American Apparel: Average Looking Individuals Need Not Apply

June 15, 2010

By now, I’m sure that most of you have heard of American Apparel’s controversial hiring policies. Whether or not the alleged policies are entirely true or not, I would be pretty confident (and by that I mean up to 99% confident) that there is at least a sliver of truth in the accusations.

I should preface this post by admitting to the fact that I just got my wisdom teeth extracted and that the surgery has probably added to my anger with this whole matter…as a general rule, not being able to eat solid foods will pretty much always make me grumpy. But regardless, as someone who spent years working in an industry where a particular look was essentially forced upon employees, I think a lot of my disgust with these purported policies is pretty sound.

Here’s just one example of the guidelines that are apparently given to female employees:

a) Makeup is to be kept to a minimal- please take this very seriously. Liquid eyeliner, pencil eyeliner and eyeshadow are advised against; mascara must look very natural (ie. should not be clumpy or a color that does not compliment your skin and haircolor). Blush must not be overdone- should not have glitter or sparkles. Liquid foundation is prohibited (undereye concealer is understandable if it looks natural- ie. not clumpy or caked on, must match your skin tone). Please do not use a shiny gloss on your lips; any lipcolor must be subtle.
b) Eyebrows must not be overplucked. Full eyebrows are very much encouraged. Please do not dye your eyebrows a different color.
c) We encourage long, healthy, natural hair, so please be advised of the following:
-Hair must be kept your natural color.
-Blow-drying hair excessively could cause heat damage, so this is advised against.
-“Bangs” or “fringe” are advised against. It is not part of the direction we’re moving in.

Another delightful little tidbit about the way they allegedly treat their employees:

Not only did they police our clothes but our eyebrows, makeup, nails and hair color. They also openly mocked employees by posting photos of them online. Our store consultant also on several occasions told girls to lose weight or told them they were “too top heavy for crop tops.”

Obviously, I think it’s totally reasonable to ask employees to stick to reasonable dress codes, but to disallow dying your hair or using lip gloss is entirely a direct suppression of personal expression.

I could see how some people might argue that these guidelines aren’t all that bad as at least American Apparel is pushing a “natural” look and not forcing the girls to overdo it in terms of makeup or hair styling, but to me, the problem isn’t what look they’re pushing but the fact that they’re pushing any look at all. I feel like it demonstrates total lack of care or concern for their employees’ well-being.

Having been in a similar position myself I can personally attest to how demeaning and insulting it is to have your personal appearance criticized because you’re not fitting into a company’s “box” (case in point: I was told several times that my hair’s natural texture was not “work appropriate” – since when is slightly wavy hair offensive?).

So all of this raises the question: what do we do if all of this is true? I love American Apparel as much as the next person, but if they really treat their employees and potential hires in such a shallow and admittedly horrible way, I don’t know how comfortable I’d feel about buying their clothes anymore. Would a boycott be underway with other people in the fashion community?

Anyway, I should probably go back to icing my jaw, drinking smoothies and watching “Say Yes to the Dress”, so I’m going to stop thinking about all this and concentrate on recuperating. I hope you all have a lovely Tuesday, send healing wishes my way!

Also, for those of you who are interested, The Cut is going to be speaking with Dov Charney, the CEO of American Apparel, about this issue later today, so you can expect an article about it either today or tomorrow!

Images courtesy of American Apparel and

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  • Reply Fashion Cappuccino June 15, 2010 at 10:37 pm

    I just read an article about that on jezebel and I'm absolutely stunned that that's how they operate! I would never work at a store if those policies are true. I would be very curious what Dov has to say about all of this! Take care and I hope you feel better soon!! xoxoxoxoxo

  • Reply Anonymous June 16, 2010 at 12:14 am

    I agree wisdom teeth extraction is the pits…

    To comment on your post of AA's hiring requirements, I'm quite torn.

    I myself was a dancer, ballet, until I decided to go to college instead. I now study fashion design. As a dancer I understood there were "body-parameters" I had to meet. It had to do with aesthetics, no one enjoys watching an out of shape ballerina, but also fitness. Chubby or not if your lifting partner is unable to pick you up into a swan dive, then you can count on not being cast for a ballet.
    Plus thanks to physics you can't turn and move as easily or you are at a higher risk of injury. A dancer's feet are like a surgeon's hands.

    Yes, ballet gets the stink eye at times when a dancer falls ill from "the pressure" but those are the ones that can't manage a healthy lifestyle of exercise and diet.

    In AA's situation I'm not sure how anyone can disagree. If so don't apply for a job. Until these requirements are detrimental to the health of the employee (please correct me if I misunderstood, I know I am a lil behind the issue with AA) then what's the fuss? AA like any other brand is presenting themselves in the way they wish to be viewed, styled, etc. So aren't the clothing brand's employees are reflections of the company?

    Good issue to present, love your blog since I stumbled upon it!
    I'm wondering where you found your info…

  • Reply Alex Dom June 16, 2010 at 1:51 am


  • Reply ari June 16, 2010 at 5:51 am

    hello hun, thanks for stopping by my blog. this is a great post. I did hear abou this, but not in detail, I am in awe! I understand that they are going for a "natural look" but pushing it on their employees is just not right. everyone has the right to sport the look they want…. and that makeup policy is just wrong… I honestly can't live without foundation… I have the worse natural skin tone ever !! anyway changing the subject, about the grey shorts from my post… I actually found them at a Nordstrom Rack for $12.99!! I was just at the mall yesterday and I happened to see lots of cute floral ones at the Foreign Exchange ( not sure if you are familiar with it) they are smaller fast fashion chain… but I would reccomend to constantly check they have been having some lately… but they sell out quick!

  • Reply etoilee8 June 16, 2010 at 6:44 am

    Oh I kind of hate AA, so when this all came about, I just became even more smirky. I love the tri blend tanks and tees, but everything else is ill fitted awfulness.

  • Reply Alex Grant June 16, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    To Fashion Cappucino:

    Thanks for your get-well wishes! Somehow or another it's worse today. Not happy haha. Hopefully it goes away soon!

    To ari:

    Thanks so much for the heads up! I'm in Canada so no Nordstroms for me, but we do have Forever 21 so I'll check it out there. Love your blog p.s. 🙂

    To anonymous:

    Thanks for your feedback! I totally get what you're saying…I agree that obviously you shouldn't apply for a position at a shop if you know the brand has certain "look" requirements that might not be a good fit for you. I think the way I see it is just that AA took things a step too far. If you work at any clothing store, you're expected to wear the brand's label, and that's entirely legit. But to forbid employees from wearing very specific things (such as lipgloss) is taking things a step too far and I think it edges into squashing personal expression.

    I'm so glad you like my blog! Feel free to visit sometime again soon :).

    Oh and The Cut (NY magazine's fashion blog) has been doing a great job of keeping up on the AA issue so check it out there if you want more information!

    Love Alexandra

  • Reply fabfashionisto June 16, 2010 at 7:38 pm

    I have had ill feelings toward this company for a while now! do not forget the sevral sexual harassment claims against the owner of the company…my problem is with him and what he is pushing. Yes you must look presentable but that is just too much! After all I have heard from this company I cannot support them!

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