As I set out on this brief journey to discover the essence of American Apparel’s ‘Classic Girl’, there’s a pair of underwear lying next to me on the bed. They’re recently shed, artfully crumpled –maybe tossed aside in the chaos of some sexual urgency, or maybe slipped out of in the casual intimacy of a girl’s dressing routine — and the tag remains perfectly legible. In black Helvetica it reads: “American Apparel.” And I think to myself, “This would make a great ad.”
For some people, this instant association of American Apparel with sexual suggestiveness is a problem; they condemn the retailer’s pornographic ads as symptomatic of it’s sexually exploitative methods for selecting and photographing models, and apparently employing women in general. Photos like this, paired with lawsuits like this, shape the public image of American Apparel around the company’s portrayal — or abuse — of female sexuality. And with roughly 10,000 people hitting the American Apparel website every day, it becomes important to know what version of female sexuality they’re shipping.
Mostly, people look to the advertising for answers. Feminist slanted Molly Lambert in her article “No Country for Old Pervs: The Fall of the Houses of Terry Richardson and Dov Charney” protests that “The girl-next-door [is] now indistinguishable from a porn star,” and that American Apparel’s “porno-styled print ads” are to blame. For me, this merger of conventionality and sexuality is the opposite of a problem; it’s a promise. It’s American Apparel’s mission statement. The advertisements promise consumers that by wearing these clothes — with their high-waisted, short-hemmed, thigh-high tendencies towards the 1970’s — any American girl can become an effortlessly cool, highly sexualized version of themselves. In other words, they can become Dov Charney’s ‘Classic Girl’.
But do the clothes themselves deliver on that promise? Or does the sexual promiscuity of Charney’s ‘Classic Girl’ rely on the half-naked styling of his models? Once a girl gets fully clothed in any of the collection’s numerous styles of collared shirts, pleated pants and loafers, it becomes clear that we’re dealing with the heritage of Katherine Hepburn, not Traci Lords. Honestly, I think American Apparel could make it naughtier.
As Lambert suggests, Dov Charney’s personal fetishes — “fed from a diet of ’70s and ’80s porno mags” — may indeed inform the aesthetic of American Apparel’s advertising campaigns. And Charney’s long-term vision for American Apparel couldn’t possibly come off more macho-centric than his declaration: “We’ll be a heritage brand. It’s like, liberty, property, pursuit of happiness for every man worldwide. That’s my America.” But, looking at the actual clothes that make up Charney’s ‘Classic Girl’ collection, I don’t see the evidence of any sexual imposition. I see cable-knit sweaters, turtlenecks and Mary Janes — the most scandalizing thing about the whole collection is the number of colors you can choose from. Sure, the line includes pantyhose and camisoles that require a revealing photograph in order to be well represented, but the clothes themselves are no wet dream. They’re classic in the sense of respectable — almost scholastically prude — femininity.
Who knows, maybe Charney’s into schoolgirls this year.
Guest blogger, Meagan Waldrip is a writer and fashion enthusiast. She currently resides in Austin, Texas.
Photo source: American Apparel