Abercrombie & Fitch UK era

Abercrombie & Fitch was an era – but how did it have a grip on the bleak, cold suburbs of Britain?

Trying to live the Californian surfer boy dream from Stockport

If you’ve not watched White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch on Netflix, I can’t recommend it enough. The documentary feels like a fever dream – a time capsule of the recent past that really puts into perspective how much the culture has moved on without us even paying that much attention. The Abercrombie & Fitch UK era was wild. The documentary film features interviews with former staff members that were shoved into the back because of their race and took a lawsuit against the company because they were discriminated against, even though Abercrombie & Fitch countered it by saying they were fired not because of their race, but because they weren’t attractive enough.

Watching the documentary, I was appalled – but not surprised at this ideology being pushed as aspirational. I couldn’t help but think about how this truly American brand, American craze, swept through my suburban Stockport high school. It was a very white, middle class area admittedly – but why were we trying to live out our American dream from the overcast parks of Marple? The Abercrombie & Fitch UK era ruled the school in the late 00s and early 10s – making suburbia SoCal one hoodie and vest at a time.

LA vibes!

‘I couldn’t afford anything so I just asked for a carrier bag’

White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch touched on something I found extremely interesting and honestly hadn’t really thought of before: How shopping malls were the centre of our worlds. It didn’t matter if you were even going to buy anything – you just went there to hang out. To linger. I remember when I was 15 me and a mate got a bus journey that in total took us one and a half hours to go to The Trafford Centre (it was literally a 20 minute drive if you went a direct route but that wasn’t an option) to just spend the day walking about. All we bought were Wonka Nerdz sweets from Selfridges and a Maccies. Did we buy anything from Hollister? Of course not, but we queued up to go in regardless.

Abercrombie & Fitch UK era

Hollister and Abercrombie & Fitch combo worn the way the designers intended it: Soaking in the British snow

My point here is that because going to shopping centres and malls was just what we did, these shops with their gimmicks and American frat fantasies had us hook, line and sinker. We wanted a taste. A piece of the American pie. And could you blame us? We were a generation raised on endless US teen drama. 90210, John Tucker Must Die, She’s The Man, Mean Girls – it was embedded into us. This was the peak of living and the lifestyle we’d do anything for. And if that meant that the only way we could have it was by wearing the latest craze of sweatpants and zip up hoodies sold to us by what looked like American surfer bros but were actually just 16 year old lads from Wigan.

‘I queued up for a picture with a topless man and then bought a key ring’

When I was watching the documentary, all I could think about was my friend Melissa. If there was a girl in my school who Abercrombie & Fitch should have been paying for advertisement, it was her. She’d bought into their brand in every way they could ever have wanted a teenager from the north of England to buy into it. “I literally used to go the shop to stand and queue to have a photo with a half naked fit guy. And then buy a key ring, because it was all I could afford, to get the bag that I would use for months and months and months as a PE kit bag until it was sellotaped together because the cardboard was falling apart,” Melissa told me, when I reminded her of her A&F era. Over 10 years later, it sounds fucking ridiculous. But we were all doing it.

Such Californian chic!

Hollister, Abercrombie & Fitch and Gilly Hicks – if you had a bag from there to carry your musty PE kit round in then you were the coolest 15 year old freezing your tits off in the suburban Manchester playground. I called out for pictures and stories of everyone else’s memories of this era – because whilst White Hot is comprehensive in its documentation of the craze and rise and fall of Abercrombie & Fitch in the US, the UK affinity for it and the manic era that took hold feels far more a fever dream.

‘The interview was two questions and a Polaroid photo’

“I remember queuing to get in Westfield Shepherd’s Bush Hollister in a roped off line like we were waiting for a theme park ride,” said Holly on Twitter. “I forced my whole family to walk miles on a trip to London just we could go to the shop – but because I was a chubby teenager I could only get a top because nothing else fit. Kept the bag for PE for weeks after, obvs,” said Niamh on Instagram, followed by Lois saying “What’s even funnier about the one I had is that it was a fake! I begged my mum for one in Turkey.” Confession time: My iconic red Abercrombie hoodie was also a Turkey fake. Lock me up!

If it’s not a Turkey fake, we don’t want it!

What about working there? White Hot covers the process extensively for how it was in the US, but ex-Hollister (owned by Abercrombie & Fitch) employee Matt Riley told me on Twitter: “I worked at the Liverpool Hollister store in college. I had no idea what it or Abercrombie & Fitch even were. The interview for it was two questions: When have you worked under pressure, and what animal would you be. Them and a Polaroid photograph. I got the job and I was put in the stockroom. In the back but I’d still have to wear jeans and flip flops? Risking my toes every shift for their big moveable metal shelves.”

I think that sheer disregard for toe safety and the fact they had staff dressing like they were on the West Coast in the North West of England tells you all you need to know about the fact the Abercrombie & Fitch UK craze was truly an era – one that we’ve moved on so far from that it feels like a fever dream. Will this kind of mania ever grip young people again? Or have we as a society become more awake to the nonsense – more on the look out for bullshit? There’s a celebration of independence and not following the crowd that didn’t really exist circa 2010. Fitting in was better than standing out. Desperate to look on trend – even if that meant dressing like a surfer dude whilst it rained on you in Warrington.

White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch is available on Netflix now. For all the latest Netflix news, drops, quizzes and memes like The Holy Church of Netflix on Facebook.

Featured image photo before edits by Craig Melville on Unsplash

Related stories recommended by this writer:

Netflix has tell-all doc about the rise and fall of Abercrombie & Fitch coming this month

Netflix’s next true crime Our Father tells the creepy story of a former fertility doctor

A British Horror Story: Every single celebrity convicted by Operation Yewtree