Abercrombie & Fitch isn’t exactly a retailer known for modesty.
The firm has long been criticized for gracing its store walls with borderline porn images of chiseled teen boys and curvy teen girls modeling skimpy and revealing clothing in provocative and suggestive poses.
Some sought to ban Abercrombie’s catalog a few years back. It was not like the tantalizing Sears & Roebuck catalogs your grandfathers as school boys flipped through checking out women’s underwear. Before the dawn of the Age of the Internet, the Abercrombie catalog would have had to have been mailed in a brown paper wrapper.
The firm takes great pride — and profit — in raising the ire of those who take a dim view of bigger-than-life skin shows in black and white prints while their hormone crazed teens shop in darkened mall stores with heart throbbing music egging them on.
It is against that backdrop in 2008 when a then 17-year-old Samantha Elauf applied for a job at an Abercrombie store in Tulsa.
Elauf, by all accounts, was passing the interview with flying colors. That was until a senior store manager pointed out that the headscarf Elauf was wearing was considered blasphemy when it came to Abercrombie’s strict dress code for workers that prohibits head scarves as well as anything that was black.
Mind you, this was an Abercrombie’s Kids store. But then again if you’re working hard to profit off youthful angst tinged with sexual awakening no deviation to the image you’ve crafted can be allowed.
Elauf — who is Muslim— found out she was rejected for employment due to her headscarf. Elauf sued for religious discrimination. The case is now being reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
One might think it is a bit odd that a young Muslim woman wearing a headscarf for religious reasons that are rooted in modesty and reverence wouldn’t have issues working for Satan — so to speak. Abercrombie & Fitch is a firm that dismisses modesty as unprofitable and has about as much reverence for religious mores as the devil does for lost souls.
But this is America. And it is 2015.
It is a land where cultures, religions, ideas, visionaries, and revolutionists clash.
The melting pot is constantly simmering with new ingredients.
It is why it is not contrary for a young devoted Muslim or Christian to consider working at a firm such as Abercrombie while carefully walking the line to keep the retailer from consuming their core beliefs. After all, if Abercrombie has no problem with individuals wearing or displaying religious symbols spending money in their stores they should have no problem have them working there.
Abercrombie is arguing this is all about “looks” and not the fact Elauf is a devoted Muslim. Horsefeathers. You can’t separate looks from religion in a number of instances.
The document that protected the profit-driven individuals behind the Abercrombie marketing machine from repeated efforts — often by religious individuals — to have their stores and such toned down for being an affront to “public decency standards” also protects those who embrace religion from being excluded from the workplace.
It is why the Muslim advocacy group that helped Elauf bring suit against Abercrombie & Fitch is being supported by Christians, Orthodox Jews, and gay rights groups among others.
Elauf unwittingly walked into the lion’s den wearing a religious garment that the marketing gods of Abercrombie & Fitch take great offense. However, she was never engaged in a conversation about dress rules for the workplace but was outright dismissed as a potential employee for wearing the headscarf.
How would they have known that Elauf wouldn’t have shed the headscarf while she was on the clock? But at the same time should Abercrombie be allowed to have such a requirement given they could also ban employees from wearing crosses and other religious symbols as well simply because it doesn’t mesh with their carefully crafted look?
It begs the question whether Abercrombie & Fitch would hire a 40-year-old sales clerk or a teen girl that is 80 pounds overweight. The answer can be seen in any of their stores.
It is clear that Abercrombie & Fitch views public accommodation laws and rulings as not fitting to their hormone-tension driven marketing based on their perception of “perfect” bodies and “perfect” clothes.
At the end of the day, Elauf holds American values much dearer and stronger than her litigation opponents.
This land isn’t about homogenizing everyone from their looks down to their values. That’s the stuff reserved for the world of Big Brother and George Orwell’s 1985. America is about different cultures, religions, and belief systems coming together on the stage while still holding onto what makes them different and unique.
Yes, Abercrombie has a look. And if Abercrombie has a religion, its idol is the greenback and its bible is devoted to targeted marketing of 13 to 25 year-olds.
Elauf can embrace both worlds and keep her moral compass.
It isn’t a stretch for Abercrombie to do the same and still hold onto their profitability.
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt,and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Journal or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.