I was a chubby little monster of a child. The baby fat held on well into high school. As a closeted gay boy secretly obsessed with fashion, having a pudgy, prepubescent body was slightly detrimental when Abercrombie men’s clothing was at its peak. Abercrombie men’s fashion was representing an unobtainable confidence I craved desperately.
Through the lens of Bruce Weber’s overtly horny black-and-white photography, Abercrombie created the ultimate insecure child’s vision board by plastering super buff, half-naked white men anywhere they could. Times Square billboards, huge in-store posters, small shopping bags that kids would reuse to carry mom-made school lunches, you name it. Abercrombie men’s fashion epitomized “cool,” and knowing that suck low-quality tees would cost you upwards of $50 made the brand even cooler. Unfortunately, I simply could not fit into a large adult polo without looking like five pounds of shit in a two-pound bag.
Nonetheless, I forced my mother to take me to Willowbrook Mall in Wayne, New Jersey, so I could shop the largest Abercrombie men’s clothing that the store had to offer. The following day, I’d walk into class cosplaying Jabba the Hutt in skin-tight blue jeans. I didn’t care what I looked like. I didn’t mind stretching my shirt out with my feet before putting it on in the morning as long as I was wearing Abercrombie.
Since then, clearly, a lot has changed with Abercrombie men’s fashion. Macklemore’s 2012 release of “Thrift Shop” murdered the act of purchasing a t-shirt for $50. Brand representation began to fall off, so wearing the words “Abercrombie & Fitch” across your chest became unsexy to teens. Not just that, but extremely insensitive ideologies came to light in a Netflix documentary. This helped the general public gather knowledge on racist and discriminatory actions taking place in Abercrombie & Fitch stores. One regarding a Muslim Oklahoma teen’s refusal of hire even made it all the way to the Supreme Court, which she won. Bruce Weber’s antics lead to a few lawsuits as well, but those were all settled quietly back in 2021.
Here’s the kicker: the Abercrombie men’s section has since had a full rebrand and has, for six months to a year now, been making clothes that I like. But it’s a fraught relationship. Without realizing it until my adulthood, Abercrombie was my childhood bully. Although some bullies learn from their mistakes and make amends with their victims later in life, the hurt sticks whether the bullied wants it to or not. But I don’t hold grudges. So, I went to Abercrombie & Fitch to see how my bully was doing after we had grown up a bit.
What I found didn’t shock me as far as how brands are catering to the general public today. Sizes surpassed large into XXL, people working the floor represented varying sizes and ethnicities, seemingly coming from all walks of life, and the interior wasn’t dark and overwhelmingly loud. It did have that same too cool for school smell, but it didn’t give me the same headrush I expected. I slept more soundly that night than I had in a while.
Here’s what I realized: Abercrombie, the brand that diminished me, has become desperate for my approval. In fact, Abercrombie is so desperate for my approval that it is engaging in exactly the behavior I behaved in when I was an overweight kid who just wanted the right kind of attention. Abercrombie is conforming and copying. It is trying to pass. It is trying to get a seat at the cool kids’ table, as I did.
Specifically, the Abercrombie we’re seeing today operates in a way that mimics rising brands young millennials and old Gen-Zers follow on Instagram but rarely cough up the coin to buy from. The brand isn’t necessarily taking the ultra-fast fashion approach the same way SHEIN is, but it’s appropriating styles in a format that feels both fresh and familiar. It’s more affordable than the brands they’re taking ideas from, and they’re not as direct. Everything has a preppy undertone as it once did, but most of the clothing now is followed by a “we’re just going to see if this lands” approach.
This is in no way to say Abercrombie sucks — I’m becoming quite interested to see how Abercrombie’s future in men’s fashion progresses. It’s just that instead of epitomizing cool as it once did, Abercrombie now is exactly as worthy as I was when I was too young and insecure to believe it. It’s trying stuff, and that’s fine.
Without this rebrand, I don’t think Abercrombie would have survived. By going above and beyond the in-your-face look, it was once so known for by adding more personalized motifs to the picture, the new Abercrombie allows buyers a spot to experiment with lower-cost looks that beat around the bush of pricier men’s clothing investments. Catch a small tour of the online store below and see who they’ve become while saving up to 50% off select styles and up to 20% off everything sitewide.
Long-Sleeve Rugby Polo
Rowing Blazers has quickly become a staple to men’s fashion through its modernization of prep-wear, specifically with its incredibly popular line of rugby shirts. Abercrombie has seemingly taken notes after releasing a number of their own rugbys at a more affordable price. With both heavyweight, sweater-like options and lightweight styles that mock long-sleeve tees, these are multi-seasonal and made with pretty decent quality.
The Japanese brand Needles has been a downtown staple since the late 1990s due to its reimagination of American prep through a Tokyo-centric lens. Needles is relatively cardigan-heavy, and this one feels very Needles x Todd Snyder made possible by Abercrombie. Throw it over a solid white tee for a comfortable, casual Sunday look.
These jeans are seemingly taking inspiration from the Brooklyn skate scene, specifically repping every 21-year-old boy I’ve ever seen riding around Maria Hernandez Park in Bushwick. They’ve got a hand-me-down approach that’s begging you to fall on your knees in hopes you’ll create a hole or two after multiple wears.
Scenic Button-Through Sweater Polo
The all-over look that was originally popularized by galaxy-printed pullovers on Tumblr is back. This time, it is reimagined in a scenic Italian tennis match by someone who watched this past season of White Lotus. All love — this one is an easy favorite of mine I hope to have in my closet soon.
Varsity Bomber Jacket
Instilling characteristics from the OG “cool kid” look, the varsity bomber is surpassing its high school days and reclaiming its existence in adult fashion. Every varsity jacket I’ve seen typically skyrockets past the above price unless found stained at Goodwill. It’s a solid piece that will end up in your fall-to-spring outerwear rotation year after year.
Pull-On Seersucker Swim Trunk
Swimsuit season is sneaking up on us this year, and Abercrombie seems to be taking nods from styles we’re seeing at Onia and Bonobos. Seersucker is having a moment right now for its Euro-island vibes and “I don’t care” attitude, which is perfect for how you’re going to handle summer 2023.