Not Your Father’s Tweeds

  Imagine how you'd feel if a publication arrived in your mailbox featuring a photograph of a naked young man in bed with four adolescent girls, a photo of a topless girl riding an elephant, and a photo of three couples sleeping in the same bed. No, I'm not talking about Hustler magazine or Playboy. I'm describing a clothing catalog your own kids may be getting in the mail: Abercrombie & Fitch. Today, Abercrombie & Fitch is selling a lifestyle message along with its shirts and khakis. For the first 100 years of its existence, Abercrombie & Fitch was the place where upper-class men like Theodore Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway could purchase outdoor gear and classic tweedy clothing. But in 1992, Abercrombie & Fitch was recast as a catalog for college kids--a marketing plan that proved wildly successful. Abercrombie and Fitch now operates 200 stores across the U.S., with another 36 scheduled to open this year. The Boston Globe calls it "absolutely the hottest place to buy clothes this year." The company has even opened an offshoot, aimed at 7-to-14-year-olds, called Abercrombie. Part of the new marketing approach, however, was to cast its customers as supremely cool and sexually sophisticated. For example, a recent catalog contained an article offering an alphabetical checklist for young men getting ready to start college: "C" is for "condoms in ample supply;" M is for "martini shaker;" Q is for "queen sized bed." You get the drift. Another article, entitled "Drinking 101," included recipes for drinks with names such as "Foreplay" and "Sex on the Beach." And another piece called "The Rules of Attraction" taught the dos and don'ts of "dorm room seduction." Among other things, it urged students to "negotiate a special group rate at a local motel, which your entire quad can take advantage of." The catalog is in keeping with the contemporary American view that youth is a time for experimentation with different pleasures--and little else. But it's abhorrent for adults to corrupt kids deliberately this way--all for the sake of making a buck. Scripture clearly takes this issue seriously, warning what will happen to those who cause children to stumble. Instead of allowing clothing catalogs to teach our kids how much fun it is to drink and have sex, we parents ought to be teaching them the kinds of lessons and values they must absorb in order to thrive as adults. Some angry parents are teaching Abercrombie & Fitch a few lessons, as well. In Boston, parents have picketed the store with signs calling the catalogs pornography. They're outraged, one mother said, because the company is sending the message that "it's okay for young teenagers to be having sex." And last year Mothers Against Drunk Driving protested the catalog's Back to School drinking article--so loudly that Abercrombie & Fitch recalled it. Good. You might want to find out if your own kids are receiving the Abercrombie & Fitch catalogs. If they are, talk to them about what's wrong with messages that encourage drinking, and engage them by teaching them about the falsehoods Abercrombie & Fitch is peddling alongside its baseball caps. Your godly advice will serve them long after those Abercrombie & Fitch khakis have worn out.


Chuck Colson


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