the magazine of the columbia daily spectator
May 1 2013
Mmm, baby: The very best in food porn
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Alternatives to Butler
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Red Bull and relaxation
April 17 2013
Back to the kitchen: A short journey through sexist pop culture
April 12 2013
Bikinis and big booties, y’all
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Azealia Banks Did What?
April 5 2013
More stories from Columbia’s military veterans
April 3 2013
Sing, O Muse, of some sappy story
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Missed the Cliterary Open Mic? Check out the highlights here
March 29 2013
Sex & Low Beach
Spotted on campus this fall: bold patterns on sundresses, shorts, and bags. A shock of turquoise or a hint of purple peeking out of a messy bun. Studs and spikes attached to the shoulders of leather jackets and the tips of ballet flats. Conspicuously absent: logo tees, logo hoodies, logo... anything. What happened to brands like Abercrombie and Fitch and Aeropostale?
Though some may have shopped at Abercrombie for the clothes’ quality, Columbia students mostly remember Abercrombie’s incontestable cool factor. Noel Duan, a senior in Columbia College, fashion blogger, and co-founder of Hoot Magazine, paints a familiar picture of Abercrom- bie’s heyday: “In middle school, everyone was wearing Abercrombie. All the girls wore UGGs and North Face jackets. You’d spend $100 on already destroyed jeans. It [Abercrombie] wasn’t really part of my wardrobe, but I wanted to wear it because all the cool girls were wearing it.”
The next generation of cool girls seems to have moved on. In the past year, Abercrombie’s shares have lost a third of their value, and their net income has fallen by half, from $32 million to $15.5 million. Notably, Abercrombie is also losing traction internationally: Their sales overseas have fallen by 26 percent, a reversal of the past three years, when international sales rose steadily.
It’s tempting to point to recession-triggered thrift to explain Abercrombie’s falling sales; if parents are struggling just to make ends meet, teens probably won’t be able to afford Abercrombie’s $78 jeggings. Seemingly confirming this theory, American Eagle, which sells similar basics to a similar market at much lower prices, saw their stocks rise 45% in the past year.
However, J. Crew and Urban Outfitters, which are comparable in price to Abercrombie but offer more unique clothing choices, also reported increases in revenue and market value, indicat- ing that the recession isn’t entirely responsible for Abercrombie’s financial woes. Regardless of price, American Eagle, J. Crew, and Urban Outfitters all responded to the demand for edgier items by offering a range of styles, cutting down on in-your-face branding, and speeding up supply chains to reflect current trends.
Abercrombie, on the other hand, has stuck with the “California chill image” that popularized them in the ’90s and early 2000s. “I walked into a store three weeks ago, and it had the same things I could have bought ten years ago,” Duan says. Sure, Abercrombie has tried to stay hip, partnering with Carly Rae Jepsen and maintaining an up-to-date (though bland) Twitter profile. (A recent Tweet: “Happy Labor Day!”) However, the brand’s focus on a single standard of coolness no longer
appeals to the audience they’re trying to reach.
Emma Salomans, a senior at Barnard, who has interned and worked at Ralph Lauren, attributes the disconnect partly to the rise of the “hipster” ethos. “People love to feel like they’re discovering things for themselves. A big part of our generation is [the idea of] ‘I found it, and it’s part of my identity because I found it,’” she said.
The shift toward distinctive, personal style could be attributed in large part to fashion bloggers and outfit-sharing sites like Lookbook, Polyvore, and Pinterest. These sites allow anyone to post about their personal style, which has led teens to embrace a diversity of trends rather than a single persona. “You’re exposed to so many different things online,” Salomans says, “so your idea of what is ‘cool’ isn’t what the girl sitting next to you in math class is wearing. You go on a blog and you see people taking pictures of teens wearing boots from Sweden, and you think, ‘Maybe I want boots like that.’”
Style bloggers also serve an economic purpose, fostering a more direct connection between teens and designer brands. Since most teens obviously don’t have the allowance for Anna Sui or Chloé, it makes sense that they might turn to “fast fashion” chains such as Forever 21 or H&M, which offer a range of runway-inspired styles at affordable prices.
Abercrombie’s style, on the other hand, resists personalization. Fashion-blogger Vanessa Thill, a senior at Barnard, notes that, “If you’re wearing something from Abercrombie, you can’t really incorporate it into a style.” Thill and fellow fashion blogger Yooni Kim, a senior at Barnard, point to offbeat icons like Michael Cera, Zooey Deschanel, and even Taylor Swift as pioneers of alternative style. “You start to get a new idea of what’s trendy and attractive,” says Thill, “and that’s not necessarily the cheerleader and the football player wearing Abercrombie.”
In some ways, Abercrombie’s declining appeal among Columbia students is simply part of growing up. “Middle school is really hard,” Duan notes. “It’s easier to dress the same as everyone else.” But maturity doesn’t entirely explain the variety of distinct styles that are now visible on campus. Kim describes her shock at the influx of style-conscious students: “I’m an RA, so I did first-year check-in. And I saw so many asymmetrical hems, so many sheer things, people moving into their dorms in wedges. You had girls wearing head scarves, people obviously going for the vintage thing, grungy girls with their Doc Martens. And all with immaculate lipstick. I think the first-years this year know more about street fashion than we did when we were freshmen.”
But Salomans believes that the growing importance of personal style isn’t just about fashion; it’s about identity. “I want my clothes to tell a story,” she says. “When I was younger, nothing was cooler to me than my brand new Abercrombie T-shirt. Now, my favorite clothes are this watch that my dad gave me that was his from the ’70s, my boots that I’ve had since high school, my favorite pair of jeans that I got freshman year of high school, and they’ve ripped a hundred times, and I’ve had them repaired a hundred times. I think people are more into finding clothes they really like and growing into them. I see so many people in boots that look beat up, and big sweaters that could have belonged to their grandfathers. I think people want more of a memory in their clothes, instead of just something new.”
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