American Apparel filed for bankruptcy early Monday morning. I think I understand why (besides the failure of the “get your product mentioned in a 5 Seconds of Summer song” strategy.) The populace at large has finally gotten wise to something I’ve known for a while: American Apparel doesn’t sell clothes.
I have gone there many times, laboring under the misapprehension that I will be able to buy clothes there. Each time, I have been disappointed.
I am no fashion snob. I do not know what is in or what is out. I don’t accessorize. I barely coordinate. All I ask of a store selling clothes is that I can figure out, easily, what part of the body the piece of clothing in question is supposed to go on, and that I can get into and out of it without saying things like “oof” and “whoops” and “help?”
Really the only thing a piece of clothing must do, to satisfy me, is not be a leotard. Put it another way: If Miley Cyrus would feel comfortable wearing it, the odds are that I will not. I have nothing against Miley, but we work in different environments.
On both these counts, American Apparel fails.
You can buy things there, certainly — gold lame jackets, leotards, a scrunchie that will allow you to bend the Heathers to your will and costumes for a party whose theme is “Just As You Feared, The 90’s Are Sort of Back.” But to call any of these things “clothes” is putting it, I feel, a bit strong.
American Apparel sells dresses for figure-skaters. It sells full-body printed turtleneck catsuits. It sells thong bodysuits. Inexplicably, under “basics,” their website lists a “cotton spandex ruched front tube bra.” (Never leave home without it!) Generally you can manage to find an ugly shirt for twice as much as you expect it to cost, if you really concentrate hard and do not allow yourself to be distracted by the rack of something called Julliard Tops (not to be confused with Juilliard Tops, tops that have been to a rigorous acting conservatory). You can find a chunky knit sweater large enough to comfortably slipcover a family of four. At the back of the store are some very wearable-looking cute vintage items but they are sized to fit a piece of bamboo who has recently gone on a cleanse.
These are not clothes. They are costumes.
A good way to tell if a store sells clothes or costumes is to stare at the mannequins and ask “Where did I last see people dressed like that?” and the answer, for American Apparel, has always been “In an ad for American Apparel.” Its clothes are to clothes actually worn by human beings as the Millennials in a thinkpiece are to living, breathing Millennials.
Consider the leotard, their staple. Who is buying great quantities of leotards?! I don’t say that no one ever buys leotards willingly under any circumstances. Surely some people must buy them. I will grant that. But in enough bulk to keep this whole operation afloat? Is there a secret aerobics class going on that the rest of America enrolled in without telling me?
At its worst, American Apparel is a costume shop for a hipster theme party to which you have not been invited. At best, American Apparel is merely a front, and the drug that it sells secretly is tights. Its tights are terrific. Yes, they get a run in them if you so much as think impure thoughts around them, but they have such swell patterns! Some of them have punctuation on them! If the Old Testament God would save a city for the sake of one righteous man, then perhaps we should keep American Apparel afloat so that it can continue to sell tights with polka dots, bow ties, ampersands and semicolons on them, as is only just and right.
But to call American Apparel a clothing store for the sake of these is a bit strong. And as long as it persisted in this delusion, it was inevitable that this day would come.
Now the bankruptcy begins. Let us raid the back for tights and then destroy all traces of this store. After all, we would not want archaeologists to find it. They would think we actually dressed like this.
But wait: here’s more fashion!
The highest fashion: that of North Korea’s Kim Jong Un!