Cool Kids

Mike Jeffries doesn’t like fat girls who wear Abercrombie & Fitch.

In a 2006 interview with Salon that somehow took until this week to make the rounds, Jeffries, CEO of the popular American clothing company, is quoted as defining the Abercrombie “brand” thusly:

“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids.  Candidly, we go after the cool kids.  We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends.  A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong.  Are we exclusionary?  Absolutely.”

Indeed, as was duly noted as this excerpt went viral, Abercrombie & Fitch stores do not stock extra-large sizes of women’s clothing—nothing beyond size 10.

Speaking about the Salon interview this week, Jeffries insisted—as such people do—that the quotation above has been taken out of context.

In a way, he is correct.  The “cool kids” comment does not tell the full story, and I would recommend reading the whole article in order to get a complete and proper understanding of what a truly wretched person Jeffries is.

Among other things, Salon’s reporting makes it clear that Abercrombie & Fitch, under Jeffries, is an outfit of profound shallowness, defining individuals entirely on the basis of appearance and conflating one’s worth as a human being with the contents of one’s wardrobe.

(In fairness, one would be hard-pressed to unearth a youth apparel shop that thinks differently.)

Jeffries in particular is characterized as a figure of breathtaking creepiness—a man in his sixties who talks and dresses like a college frat boy and gives the impression of never having spoken to a woman for longer than a minute or two at a time.

While the cultural concerns this Abercrombie uproar raises are legion—the bottomless psychological harm it will inflict upon young women is certainly one of them—let us limit ourselves today simply to taking Jeffries up on his notion of what it means to be “cool.”

Broadly speaking, there seem to be two possible attitudes one can strike toward the concept of coolness.  The first is to reject it outright; the second is to shape it to one’s own ends.

In one corner is Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous, one of the greatest of all movies, in which an uber-nerdy teenaged reporter is seduced by a plucky rock ‘n’ roll band into thinking he is one of them, only to discover this is not quite the case.

“They make you feel cool,” a rock critic explains to the reporter over the phone as it appears his story is going up in flames, adding, “I’ve met you.  You are not cool.”  The critic’s consolation for the kid:  “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.”

This is undoubtedly an alluring disposition for many people, who tether coolness to shallowness and stupidity and thus render it undesirable—even though it does seem to make it easier to gain friends and get girls.

A slight tweak to this approach—less dour and defensive—is to declare oneself uncool and then half-ironically revel in it.

Craig Ferguson, host of The Late Late Show on CBS, has insisted on multiple occasions that once he has become fully aware of the latest youth-based cultural craze—The Jersey Shore, “Gangnam Style,” Justin Bieber and so forth—said craze has therefore lost its edge.  “If I know about something, it’s not hip,” Ferguson says, clarifying, “It’s not hip because I know about it.”

Ferguson’s view points the way to the self-appropriating attitude toward coolness, in which we arrive at the truth of the matter:  Coolness is in the eye of the beholder.

For instance, Ferguson has made plain that, to him, there is nothing more pathetic than an older man who tries to ingratiate himself into a younger generation (like a certain CEO we could name).  Ferguson has forsaken the idea of hipness in favor of, shall we say, growing up and acting his own age.

Well, what could be cooler than that?  I may be obtuse, but my own estimation of the true meaning of “cool” is to possess the self-confidence not to worry about how others might see you.  Not to “set the trends” so much as to disregard them, and live as if your own ideas about life and happiness were not any worse than anyone else’s.

To be cool is to not feel you need to wear Abercrombie & Fitch.

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One thought on “Cool Kids

  1. I read an article about this and was waiting for you to comment on Jeffries remark. I’m all for branding and targeting, but the consumer needs to have a choice. The damage done to millions of girls who might not fit into A&F clothes and feel excluded by that is just unbelievable. Maybe society can rebrand them now: A&F – only for the preppy and stupid

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