It's been a rough stretch for Abercrombie & Fitch. In May, a resurfaced interview with CEO Michael Jeffries noted that the outfitter caters exclusively to "the cool kids," drawing a bevy of boycots and criticisms. This month was no different, as a shirt with the words "#more boyfriends than T.S." caught flack and has since been pulled from the shelves. Assumed to be referencing Taylor Swift and her notorious love life, the design was attacked by the singer's legion of devout fans.
The shirt was a problem, there's no mistaking that. But it goes way beyond a jab at Taylor Swift.
Abercrombie & Fitch isn't new to the world of low-brow T-shirts. This and this are still in stores, while all of these were sold at one point. Yet bringing in a celebrity completely changes things. Much like when Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino was roped into the brand's domain, involving Swift and her public persona means advocating a very distinct lifestyle and culture. The ever-present models of the all-American boy and girl in A&F outlets aren't nearly as effective as a real person.
Real, of course, being a very loose term. Using Swift's convoluted romantic history as a bragging right promotes dating as some sort of game with a scoreboard, but it's important to remember how Swift's media persona is largely generated by tabloids and the Internet. While Swift attempts to debunk the image of her as a dating machine through interviews and lyrics, Abercrombie & Fitch seems to like that version better. There's a problem when the surface-level headlines of a celebrity are promoted more than the celebrity itself, especially when they're marketed to Abercrombie & Fitch's target audience of middle and high schoolers.
The hashtag is as gimmicky as the shiny silver text. The message, however, is dangerous. Do girls get credit at school for having as many boyfriends as Taylor Swift? Is it cool to emulate a tabloid celebrity? Does wearing the shirt create the illusion that a girl's been around, and is that illusion ever favorable?
There's plenty of things to like about Taylor Swift. She's a relentless philanthropist, a critically acclaimed musician and, from the sound of it, a fairly down-to-earth person. The one thing that should not be praised is the caricature of Swift as the romantic object of a cycle of actors and teen pop stars, becoming linked to one for three months before moving on to the next.
Ultimately, the shirt was pulled because the protests from Swift's rabid fan base, not from complaints about what the shirt was advocating. If the text still mentioned some pride in having a ton of boyfriends without referencing Swift, it would probably still be on those perfume-addled shelves. It's less about who that caricature is of, and more about what that caricature is saying.