A Former American Apparel Employee Dishes on Her Time Working at the Company
The application process was like every other job application. A generic looking online form to fill out and click send. Bada bing bada boom. Very standard except for one little thing… Along with your application, you had to submit three, yes three, photos of yourself. Normally, something like this would have sent me running, but at the time I was desperate for a new job that didn’t involve me smelling like food when I clocked out. After I emailed my application, I had to wait what felt like an eternity for a call back. The only thing that was going through my mind for the next few weeks was how terribly ugly I was going to feel if I didn’t get an interview. “Fortunately” I received a call asking me to come in. This was only the beginning of what was going to be a long run of judgements on my ability to perform tasks, such as hanging clothes and ringing up customers, by analyzing my looks.
Because I usually do well with face-to-face interviews, I wasn’t feeling too scared to meet with the managers of the store. Everything went well. They asked me the usual boring interview questions and I gave them the usual bullshit answers. They seemed like they were interested, so I shook their hands and thanked them for interviewing me because the interview was over, right? Wrong. You see, the original three photographs were only approved by management. They needed more photographs of me to send to corporate so the big wigs in Los Angeles could judge my appearance as well. Obviously, I wasn’t excited for this. Another damn photo shoot. You would think they would take these pictures of me in the store or in the storage area, right? Wrong. They had me stand by the Cheesecake Factory entrance so that people who were craving avocado spring rolls and caramel pecan turtle cheesecakes could watch me put myself on display for a minimum wage retail job. After these mug shots were taken, I had to wait another week or so to finally hear that corporate thought I was “good enough” to work in a mall.
The job was very simple. The hardest part of working there was actually their dress code. I mean, it was simple enough: Wear American Apparel. But, that really wasn’t all there was to it. They wanted their employees to be creative when it came to wearing their clothing because, lets face it…at the time, the clothing was boring as hell. I was working there when they still only sold basics. They pretty much wanted you to dress like the models that you see in their ads and I guess there weren’t many people who were cutting it. So to scare us into “having fun” with the clothes, management started taking our pictures during every shift we worked so they could send them to corporate. Pictures. AGAIN.
The special events at the store were just ridiculous. I only had to work there during two of them, so I’m not sure if they continued doing this, but the ones I experienced were mind boggling. The first one was the underwear sale. They told their employees (half of which were teenagers by the way) that they had to wear underwear around the store. When I told management there was no way I’d walk around the store in my underwear, they made me give up my shift for that day so I wouldn’t get written up for going against the dress code. I lost a day’s pay because I didn’t want to prance around in my panties. Then the bathing suit sale come up. As long as I wore my bathing suit, I wasn’t going to get written up, so I got creative. I wore one of their one piece suits, but with tights, a skirt, and a cardigan on top of it so I wouldn’t feel like a piece of meat. That was my version of yelling “Damn the man!” with my American Apparel clothing.
Then, corporate ended up having the brilliant idea of sending out a weekly flyer that went out to all employees nationwide which humiliated people based on the daily photographs they were taking of us during our shifts. One of the flyers that stood out was one that showed a female Asian employee with naturally thin eyebrows negatively juxtaposed against a photo of a white girl with Brooke Shields style eyebrows like “this is beautiful and this what we want.” Imagine the fear we all felt. “What if I end up on there?” I thought. Would people all over this country laugh at me because I decided to wear my disco pants with the wrong shoes!? Would they judge me because a little bit of my muffin top was sagging over the circle skirt that I wore?
I’m not sure how other people would react to an environment like this, but I ended up feeling more self conscious than ever. I can’t imagine ever having a job that would lower my self esteem like that job did.
Shortly after the daily pictures began, I moved to Austin. I actually tried transferring to a store here in town, but it ended up not working out. That’s probably the best thing that ever happened to me.