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Abercrombie and Fitch: Wholesome looks, not so wholesome policies

By: Rebecca Schwartz

Last month I met up with some friends in Connecticut. The four of us went to the beach where we laid out our towels and relaxed in the warm sun, reading our required schoolbooks. A good fifteen pages into Catch 22, five college-age, attractive males and females interrupted the sound of the surf. They asked us our age and where we lived. The good-looking group was recruiting for none other than Abercrombie and Fitch. After some flirting and small talk, we regretfully told them we didn’t live near their particular store. We gazed as they walked off, clipboards in hand, scanning the area for the “perfect look.”

“If someone came in with a pretty face, we were told to approach them and ask them if they wanted a job,” explains Antonio Serrano, a former Abercrombie assistant store manager.

It’s not just Abercrombie though. L’Oreal, the Gap, and many other retailers are openly recruiting only sexy and good-looking workers. In promoting this “pretty” policy, some of these companies have been evoking a rush of government and private lawsuits.

“If you’re hiring by looks, then you can run into problems of race discrimination, national origin discrimination, gender discrimination, age discrimination and even disability discrimination,” said Olophius Perry, director of the Los Angeles office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

“We can’t all be Anglo, athletic and young,” said Donna Harper, a supervisory attorney at a St. Louis firm. Although we all can’t fit this sought after mold, many insist that we want to be surrounded by it. Businesses go for the attractive look because they say it increases sales. Retailers say the public is more willing to shop and purchase when surrounded by beauty.

Sales associates are often pressured to hire people based on looks over competency. This is when problems arise. Michelle Cornell worked at Food and Drink in Missouri for 23 years. Yet when it re-opened after renovations, they refused to hire her because she no longer fit the young, trendy look it had adopted.

“Hiring beautiful people isn’t illegal,” said Stephen J. Roppolo, a New Orleans lawyer who represents many businesses. “It’s when businesses want to hire to project a certain image that problems come into play.”

Good-looking people are often treated better than others. “Companies have become acutely aware that hiring attractive people impacts their bottom line. Yet, whether that’s morally acceptable is a whole different ball game,” suggests Melissa Milkie, a professor at the University of Maryland

I want to go back to the beach in Connecticut. Not just because I miss my friends and it was a beautiful day, but also because I’d like to ask those beautiful people some questions of my own. “Would you care if we told you we’ve never worked a day in our lives? Would you care if we said we don’t know the first thing about fashion and we still ask our moms to pick out our clothes? What exactly, do you care about? Our looks? No thanks.” 

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