“Sense of style.”
It’s a vague phrase, and it happens to be the tenuous thread from which American Apparel’s reputation currently hangs. A media storm has been gathering in recent weeks over the retailer’s controversial hiring and firing practices. CEO-slash-skeezball Dov Charney has been accused of basing hiring decisions exclusively on beauty regardless of applicants' actual qualifications. As Gawker reported, hiring is essentially based on employee photos, and anyone who does not fit the brand’s rigorous aesthetic may be fired at a moment’s notice. Read: unattractive candidates need not apply.
Yet Charney has responded to critics that it is “sense of style” rather than physical attractiveness that determines employment at American Apparel. In a statement Monday, Charney clarified that American Apparel does not use “beauty” as a hiring criteria; rather, “our main priority is finding people a strong sense of style who can inspire customers […] The company legitimately reviews current photographs of job applications and employees to consider their sense of style and the way in which they present themselves."
As former American Apparel employees come out of the wood work, it seems clear that fitting the brand aesthetic— including, among other ludicrous requirements, wearing no eyeshadow, no liquid foundation, only one earring per ear and, for gals, “long, healthy, natural hair”— is the most important factor in getting and keeping a job at the hipster retailer. One former AA worker stated, "Your looks determine your position and pay rate, not how effective you are at your job."
Such dictionary-definition employee discrimination can only be added to the growing pile of American Apparel scandals, from sexual exploitation of employees to overly explicit ads (not to mention the store's less scandalous but equally disturbing tendency to only stock certain items in sizes 0 through 6— apparently women larger than a 6 don't deserve to wear Schoolgirl Skirts and Disco shorts).
So, is it time to boycott American Apparel?