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

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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 Style.com. 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.

38 thoughts on “Fashion Beyond Abercrombie & Fitch (or How to Develop Your Own Style)”

  1. 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!

    xoxo

    Reply
  2. 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.

    Reply
  3. 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.

    Reply
  4. 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.

    thanks

    Reply
  5. 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?

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  6. 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.

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  7. 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!

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  8. 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.

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  9. 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.

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  10. 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.

    Reply
  11. 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.

    Reply
  12. 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.

    Reply
  13. 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.

    Reply
  14. 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..! =]

    Reply
  15. 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!

    Reply
  16. 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.

    Reply
  17. 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.

    Reply
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  19. 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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  22. 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.

    Reply
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  24. THANK YOU SO MUCH!
    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!

    Reply
  25. 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.

    Reply
  26. 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.

    Reply
  27. 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!!
    xoxo

    Reply
  28. 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!

    Reply
  29. 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.

    Reply
  30. 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

    Reply
  31. 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.

    Reply

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