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Abercrombie & Fitch says it will stop hiring workers based on ‘body type or physical attractiveness’

A passerby has her picture taken with Abercrombie & Fitch models outside a Singapore shopping mall on December 9, 2011. AFP PHOTO / SIMIN WANG

Getting a job folding shirts at Abercrombie & Fitch is about to get easier for people who don't look like they just stepped off a runway.

On Friday, the teen retailer announced it will no longer hire store workers based on their "body type or physical attractiveness" and will give employees more leeway in what they wear to work. The company also said that by July it would no longer feature "sexualized marketing" and would stop the practice of using shirtless models or lifeguards at events and store openings for its two major brands, Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister.

Rather than call its sales staff "models," employees will now simply be referred to as "brand representatives."

The new hiring policy for both brands also states that the company wants to hire "nice, smart optimistic people" who have a "strong work ethic" and are focused on providing great customer service.

This is a change for the company.

The announcement comes less than six months after longtime and controversial CEO Mike Jeffries stepped down from the board and from his role as chief executive. Jeffries was known for building the teen brand into a youth fashion empire, one that featured sexualized and controversial advertising of young male models with six-pack abs. In 2013, Jeffries himself came under fire for past comments he made about the brand's "exclusionary" marketing.

Part of the mounting public pushback against the brand had to do with the company's "Look Policy," a highly specific set of guidelines for employees that reportedly included rules on everything from hairstyles ("sunkissed/subtle highlighting" was okay, but "chunks of contrasting color" were not) to fingernails (polish had to be skin-toned and nails couldn't be longer than a quarter inch).

The company's new dress code softens its approach, with a broader requirement that workers simply be "neat, clean, natural and well-groomed." There are still some no-nos, however: Unless they have an approved accommodation, employees can't wear excessive jewelry or makeup, visible piercings other than in the earlobes, large tattoos or headwear.

In perhaps a nod to its current legal woes, the company now notes specifically that it will accommodate disabilities and "sincerely-held religious beliefs." Abercrombie has been in a Supreme Court case involving a Muslim woman who claimed the retailer denied her a job because of her head scarf.

All of these moves come at a time when the company has been facing slumping sales, as teens have increasingly moved away from the brand.

In response, and in addition to Jeffries' departure, the company has appointed two new brand presidents, adopted an incentive program for managers that is tied to sales and customer service goals, and made changes to its apparel and store environments, such as brightening up the lighting and taking logos off of clothes.

The company said in Friday's announcement that it "expects that it will take some time for customers to realize the benefits of all of these changes."

Read also:

Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries steps down

Not so cool anymore, teen-focused retailers like Abercrombie try to reinvent themselves

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