My friend Amanda Schmidt, who is wearing Abercrombie & Fitch for a solid calendar year
Back in high school, I avoided Abercrombie & Fitch like botulism. It seemed like literally everyone I hated (or at least was forced to tolerate) was dressed tip to tail in this stuff, and it defined their identity in a way that made my JNCO-clad ass a wee-bit uncomfortable. It's not even that the clothes look that bad—I have to admit, I'd absolutely destroy a croquet tourney in a Johns Brook Oxford Shirt. My problem with Fitchers was that they were seemingly able to efface all their racist and homophobic excesses simply by wearing the stuff, and still retain that hard-to-nail, Risky Business garden party sheen.
A few months ago, I noticed my friend Amanda Schmidt was wearing a sensible Abercrombie knit top to some dingy loft party. I just sort of assumed it was ironic and moved on—she's a musician, performance artist, and zinemaker, so chances are we were terrorized by the exact same people in our younger and more vulnerable years. Then I saw her a few days later at a party, this time sporting a staple A&F hoodie. I asked her what was going on, and she told me that she'd decided to wear Abercrombie & Fitch for a solid year as a sort of performance art/life project, and was currently documenting the whole thing on a Tumblr called AbercrombieAndFitchFierce.
To scroll through Amanda's Tumblr is to lull yourself into a deep and comfortable sleep: she looks pretty much the same in every image, barely ever smiling, rocking the 'Cromb. But a year? An entire year scooting around town in nothing but Abercrombie? I rolled this idea around in my mind for a few weeks. Even though I've got such a deep-seated prejudice against anyone who wears this stuff, in the words of LFO, I like girls that wear Abercrombie & Fitch. I can't help it; it's like Stockholm Syndrome. So I got over myself and decided to pick her brain to figure out what the hell she's doing to herself.
VICE: Hi Amanda. I've been following your Tumblr of Abercrombie photos for a while now and I think it's time that I talked to you about it. Where did this idea originally come from?
Amanda Schmidt: One afternoon last summer I was walking in Midtown and passed a guy wearing an Abercrombie & Fitch shirt. This happens all the time, but for some reason this instance struck me and I thought, "Maybe I'll wear Abercrombie & Fitch shirts every day for a year." It was an amusing thought that stuck with me. I started the project in November of 2012 and called it "Fierce (Untitled)," after the A&F cologne. I love Tehching Hsieh and Linda Montano; their durational works are major inspirations for what I'm doing. I'll be doing this until November of this year.
What are the parameters of what you're trying to do?
I wear an A&F graphic shirt and their cologne Fierce every day. Fierce is that smell you pick up in the store. The shirts are all purchased new. I currently have six T-shirts and three sweatshirts. I sometimes wear non-A&F undershirts or sweatshirts, but any over shirt I wear is button-down or zipper-down so that the A&F shirt is always visible.
To highlight the project, I also aim to not resemble a typical A&F customer in the rest of my outfit. According to years of extensive field research, not looking like an A&F customer entails avoiding a variety of signifiers, such as thick horizontal stripes, plaid, floral jeans (I was surprised to see these in the store last season), clogs, Uggs, flip flops, short denim shorts, your standard tight jean, or any new-looking denim, for that matter, any earth-tones and pretty much any pattern reminiscent of après-skiwear. I also avoid canvas shoes, because all the male employees in the flagship store wear them.
I pair the shirts with more alternative dress. This means a lot of thrift store stuff and loud prints. This juxtaposition aims to highlight the A&F shirt as a conscious choice as opposed to a brand affiliation or lifestyle default. It also decontextualizes the shirt and isolates the practice of branding so that it can transcend the specificity of A&F. As you can see in the photographs, some outfits are better than others. I have to rev it up for summer. I also need to think more about my hair.
What does Abercrombie represent to you, or I guess to our culture at large?
Abercrombie & Fitch is the king of teen mall culture, so to me it embodies low-brow elitism. I also associate it with early mornings on Black Friday.
Did you wear Abercrombie when you were a kid?
My big adolescent plight was that I wanted to wear it but couldn't afford it. The hierarchy was Abercrombie, American Eagle, Aeropostale, and then Hollister opened. Hollister was so cool that it didn't have a sign outside the store, but A&F remained the coolest. Maybe the haze of Fierce has something to do with it. Or the models.
What kinds of clothes were you wearing before you started wearing only Abercrombie?
On a good day, muted. On a normal day, boring. Black Urban Outfitters pants and an over-sized monotone shirt was my uniform. So this has actually taken me far outside my comfort zone.
Has anyone looked at you differently, or treated you differently than normal, since you started doing this?
Certain people notice my shirts, and a lot of women evil-eye the louder elements of what else I have on, depending on what aspect of the outfit is most out-of-context in a given situation. A couple people have asked what's up with the shirts, but aside from a bit more attention, not really.
Do you want Abercrombie and Fitch to know about you?
Yes! Maybe we can work out a fiscal sponsorship situation. I hope that my daily tweets at them get some response, or at least a free shirt, but so far nothing yet.
Has this project improved your life at all?
Yes. I've been reading fashion theory for the first time, and it's opened me up to a whole new world. And this revolution of my wardrobe has me feeling less self-conscious than ever before.
Are you sick of it yet?
Not at all, I'll be sad when it's over. All dress is inherently a performative choice, but not dressing for a specific project anymore will be boring.
Why not J.Crew or some other brand?
Abercrombie is more ubiquitous. It's for young people, and it's less classy. J.Crew says, "I'm a professional living in Manhattan and I may go boating this weekend." Abercrombie says, "I live everywhere and I'm going to the mall." It says youth. The brand needed to be a middle school throwback. Branding rules in school. So why do this so long after my school days? In my immediate community, people no longer wear brands from middle school, but a lot of the general population seems to. And by otherwise wearing stereotypically "alternative apparel," I'm not only referencing suburban mall tropes but alternative ones as well. We're all branding ourselves somehow; it's inescapable. This really interests me!
If you'd like to see many, many more photos of Amanda in Abercrombie, you can follow her Tumblr, AbercrombieAndFitchFierce. She'll be doing this for the next year.