Beware the "Look" Policy at Abercrombie & Fitch

by Holly Combe // 14 June 2009, 21:46

Jezebel reports that Riam Dean, an employee of the London flagship Abercrombie and Fitch store, was banished to work in the storeroom for not fitting with their "look" policy. Riam has a prosthetic arm and was asked to buy a cardigan during her induction but when she wore it in the store, she was told by a member of the store's patrolling Visual Team that she would have to work in the stockroom. When she later telephoned the company's head office, they asked her if she could work her time in the stockroom until the winter uniform arrived. She is now suing the store for discrimination.

As Hortense at Jezebel indicates, this is not the first time that Abercrombie and Fitch have behaved badly towards their staff or displayed questionable ethics in terms of their recruitment practices.

Hearteningly enough, the majority of the comments in the Daily Mail report of this story are supportive towards Riam and those that aren't are generally rated poorly.

Comments From You

Kristeva // Posted 15 June 2009 at 09:19

It’s quite interesting that some employers are still surprisingly open about their prejudice. A doctor friend of mine who stammered wanted to become an undertaker (don’t ask me why!). She failed in an interview with the Co op, but phoned up to get feedback. They told her she wasn’t considered because they felt her impairment might scare the grieving clients! She then promptly took them to the cleaners. It’s hard to feel sorry for the Co op in this situation, but I jokingly told her to be grateful they were soppy enough to be so honest. I shouldn’t think many other companies are that blatant or stupid.

Aimee // Posted 15 June 2009 at 15:44

Oh dear! That's really stupid! I hope Abercrombie and Fitch get the suing of their lives. What horrible appalling behaviour. And the Co op... well that's just stupid. On a more interesting note, did you know that if you work in the Co op, you are entitled to a free funeral! HOORAY!

Aimee // Posted 15 June 2009 at 15:46

After reading the daily mail article it has occurred to me to wonder whether telling employees how they can wear their hair and how long their nails must be is discrimination in itself. Surely they can't actually do that?!

Ruth // Posted 15 June 2009 at 18:16

Aimee,

no, it is not ipso facto discriminatory in law to provide that employees must have hair and nails certain lengths. Anti- discrimination law doesn't apply simply when people don't like what they've been asked to do: there have to be reasons connected to gender, disability (as in Riam's case), race or matters of belief (including but not limited to religious beliefs) that are more than questions of personal style. My 18 year old doesn't particularly like wearing a suit to school, but they are entitled to establish and enforce a dress code. Same with employers as long as particular groups are not singled out.
It is just about possible that someone could claim constructive dismissal if a sudden and extreme sartorial change [like, say head shaving] was forced on them as a condition of keeping their job but I think it would be a stretch: normally it's more far-reaching things like a change of location/reduction in responsibilities without explanation etc

Kristeva // Posted 15 June 2009 at 20:55

Aimee

If my memory serves me correctly, the really stupid thing about the Co op fracas was that when they lost they had to offer Kirsty a job! Apparently, it’s a stipulation of court regarding this kind of tribunal – as if you’d readily accept knowing your chances of promotion would be zero.

Sabre // Posted 15 June 2009 at 21:53

@ aimee

When I worked in a lab I had to have my hair tied back and nails kept short at all times - for safety. As Ruth said, it's only a problem when particular groups are singled out. The lab rules impacted more on women but purely because women tend to have longer hair and nails.

Abercrombie and Fitch tread a fine line. It's a common belief among my peers that they only hire 'good looking' people to work the shop floor. Sometimes my friends go in there just to look at the staff!

polly styrene // Posted 15 June 2009 at 22:04

What Ruth says is correct, in that an employer can still insist on a certain look/dress code. Even more outrageously in my opinion, in England and Wales, it's quite legal to have different dress codes for men and women if they fit with prevailing social mores. So an employer is quite entitled to say men can't wear skirts to work, and in some limited cases can even insist that women do.

However it seems quite clear that Riam Dean was discriminated against because of her disability, which is different, so I hope she takes Abercrombie and Fitch to the cleaners.

Aimee // Posted 15 June 2009 at 22:59

Ruth... thanks for making it a bit clearer... are there really then, no limits to what an employer can ask of an employee with regards to appearance? I mean, how far are employers allowed to go? There really should be some kind of legistlation over this, because it's clearly discriminatory!

Lindsay // Posted 15 June 2009 at 23:24

Please tell me that you're also offended by the simple existence of a 'look' policy in the first place--not reasonable restrictions like nail length, but hiring/firing based on things not covered by the disability laws (ie. so-called ugliness). That one sucks too, and is there really any legal recourse?

june quest // Posted 16 June 2009 at 01:32

@Sabre:

They really *do* hire people based on attractiveness. Read this very interesting interview with the CEO of A&F: http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/2006/01/24/jeffries/.

polly styrene // Posted 16 June 2009 at 07:26

It's quite legal to hire only good looking people normally. Where it would be potentially discriminatory is if the difference in 'looks' was due to age, race, disability, gender identity or gender.

But Abercrombie and Fitch are very open about their 'lookist' policy.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-447183/Poseurs-Paradise-Whats-really-like-work-new-Abercrombie--Fitch-store.html

kristeva // Posted 16 June 2009 at 08:31

Abercrombie and Fitch tread a fine line. It's a common belief among my peers that they only hire 'good looking' people to work the shop floor. Sometimes my friends go in there just to look at the staff!

It maybe wasn't so blatant back then, but this policy of hiring shop staff for their attractiveness has been going on since the late 80's, particularly in male clothes shops

Aimee // Posted 16 June 2009 at 16:07

I am offended by the whole thing! But i'm particularly shocked that they are allowed to dictate such minute details of a person's appearance. And that they are allowed to discriminate on grounds of perceived attractiveness... that's just ridiculous!

Aimee // Posted 16 June 2009 at 16:11

Sabre - I can see it's kind of different when it's for health and safety reasons, but this is purely aesthetic! It's just horrible. :)

Sophie Platt // Posted 16 June 2009 at 16:17

I had a friend who was accepted on the graduate training scheme at Harrods. The women had a special part of their training dedicated to 'dressing for their shape'. My friend had to wear full make up and have her hair looking 'done' for work everyday. Also, women were required to wear heels at all times. She's sometimes be working 11 hours shifts around Christmas time..in heels. Ouch...

JenniferRuth // Posted 16 June 2009 at 16:41

My friend had to wear full make up and have her hair looking 'done' for work everyday. Also, women were required to wear heels at all times.

Sounds like a nightmare! I am *so* glad that I have no dress code where I work what-so-ever.

Sabre // Posted 16 June 2009 at 16:52

Rather than dress codes, the issue here is disability discrimination. It may be acceptable for A+F to hire shop floor staff based on looks as they could argue those people are an advert for the store. I worked in a clothes shop and we were encouraged (though not forced) to wear clothes from that shop while working. This isn't vastly different from that although it depends how enforced such ideas are. Although I am against discrimination based on looks, we all know it happens whether conciously or not.

The problem is that disability has been perceived as unattractive in this case, which I think is totally unacceptable. Not that it matters, but Riam Dean is quite attractive. So obviously it was the prosthetic arm that rendered her unattractive in their eyes.

There is clearly a long way to go in breaking the taboos and 'icky' feelings around people with disabilities.

I would boycott Abercrombie and Fitch but I don't shop there anyway :-/

Kelsey // Posted 16 June 2009 at 17:08

You all realize that companies like A & F and Hollister (owned by A & F) address their employees not by "sales associate" but by the term "Model," right? It's pretty obvious by that title that they're only looking for the "best of the best," whatever they consider that to be.

Legible Susan // Posted 16 June 2009 at 17:12

Sophie,

Maybe your friend doesn't want to rock the boat, but somebody should take them to court for discrimination - either disability discrimination or sex discrimination, because I bet their dress code for men isn't one that will cause disabilities, and that will.

polly styrene // Posted 16 June 2009 at 20:55

I see Riam Dean is a law student. So A&F obviously don't hire managers on their brains, otherwise they'd have realised she was likely to be aware of disability discrimination law.

I've never been in, so I can't possibly boycott it. I walked past it once though and there were two very buff men in just boxer shorts posing in the window.....

Posie Rider // Posted 24 June 2009 at 18:50

To be honest; it probably would have happened to a man too...

Rebecca // Posted 03 July 2009 at 16:41

This is absolutely ridiculous! How can they send her to a stockroom just because of a prosthetic arm she clearly an attractive girl so if they hired her based on attractivness they completely wasted their time. I hope she cleans the floor with them

schlo mo // Posted 23 July 2009 at 08:32

within the corporate office walls "Campus" as A & F refers to it, the look policy is very openly discussed. In the field, it is very strictly enforced.

Miss Lee // Posted 14 August 2009 at 15:23

I taught Riam for a couple of years at school and I am really proud of her for standing up to this in the way she has. That's the exactly the kind of self respecting reasonable and intelligent behaviour I would expect from the girl I knew. A & F need a wider definition of beauty (Beneton and Dove have managed it) and anyway, Riam was always beautiful.

Legible Susan // Posted 14 August 2009 at 17:31

Riam has won her case for wrongful dismissal: as described on the Guardian money pages, but I notice the tribunal didn't recognise it as disability discrimination because they were not treating her differently but "treating her the same in circumstances where it should have made an adjustment".
I could have sworn "indirect discrimination" was in the rules somewhere in anti-discrimination law.

polly // Posted 14 August 2009 at 21:58

I am left wondering what a 'classic' hairstyle is. Anyway it's great she won, on whatever basis.

Matthew Montgomery // Posted 16 September 2009 at 03:28

As a model at abercrombie and fitch i feel obligated to stand up for the company. there look policy is nothing more then a work uniform. you are required to wear a uniform to work at mcdonalds and if you show up out of uniform and refuse to comply with the policy then why should you feel like you were wronged. the problem was not that she had a prosthetic arm, but that her cardigan was not in the look policy(uniform) for that season. and for the person that says managers are not hired for brains they obviously have not read the policy stating all managers must have a college degree. i dont see too many stupid people getting those.

saz // Posted 20 September 2009 at 14:35

Since when was model the new name for shop assistant?

More to the point, what self respecting person would want to work for an organisation which values looks above brains, intelligence and manners? an organisation that thinks it is quite appropriate to pay peanuts whilst degrading their staff to walk around and be treated like cheap objects of desire, whilst trying to justify their actions by giving the staff the title "model"

If they think a few bimbos, sorry "models" are going to make me dig deep, they are wrong. I go for style, a stylish person does not need to bare flesh to be beautiful, they have flair no matter what they wear, they do need to be told what to wear as they have the creativity to always look good. To me this speaks volumes about the items they sell.

A uniform yes, clean and tidy yes but a "look policy"???

Half naked men on the door? Give me a break if they need that to draw the customers in, their goods must be pretty crass!

Holly Combe // Posted 20 September 2009 at 17:51

Saz, I think we should stick to critiquing Abercrombie and Fitch as a company rather than the people who work there. In a capitalist society, we all need money and I don’t think people who go to work for Abercrombie and Fitch deserve to be told they somehow lack self respect or dismissed as “bimbos”.

Raquelle // Posted 25 September 2009 at 22:18

I know that this is about the UK, but in the US the stores hire in the same way. While its not illegal to hire hot people it is 100% illegal to deny employment to someone based on their looks (Under US law).

Rita W. // Posted 28 November 2009 at 22:14

I agree with Matthew Montgomery. It wasn't her prosthetic arm that got her put in the stockroom, it was her cardigan that she was wearing that wasn't in season at the time. That's part of the Abercrombie "look policy": all in-store models have to wear what's in season and what the store is selling at the time.
That's part of her job, and she probably understands the consequences if she fails to do so. The contract she signed during her orientation states that all models are required to wear approciate seasonal clothing that represents the store. If that was a problem to her, why apply to Abercrombie in the first place? Everyone knows it is pretty obvious that Abercrombie would expect a lot from their models, especially when it comes down to what they're wearing. If Riam is unhappy to be banished into the stockroom because she didn't have the "look", then I suggest for her to just simply switch to the part time impact (PTI) position.

Holly Combe // Posted 02 December 2009 at 10:51

@ Rita .W. As Legible Susan points out above, Riam won her case for wrongful dismissal and, to be honest, I really don't understand why the discrimination aspect wasn't accepted as well... Asking her to stay in the stockroom until the winter uniform arrived seems pretty suspect to me.

As a sidepoint, I have to say Abercrombie and Fitch's jargon is not doing it any favours in making it sound like a good employer to work for. PTI? Seriously?

Not A Girl // Posted 02 December 2009 at 12:04

Legible Susan - exactly, and (here in the UK at least, I don't know how it works in the US) the disability discrimination act actually requires reasonable adjustments to be made.

Laura // Posted 13 December 2009 at 23:09

Being an employee for the company for well over a year, I also must defend the policy and the entire company with what they do. Abercrombie and Fitch and it's other 4 sister companies hire based on appearance because they use the associates within their stores as the models in their advertising posters. It's the companies way of "sticking it" to other big-name companies who pay celebrities and high-fashion models to wear their clothes, because A&F has those who start out as regular people in their stores become their models. So upon applying for the position "model" in any of the companies project stores you put yourself in the position to be judged in the real modeling world, every model associate is considered for being a company model, and it's a wonderful opportunity. So to all who believe its illegal, rude, or discriminatory to hire people based on appearance your battles should be on the modeling world, think about taking on Tyra Banks or Giselle Bundchen, because that's the exact same situation. If you didn't want to be America's Next Top Model, you wouldn't try out. If you don't want to be a model for Abercrombie, Hollister, Rheul, or Gilly Hicks; don't apply to be one.

Holly Combe // Posted 14 December 2009 at 08:31

It's the companies way of "sticking it" to other big-name companies who pay celebrities and high-fashion models to wear their clothes, because A&F has those who start out as regular people in their stores become their models.

That makes Abercrombie and Fitch sound somehow alternative but let's get this in perspective. They're hardly "sticking it" to other big-name companies if those "regular people" are subjected to rigid beauty standards just like celebrities and high fashion models are.

So to all who believe its illegal, rude, or discriminatory to hire people based on appearance your battles should be on the modeling world, think about taking on Tyra Banks or Giselle Bundchen, because that's the exact same situation.

I really don't see how a TV show is "the exact same situation" as a shop. The idea of "taking on" individual models and directing crtiticism at them instead of a big brand seems pretty skewed to me.

If you didn't want to be America's Next Top Model, you wouldn't try out. If you don't want to be a model for Abercrombie, Hollister, Rheul, or Gilly Hicks; don't apply to be one.

This blog entry wasn't about "not wanting to be a model for Abercrombie and Fitch, Hollister, Rheul, or Gilly Hicks". It was about the treatment of an employee who won her case for wrongful dismissal.

Charlotte // Posted 23 May 2010 at 09:50

well to be fair,A&F are doing thier job! im 16 and i think all other 16 year olds are attracted to the FIT men...it's just life. It's A&F, if you don't like it, stay away from it!I am proud to say that A&F has inspired me and i cant wait to apply for a job! :D x

Callum // Posted 02 June 2010 at 10:36

Well they gave her the job so it can't be that much discrimination. They could've said, no you can't work here you've got a weird arm.

Holly Combe // Posted 02 June 2010 at 11:01

Callum, that’s a bit like saying discrimination only counts if it entails an outright rejection of someone, with questions over unequal treatment being dismissed in favour of people being congratulated for not being out-and-proud about their prejudices.

Thankfully, companies have a responsibility towards their employees beyond just giving people jobs and expecting them to be grateful for it!

polly // Posted 03 June 2010 at 08:41

If I was an Abercrombie and Fitch PR now, I'd have my head in my hands at the last few comments by the company's supporters.

Fortunately I'm not. Phew!

Rose // Posted 03 June 2010 at 19:24

Never heard of the shop, not interested in going there, working for them, or ever being a 'model', but I've got to say, there seems to be an assumption here (in bland capitalist society) that beauty cannot come with a fake arm!
That's discrimination - and pretty damn irrational at that.

She was effectively told that in summer seasons her arm should be on show... and that her arm was not good enough to be on show. Of course she won her case.

(Oh, and did someone actually claim that all people with degrees are intelligent!? Was that joke aimed at middle class arrogance, or what?)

Justin // Posted 14 September 2010 at 16:58

I hate everything that company stands for. I refuse to shop there because of stuff like this and especially their arrogant employees.

chef // Posted 05 May 2011 at 17:39

It’s quite interesting that some employers are still surprisingly open about their prejudice.

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