well.
“Oh no, I can’t go in there,” Sandra said, halting right on cue. “The perfume is … ” She paused, wrinkling her nose.
“Too strong,” Phillip said. He stepped in front of her gallantly, as if to shield her from the smell. Sandra retreated to a table a safe distance away, and to my surprise, Phillip agreed to come with me.
My nostrils burned as we entered the glitzy, perfume-soaked cave.
50% Off! Everything Must Go!
Thick flannel shirts, dozens of kinds of distressed denim, sweatpants and hoodies stacked floor to ceiling. It was a real post-Christmas shopping bonanza. The stuff nightmares are made of.
We stumbled forward in a daze, bumping into other shoppers who also seemed to be in a stupor (despite the thumping music), and at the back of the store, I found a rack of V-necks like the one I was going to exchange. As I flipped through the oddly tiny sweaters, I noticed a detail I had overlooked until now.
On the inside collar, where you might normally find a tag that says “Regular Fit” or “Slim Fit,” it said “Muscle.”
I looked at the inside collar of several other items in the store. T-shirts, polos, Henleys, even dress shirts—everything had a Muscle tag on it.
“Excuse me,” I said to a woman rifling through a clothing rack near the changing room. “Do you work here?”
“No,” she barked, and as I wandered from room to room, squinting in the darkness, I couldn’t find anyone else who would even look me in the eyes. Phillip had disappeared as well.
Eventually, I spotted a redhead in tight jeans and flip-flops that I decided had to work there. No one would be so casual as to wear wear flip-flops to the mall the day after Christmas, unless appearing “laid-back” was part of their job description.
“Do you have anything that’s not Muscle style?” I asked, explaining my plight.
She seemed surprised to hear that so many of the shirts were in this category, as if she’d never actually looked at the merchandise herself. After consulting with a male co-worker—a quintessential athletic bro in a skintight Abercrombie shirt—she confirmed that, amazingly, the store did not currently stock any men’s shirts that were not Muscle style.
“If you want to go in another direction, our sweatpants are the bomb-diggity,” she said helpfully, without any apparent traces of irony.
I wanted to ask her if that’s really a phrase the kids are still using these days, but I was clinging to my dignity by a thread already.
I pretended to browse the sweatpants section, but it was just for show. I didn’t want this cute, friendly young salesgirl to know, but I couldn’t wear Aa-bercrombie to bed and still respect myself in the morning.
At last, I settled on underwear, the four least obnoxious pairs I could find, and as I walked out of the store forever, I remembered how that beautiful Abercrombie-loving freshman in high school had written in my yearbook, “You’re the mack daddy and the daddy mack.” That had been the bomb-diggity too.