Job Seekers Pose for American Apparel Jobs

Discussion
Jun 15, 2010
Tom Ryan

By Tom Ryan

American Apparel felt the heat again last week but this time over its hiring practices. The apparel chain reportedly now requires job applicants to have full-body photos taken and then have their looks approved by corporate before they are hired.

An internal transcript of American Apparel’s May 18 conference call with retail managers, which details the new hiring process, was leaked to gawker.com. According to the gossip website, the photos of job applicants are sent to the email address work@americanapparel.net, where they are “approved” by a nameless person as a first step in the screening process. Current American Apparel employees also must have their photos approved before they are given a promotion or a raise, sources told gawker.com.

Documents on a company intranet website indicated the new policy is part of push to make the chain more fashionable. The transcript said, “American Apparel is headed in a more  sophisticated, expensive, classy direction.”

The policy includes guidelines for how employees are to apply makeup, cover up piercings and tattoos, what shoes can be worn, and how employees can remain “on brand” in “The New Standard.” The ideal look was described as: “Classy-Vintage-Chique-Late ’80s-Early ’90s-Ralph Lauren-Vogue-Nautical-High-End brand.”

One source told gawker.com, “Your looks determine your position and pay rate, not how effective you are at your job.”

American Apparel, often in the line of fire for its sexually-suggestive ads, released a statement from creative director, Marsha Brady, that said, “We do screen, but not for beauty. What we look for is personal style. We carry year round basics that are easy to understand and pretty much sell themselves as basics. But to really showcase the fashionability of our products, we have to rely on the way our in-store employees style themselves with our clothes.”

Among other chains, Abercrombie & Fitch has also been similarly scorned for its hiring policies. The restaurant chain, Hooters, has faced similar charges.

As expected, many responses to the gawker.com articles were irate over the hiring policy.  Said one, “All the more reason to continue not shopping at American Apparel.” Said another, “This makes me want to go into AA shops and rearrange things just for the hell of it.”

But another felt such policies are “pretty normal at retail” with another saying the only mistake was putting such a policy in print. Some saw it as a huge overreaction. Wrote one, “And?? This is a marketing game. Whenever a hot model does a beer commercial nobody says fat people are being discriminated against for a position in that commercial. This is no different.”

Said another, “Isn’t this the same hiring policy in place for the entire city of Los Angeles?”

Discussion Questions: Is it acceptable for retailers to make physical appearance one of the criteria in deciding what applicants to hire? Do you believe it is acceptable as criteria for continued employment with a company?

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14 Comments on "Job Seekers Pose for American Apparel Jobs"


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Ryan Mathews
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

People do it all the time–they just are usually a little more subtle about it.

How many grocery cashiers have facial tattoos?

How many morbidly obese people work in Nordstrom’s?

How many AARP members are greeters in health clubs?

How many transvestite news anchors are on major networks?

Anyway, you get the point.

American Apparel is uniquely dumb in their approach here if he reports are right, but they aren’t unique in terms of using physical appearance as a filter.

Bob Phibbs
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

I have to admit, I’m tired of shopping in stores for fashion where the clerks’ sense of style is a gray hoodie and sloppy jeans. Beauty may only be skin deep but it should be a consideration . Admit it; cute girls or handsome guys can influence a purchase. Their personality is more important but that’s another post….

Paula Rosenblum
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

The question is “which jobs?” For professional jobs like those in IT, I find looks play far less of a role. In stores? I think retailers seek to match their sales folks with their customer types. A&F certainly has been doing it for years. And even the department stores look for a certain image. And there’s a famous quote, attributed to Lex Wexner of the Limited that I won’t post here.

The problem with American Apparel is the reputation of its CEO precedes it. However, the company does a lot of things right, and it is more than entitled to hire in-store people that appeal to its core customer.

David Livingston
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

It is absolutely acceptable to make physical appearance a criteria for hiring. The sizzle sells the steak and retailers want employees with sizzle.

When I worked at the retail level we put our most attractive employees with good personalities at the front end. Putting an unattractive person in a highly visible position can be costly, unless they have other qualities which make up for their shortcomings.

Businesses should be able to hire and fire the same way we choose our friends and partners. We can give examples all day long from television to modeling. It’s no secret that in most brick and mortar businesses the better looking people have an edge. That doesn’t mean that people who have not been blessed with good looks can’t succeed. We see people all the time overcome this disadvantage with their personality, attitude, and hard work.

Len Lewis
Guest
Len Lewis
10 years 10 months ago

Can you smell lawsuit?

How dumb can you get. Of course, as others here have pointed out, hiring by looks is common practice. But don’t put it on paper. American Apparel will make the case that this practice is in concert with the company’s image and it is therefore within its rights to dictate looks and that the process is not a human rights issue.

Sometimes I wish I was a lawyer.

David Livingston
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

Len is right, hiring by looks is common practice, we just can’t put it on paper. It’s a sad day now when employers have to justify to the government and courts why they hire and fire someone. I have one client that monitors the security camera where job applications are handed out. Often his mind is made up before the application is filled out. Another restaurant client doesn’t even need to hire waitresses. They pay him for the opportunity to work at his restaurant because of the large tips they receive.

If looks were not a criteria for hiring, plastic surgeons would go out of business.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

A fashion retailer should always require their sales people to wear the retailer’s apparel. It escapes me that not all retailers require this. That being said, the salespeople should be able to wear the clothes well. If the style doesn’t fit then the hire should not be made.

Even UPS has requirements for their drivers, including the length of their hair and sideburns, the color of their undershirt, the shine on their shoes. No beards, of course. Projection of a company image is simply a part of the offering.

But, if AA’s policy of looks rather than performance extends to pay and promotion, the company is assured not to keep the best and brightest. Further, if the company’s policies extend to positions outside of the store, then they have a real discrimination problem. That policy is simply unacceptable.

Roger Saunders
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

Smart retailers spell out the standards for personal appearance in their Employee Manuals, as well as why they have those standards. They then coach the first line manager as to why they have those standards. Having video sent to ‘corporate’ is silly–those are not the people who will be running day-to-day store operations, or teach, lead, and motivate the crew, and make termination decisions.

“Set the table” properly in Day 1 of the interview. Keep the standards high–the retailer decides those standards. At that point, everybody is on the same page.

Body piercings, visible tattoos, etc, may be challenged, but everybody knows about it on the front end.

The consumer wants to deal with an associate who has the ‘attitude’ and ‘appearance’ to which they can semi-relate for what they are expecting.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

So–is this all academic or is it one of the underlying reasons for American Apparel’s apparent financial difficulties?

Some people may choose not to apply for jobs with the company. Other people (including some of those aforementioned) may choose not to support the company by making purchases. Obviously they are entitled to select staff that fit in with their image but if they persist in openly following such selection procedures, they must also be prepared to accept the consequences. Perhaps they should look at what happened to Abercrombie & Fitch when they, too, lost what little subtlety they had.

Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
10 years 10 months ago

Apparel is aspirational. The higher the fashion, the more aspirational. Am I going to buy fashion apparel from someone whose appearance is inconsistent with the aspiration? Probably not, any more than I would hire someone who is 5′ tall to play professional basketball. I don’t hear any complaining about that (at least not yet). As someone else pointed out, this screeching serves two populations–perpetual “victims” and trial lawyers.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

American Apparel made the mistake of publicizing their hiring criteria. Without that, this would not be an issue. Other retailers and HR Managers in general have hidden hiring agendas that are reflected in the general appearance of their staffs.

A major banking group was recently in the news for terminating a female employee whose attractive appearance was too much for the male counterparts to handle.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

Can one hire based on appearance? Yes, if the criteria are defined objectively and within the control of the applicant (no reason I need a nose ring staring me in the face unless I’m buying Elmer’s glue); WILL companies hire based on appearance, even when the second condition isn’t met?…yes.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
10 years 10 months ago

University of Chicago research shows that most hiring managers make a decision to hire or not to hire in 14 seconds or less — and then go on to prove themselves right in the interview. What do you think is considered in those first 14 seconds?

In the book, Blinked, it is reported that most decisions about people are made in even less than 14 seconds — most in less than 1 second — and most of that is going to be based on looks.

As said above, the biggest problem for AA was putting this in a directive that got published on the web.

John Crossman
Guest
John Crossman
10 years 10 months ago

I don’t see an issue when hiring a certain look, as long as it goes with the overall look of the retailer. Having sales associates with tattoos may be preferred for some retailers and discouraged by others. Retailers should be able to make these decisions without concern of lawsuits.

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