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Fashion Beyond Abercrombie & Fitch (or How to Develop Your Own Style)


Girl Wearing Abercrombie and Fitch Shopping Bags
Photo by MegElizabeth_

Today I want to talk about something that I see in girls who are just out of high school all the time – thinking that they love “fashion” when really the mass-market retail world has blinded them to what real style is all about.

This is something I like to call “The A&F Trap.”

That’s how I was for part of my high school years: oblivious to real style and just buying up whatever I saw in A&F stores.

Sure, I thought I looked cute and fashionable then, and got some compliments on my clothes. But now when I look back, I realize how constrained and totally boring my style was!

Of course it’s fun to feel like you fit in, as if that moose-embroidered henley you’re wearing makes you a tiny bit cooler somehow. At the same time, it’s much more rewarding to find your own sense of style, mixing and matching different labels, styles, trends and ideas to create something that’s uniquely YOU!

Why Real Style Is Better

Take it from me: as nice as it is to be complimented on your straight-off-the-mannequin outfit, it’s so much better when someone compliments you on a look that you worked to put together yourself with pieces from all over the place. That way, you know they’re complimenting your unique style and eye for fashion, not the “fashion” know-how of some merchandiser in an A&F store.

It’s Not Just A&F

Not that there’s anything really wrong with good old A&F: they do have some cute stuff at times! In fact, I swear by their basic tanks because they’re long and stretchy. BUT… it’s not the end-all be-all of fashion and style!

Really, I’m not trying to knock Abercrombie. It’s just an example of a brand that sucks people in. If you wear nothing but AE, GAP or J Crew, this applies to you too.

What I’m trying to stress here is that if 95% of your wardrobe bears only one label, you are in need of a style re-evaluation.

It’s not “a look” to wear nothing but one brand head to toe. If you walk around campus and see multiple girls wearing the same outfit as you in different colors, it’s time to really think about things, and get started expressing yourself through your clothes, not somebody else’s ideas.

How To Get Out of the A&F Trap:

  • Take a 30-day A&F break – The next time you go to the mall, resist the urge to stop in to that store (it doesn’t have to be A&F, apply it to whatever store the majority of your clothes come from.) Try out another shop that you don’t go to so often and see if anything appeals to you. Better yet, check out cute accessories instead of buying more plain tops and jeans you don’t really need. Even better, skip the mall all together and move on to step two.
  • Branch out – Visit your local vintage store, that unique little boutique downtown, or just raid your most fashion-forward friend’s closet. Look at textures, colors and patterns, and take note of what really speaks to you. Make an effort to buy or borrow something that you really love: bonus points if it’s something that you wouldn’t normally wear!
  • Study up on style – I don’t mean memorize the latest trends or even necessarily try to emulate high-fashion looks. I’m talking learning about real STYLE. Look to fashion icons of the past: find photos and videos & examine what they wore and what elements of that style you find appealing. Flip through Vogue and browse the runway photos on Rip out or print whatever YOU really like. Learn about proportions.
  • Make mistakes! – Fashion is all about experimentation. Don’t be afraid to wear something crazy if you’re in love with it! In fact, it’s almost better if everyone thinks you’re crazy because that’s how you know you’re original. Even if you really regret wearing something later, remember that all the most famous style icons make fashion mistakes at some point. (If you don’t believe me, check out some old pictures of Nicole Richie! She wasn’t born the fashion trendsetter that she is today!) Making mistakes is part of learning about what works and what doesn’t. Everyone has to go through it, and it will only make you MORE stylish in the long run.
  • Build a wardrobe – Think long-term. Will you still love your A&F tops and ripped up jeans when you’re in the “real world”? The next time you go shopping, really think about classics. Invest in good-quality clothes that you’ll have for the future, and take good care of them to make sure they last.
  • Follow and skip trends as you please – I know I cover the latest trends a lot on this site, but I’m not saying you should follow them blindly! When you think about trends, don’t forget to consider what works for you, your style and your body. For example, I think the skinny jeans trend looks super-cute on lots of girls, but I don’t like how they look on my body, so I stick to my boot-cuts. In my opinion, it’s always better to skip a trend than wear something that totally doesn’t suit you. If, on the other hand, you LOVE one of the the latest spring trends for example, then go for it!
  • Look at fabrics, cuts and styles; NOT brand names – You want to look for quality, not for a logo you recognize. 9 times out of 10 the label on your clothing says absolutely nothing about its stylishness anyway. Don’t believe me? The girls at Jezebel proved that with their label whores experiment. Don’t be label obsessed, be STYLE obsessed! If it’s fabulous, wear it; if it’s not, don’t.
  • Learn about fashion – Getting your style outside the world of mass-market is so much easier once you learn about the fashion industry. Check out fashion show pictures, learn about how seasons work, get to know individual designer’s work (and how to pronounce their names!) The more you familiarize yourself with fashion, the more you’ll understand how it affects you. It’s really interesting to watch runway shows and then check out stores 6 months later and see different incarnations of the looks. It’s also incredible how everything repeats itself: just watch and you’ll see!
  • Never stop developing your style – Throughout your life, your style is going to grow and change. And that’s a good thing! Whatever you do, don’t let yourself get complacent and bored, wearing the same looks over and over. Have fun with your look and don’t be afraid to shake things up whenever you feel the urge!

At the end of the day, developing a unique style is something that I believe everyone who cares about fashion should do. I know it might be more work to find unique pieces and work them your way than it would be to just buy whatever’s new at the mall, but it’s so incredibly worth it. Don’t let a retail store define you: define yourself and show your personality off through what you wear! That’s what REAL fashion is all about anyway.

Posted on on April 2, 2008 / Filed Under: Fashion Tips / Tags: , , ,

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65 Responses to “Fashion Beyond Abercrombie & Fitch (or How to Develop Your Own Style)”

  1. 1
    April 2nd, 2008 at 8:09 pm

    Great post! I would also suggest looking at sites like wardrobe remix ( and the Sartorialist ( for inspiration.

  2. 2
    April 2nd, 2008 at 10:24 pm

    ah thank you SO much for this post! as a fashion merchandising major there is nothing that bothers me more than seeing so many girls who choose the major because they like to shop, whereas i truly love fashion and all that it entails. there is definitely a big difference!
    I think college is a great time to find your individual style and take some fashion risks!


  3. 3
    April 3rd, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    i totally agree. i was the same way i grew out of it once i started college.
    and now i evolved into my own style

    high school definetly makes you dress in a cetain way.

  4. 4
    April 4th, 2008 at 6:46 pm

    K – I love Wardrobe Remix, thanks for reminding me! That’s a really great site for inspiration of all kinds. And the sartorialist is perpetually on my “must-read” list!

    Lauren – I know what you mean. It’s so important to break out from the conventional if you really want to understand fashion and express yourself with style! And you’re so lucky you have fashion merch as a major at your school. Marketing’s the closest I could get at mine without being an art major…

    Sk – Isn’t it nice to get out of that mold? I feel like theres sooo much pressure in HS to wear nothing but A&F and match your friends all the time. It’s so boring when you look back on it! College is definitely the perfect time for a fresh start.

  5. 5
    April 7th, 2008 at 6:14 pm

    everyone at college looks exactly the same, i hate it. Everyone has a North Face jacket. I am writing a paper about how people can start to diversify their styles and this article has helped me. thank you zephyr, i think you’re the author.


  6. 6
    April 7th, 2008 at 6:53 pm

    sean – I know what you mean, it’s kinda sad when everyone looks the same all around you! Happy this article could help!

  7. 7
    April 8th, 2008 at 11:04 pm

    That certainly hits a spot when some random person you see on the street is wearing the same brand new clothes you bought the day before. Are vintage boutiques really a good place to start at rebuilding a wardrobe?

  8. 8
    April 9th, 2008 at 8:58 am

    Herbalife – Absolutely. Vintage boutiques are so great because you can find the most incredible stuff there. It’s always something that most other people don’t have, and the prices are usually great as well! Definitely recommended.

  9. 9
    April 24th, 2008 at 2:58 pm

    i completely agree! so many of my friends only wear hollister and abercrombie and fitch!

    this needs to be posted to like half the teens i know.

  10. 10
    April 28th, 2008 at 7:24 pm

    Kristy – I know! I should print out flyers and post them in high schools all over America, hehe. The world would be so much more interesting that way!

  11. 11
    April 30th, 2008 at 10:09 am

    For me, A&F is like a fashion starting point. It’s a way to look blandly nice when I oversleep or feel bad, times when I don’t have the energy to put effort into a real outfit but don’t want to leave the dorm in my pajamas. It’s not actually fashion, but it’s not horrible…it’s just neutral, and lacking personality.

  12. 12
    May 25th, 2008 at 10:34 pm

    k well A&F isnt sucking people in, theyre really cute n nice n good quality.

  13. 13
    May 26th, 2008 at 8:13 am

    Kay – That’s a good point. Some of their stuff is really basic and decent looking. I’m just against the idea that it’s “fashionable”, because it’s not a style in itself. I think you described it really well.

    Marie – I don’t think it’s “sucking people in” exactly, and I agree that some of their stuff is cute, but it’s so common to see HS girls wearing 100% A&F. From a fashion standpoint, it’s just a boring style to wear head-to-toe, and I think more girls should develop their own styles instead of just buying up what’s in retail stores right now.

  14. 14
    July 4th, 2008 at 6:08 am

    I am a 21-year-old male living in California. I am NOT familiar with FEMALE clothes from Abercrombie, so what I say here mainly applies to MALE clothes from Abercrombie.

    I still frequently shop at A&F stores not because I try to conform to the trend but because the style of A&F is exactly what I’ve been looking for-the “muscle” fit. I like to wear A&F shirts because they really show off my body type.

    I would buy ANY brands if they make “muscle” fits, but there are very few brands with the fit and even their items are very limited unlike A&F. A&F (and Hollister) is the only brand I know that makes exclusively “muscle” fits. Even American Eagle’s “vintage” fits are very limited since its main line is “classic” fits. The Gap’s fitted line has also been discontinued or very limited. On the other hand, A&F’s exclusive line of “muscle” fit shirts/ tops give me ample options to choose from.

    I agree that there are lots of kids who wear A&F just because it is a fad. There are, however, at least some people like me who wear A&F because its style really compliments their body shape, which is one of the most important functions of wardrobe- bringing out the best of your body.

    I just wanted to point out that everybody with A&F should NOT be categorized in one- “a tasteless fad follower” because I am sure there are lots of men and WOMEN who wear A&F in their OWN WAY, feel comfortable, and look great.

  15. 15
    August 23rd, 2008 at 8:31 pm

    I tottaly agree. I do LOVE abercrombie and hollister, BUT, everyone does wear the same thing. i think it is okay to have some things from A&F, but not your whole closet.

  16. 16
    September 18th, 2008 at 10:24 pm

    i shop at both Hollister and A&F, but i like hollister clothing better only because they have more color options than the boring pastels A&F has. I like to think of A&F as a good place to go for staples in my wardrobe, and basic peices. They have good stuff, but i agree that its kinda boring for your whole closet to be drenched in with mooses and seagull emblems :)

    BTW i loveee this site! i only just found it, but i recommend it to all my friends and family!!

  17. 17
    September 30th, 2008 at 11:27 pm

    i completely agree. Of course it’s ok to have a few cute sweaters from places like A&F when you feel like just being comfortable, but that should not take up your whole closet. A little bit of everything you love is good, not just one thing

  18. 18
    December 1st, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    I like your post. I really do, but I LOVE Abercrombie & Fitch. I have thought before that someday I may outgrow it and have to shop with a mind of my own, perhaps I would seek the advice of someone such as yourself, but than I saw (on the net) both David and Victoria Beckham totally decked out in ANF and I was like; I will never grow out of ANF, as long as I stay good looking and find a way to become rich and famous.
    Still working on the rich and famous, but I have quite a while to become before people start to look at me like I’m a child-stalker while shopping at Abercrombie.
    Oh yah, and I do have an anti-Abercrombie, it’s called Hollister.

  19. 19
    December 2nd, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    Icarus – This article wasn’t about the guys clothes at A&F. Also, I’m not saying it’s not fine to wear certain items from A&F if you like them – I have a bunch of their basic tank tops. I just think you should get beyond wearing only one brand & looking like a mannequin.

    MJC – EXACTLY! They have cute basics, but basics don’t make a whole wardrobe.

    Abercrombie Love – Okay Jason, I’m not talking about the guy’s clothes at A&F – I’m not in any way saying that I’m qualified to give guys fashion advice! David Beckham does look good in A&F because that’s his style – but he doesn’t wear only A&F and he doesn’t wear it every day. Also, I have Victoria’s book and she talks about A&F in there too – she has the same philosophy as me: they have cute basic tank tops, but no self-respecting person would wear an entire outfit 100% from there. Style is more than just wearing one brand and calling it a day.

  20. 20
    December 2nd, 2008 at 11:39 pm

    this was very helpful, and through it i have climbed out of my hollister, abercrombie&fitch shell and moved onto express, the gap, and the limited!

  21. 21
    January 4th, 2009 at 3:40 pm

    Thank for this.This will be very helpful to me

  22. 22
    January 14th, 2009 at 2:54 am

    Thank you for this article, I have been secretly wishing for some time that someone would make those points! As a consumer, one can become addicted to a store. But I worked at a clothing store for two years and I was always pressured by managers to buy the latest thing, which I didn’t agree with. Just because there was a new floorset, items I had worn only a few times were trash in her mind. As a fashion major, I have learned I was right all along. Wear what you want from different places, and invest in items that will last, mix high and low. LOL. its funny to reflect on that experience, seriously I wonder how boring it would be to have a whole closet of the same thing. Now I love when people look at me “weird” it just reminds me I am unique and better dressed than they are. I Love this site!

  23. 23
    January 17th, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    Great post! True style isn’t about conforming! I feel this article is very very true…. And… a breath of fresh air…. :-)

  24. 24
    April 20th, 2009 at 9:41 pm

    i think style is really just wearing what you like and making it work (with the proportions and patterns and everything) I’m in high school, and I don’t dress like everyone else (everyone dresses the same!) and I just wear what I want with confidence. It’s great!

  25. 25
    August 20th, 2009 at 9:25 am

    Well i think Abercrombie is a great brand, I love it, but I agree with the fact that it doesn’t really show your personality, but I think that it’s really good for people who don’t really take the time to shop, buy anything at Abercrombie and you will look good.

  26. 26
    August 27th, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    ok first of all im confused. Zephyr, you say you’re not talking about guys clothes, but don’t girls and guys (reguardless of age) shop at certain stores in order to “fit in” ? i dont see how there’s a difference b/w guys and girls…anyway. i admit, i do love to shop at abercrombie. lately they dont have a lot of great stuff, but i love how their pants fit me. And its ok to wear all abercrombie. they have such versatile shirts that i make my OWN style using their stuff. I do shop other places, but why i shop at abercrombie is b/c i like how the clothes fit me, i feel confident, and while im there i share a common interest with everyone in the store.

  27. 27
    August 29th, 2009 at 2:34 am

    This is so true. It sickens me to see everyone wearing the same thing. What happened to creativity and individuality??? I personally have my own style and i feel much more ‘cool’ this way than to wear what everyone else is wearing. I mean it’s like so much better to wear something that is so you than to wear something that is ‘fashionable’ and so not you. Haha. Having your own style is so much better. My friends can walk into different shops and pick out some stuff and say,”Omg, this is soooo Tammy.” Really awesome to have your own look and to look your own.

  28. 28
    September 19th, 2009 at 11:39 am

    OMG i just read this artcle because i just found out about this blog and i’m in love with it.
    I’m a sophmore at my college and its so true some girls still wear AE A&F..etc.
    I do admit that i am one of them, but thanks to this article i now no that that is not a style of its own!

    thank you!


  29. 29
    October 26th, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    Yeah, i really agree with this article.

    I’m still in high school and the style for most people is preppy. They stick to their hollister, AE and abercrombie. I dont really like that style because i go more for a diff. style such as punk but pretty too.
    I wish my friends would read this article so that they could change up their style and be different for once..! =]

  30. 30
    November 6th, 2009 at 1:34 am

    omg thx so much 4 the advice! a couple years ago i had my own style(maybe not the best but it was original) then when i moved i noticed EVERYONE weared AF, AERO, and Hollister so now my wardrobe is purely AERO. after reading this i’m definetly going to buckle, zumiez, Pac sun, ect. any other stores but AERO! tho i’m pretty sure i’m still gona wear label clothe, but i’ll mix them up and add my own style to it!

  31. 31
    May 3rd, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    yes!. i live in an area where The Buckle rules all. if you dont have the buckle jeans or shirts your style is just not acceptable. isnt quite amazing that this still stands.

  32. 32
    May 31st, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    I’m glad you mentioned the importabnce of knowing how to pronounce the brand names properly. When I was in junior high, there was a girl who solely wore A&F and pronounced it Amber-crombie.

  33. 33
    June 1st, 2010 at 12:24 am

    And ironically, I spell importance wrong.

  34. 34
    November 10th, 2010 at 6:16 pm

    I NEVER shop at Hollister and Abercombie And Fitch because those clothes are boring and looks the same to me. Yes I also hate the Northface jackets because they are so boring but has no fashion or style. I prefer to buy clothes from Target, Forever 21, Macys, Wet Seal, Charlotte Russe, and H and M since those clothes are stylish and I can put together a real outfit.

  35. 35
    December 2nd, 2010 at 3:06 am

    Over the next few weeks here at College Fashion, I am going to be featuring a series of posts on my top fashion tips. While some of the info may be basic knowledge for you, many of the pointers might even be new to some of you professional shoppers out there.

  36. 36
    January 20th, 2011 at 2:09 pm

    Thank you sooo much for posting this… theres nothing that annoys me more than ppl who only shop at one brand and thinks its the greatest thing in the world!!

  37. 37
    February 3rd, 2011 at 8:02 pm

    AMEN! Thank goodness for this post!

  38. 38
    April 3rd, 2011 at 3:01 pm

    Thanks for writing this post but everyone at my college has a Hollister logo tee and/ or jacket plus they all look like clones of each other. They need to find their own unique style and stop copying other people.

  39. 39
    May 22nd, 2011 at 7:45 pm

    Even in high school, I refused to wear anything from A&F 1) because it was boring and 2) because I strongly disapproved of their business practices – anyone remember the girl with the artificial arm they screwed around with? Yeah.

  40. 40
    July 18th, 2011 at 3:47 pm

    These are some great ideas. I definitely see how people can fall into the mass market/brand name trap and then everyone looks the same. Pretty unoriginal. I like combining my more classic pieces with trendy things. I also think it is very important to look at fabrics and stay true to more traditional ones like cotton and wool, if possible. While I like a few things from A&F, I’ve never been a huge fan of the brand, overall. Their stores usually leave me deaf and smell overwhelmingly of whatever their perfume/cologne is. For the most part, their styles are cut for really tall, underweight girls (although I’m very petite by most commercial standards), and their ad campaigns are pretty disgusting, in my opinion. So, I appreciate that you’ve used them as an example. Do you have any more advice on mixing and matching? Thanks!!

  41. 41
    July 31st, 2011 at 2:13 am

    I love this post! I wish all high school girls would read this! I am a senior in high school and have witnessed over and over the title of “Best Dresses” being awarded to girls who dress head to toe A&F, Hollister, and American Eagle.

  42. 42
    August 20th, 2011 at 2:17 am

    yes! i completely agree with this blog. when i was younger, my style was punk goth, and i didnt care what anyone thought of me. people would pick on me, but back then all of the girls wore justice, while i shopped at hot topic mainly, and justice sometimes. i got tired of being picked on around 6th grade, and i switched my style. i turned into an abercrombie-hollister-aero junkie, with no style other than copying other girls. so basically, i had no style.
    now i still shop at those stores, (thanks to these articles!) but my wardrobe isnt entirely consisted of them, and im glad. its boring to wear the same looking stuff everyday! i still follow some trends, i mean most girls do. and im coming back into my old style a little. i mean, now ill wear my vintage floral print doc martens with a and f jeans ;) i swear that defies all rules of style.

  43. 43
    September 12th, 2011 at 11:31 pm

    Great article. I tend to gravitate toward the same stores, but it’s because I like their stuff. I always try to mix in my own DIY accessories and thrift store sweaters and skirts.

  44. 44
    November 11th, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    I like this article, it’s just that stores like Abercrombie and Hollister are my personal style! It’s not that they have brand names and are popular, but I like the style of their clothing!!

  45. 45
    December 11th, 2011 at 10:19 am

    This is such a great post! One question: If I like Asymmetrical, Cropped, or any weird shaped outfit, what is the name of that style? Thanks, CF! :)

  46. 46
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  47. 47
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  48. 48
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  52. 52
    March 13th, 2013 at 2:13 am

    I know I’m a little late to the party, but I just had to tell you how much I ADORE this post! I couldn’t agree more. It is so easy to get sucked into becoming a mannequin clone and lose sight of what fashion is all about: expressing your individuality!
    I wish you’d have mentioned the OTHER trap: becoming the “unique” mannequin. I’m a huge black milk clothing fan, but after looking through the fan pictures on their website, I noticed a pattern. Nearly 90% (random number meaning “lots” here) were wearing Jeffrey Campbell Litas, leather jackets, had blue/pink/red/purple hair… you get the idea. The “unique” girl became the total opposite- a mannequin of what a “unique girl” should look exactly like!

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