When American Apparel relaunched earlier this year, it seemed like the embattled brand was taking a step in the right direction after its sale to Canadian retailer Gildan in 2016. Last month, its “NUDES” line was pitched as “a celebration of diversity and inclusivity”; ads featured women of various shapes, sizes, skin colors and backgrounds. Models for the Spring “Back to Basics” line, which showcased simple silhouettes and gender neutral designs, were selected via American Apparel’s social media channels to symbolize diversity. But the relaunched brand’s Fall line shows it might be back to business as usual.
For the most part, the men and women donning the knit soccer jerseys, fleece zip-up hoodies, bomber jackets and strapless bodysuits resemble the kind of models who were synonymous with the brand before founder Dov Charney was accused of sexual harassment and the brand was forced to declare bankruptcy. The distinct lack of inclusivity goes even further: the biggest size on the men’s Straight Jean is 36/30. The Slim Jeans just offers a size 36.
In a press release for the NUDES campaign, American Apparel pointed to its “mission to empower through representation.” But do these jean sizes even represent the average American male, who, according to the National Center for Health Statistics has a waist size of about 40 inches? Hoodies and underwear come in XL and 2XL, sure, but someone who purchases the “They O.K. All pronouns welcome” shirt in an XL likely can’t purchase a size 36 jean.
American Apparel didn’t respond to our request for comment. But Khairan Majid, the brand’s head of merchandising, says in a statement that the latest collection “offers an inclusive and refreshing take on fashion basics with longevity. We wanted to break down barriers with gender-neutral silhouettes and a wider size range.”
But how wide is that size range? The Fall/Winter lookbook includes the women from the NUDE campaign, but a look at the women’s line disproves inclusivity again. The Button Flare Jean only goes up to a size 32, even though the average American woman’s waist size is about 38 inches. Same goes for The Crop Pencil Jean. The model sporting them on their website is 5’9”, wearing a size 26. Hardly a show of inclusivity.
By contrast, Uniqlo offers up to a size 36 in denim in 23 different sizes for women. Most reviews compliment the size and stretch of Uniqlo’s jeans. For men, Uniqlo offers up to a size 46, and both male and female regular apparel ranges to a size XXL, with minimal complaints about sizing. H&M offers up to a size 36 jean for women as well, and 3XL in other attire. For men, the Swedish retailer offers up to a size 42, and also a 3XL in non-denim pieces. While there are some complaints of H&M’s sizing not being consistent, customers have a wider range from which to purchase.
Other brands are really putting their money where their mouths are. A few years ago, Aerie stopped photoshopping advertising photos and created a more inclusive range of sizing. Modcloth offers both straight and plus-sized garments, and their website posts two photos (both straight and plus-sized) of models to show what the garment will look like on each body type. Old Navy even promotes body positivity and diversity on its social media and their website, with an actual wide range of sizes.
Savannah Scott worked at American Apparel in 2009, when she was 16 and 17. “I was really skinny, as I am now, and I know for a fact that my appearance helped and everyone I worked with was model thin,” she says. She doesn’t buy into Majid’s notion that the size range is more accessible. “I think it’s totally a gimmick. The sizing was small then, it’s small now.”
Reviews of the denim suggest the sizing runs small—and many buyers suggest going up a size or two to save yourself the hassle of returning for a new size. “I normally wear a 25 but I find going up to a 26 or 27 makes them fit much better. i like them baggy so i get a 28,” reviewer Simone444 from Calgary, Alberta, Canada writes of the High-Waist Jean. These are slightly more promising at first glance, as they go up to a size 34. But if they run small, how promising is it, really?
Taller reviewers who conform to traditional sizing seem to have no problem with the jeans. “I am 5’9″ and I bought size 29 and they fit perfectly. Love the high-waisted look,” Pittsburgh, PA reviewer Caro writes, also of the High-Waist Jean. Cyn16 of Brooklyn echoes her sentiment when reviewing The Button Flare Jeans. “I’m normally a 2/26 and the the 26 fit perfectly! For reference, I’m a slim, but curvy, 5’5 124 lbs. Love them!!”
Looking through reviews, those with traditional body types seem to like the clothes, but there is little to no mention in the reviews of women of larger sizing buying them, much less enjoying them. It seems the same with men. Mmikey of Minneapolis had sizing issues with The Slim Jean. “I usually wear a size 30 waist. These were about half an inch too small in the waist. The only way I could get them to close was if I wore them very high up which was uncomfortable,” he writes.
Scott doesn’t believe American Apparel will succeed, despite their rebranding. “Society is too woke to put up with their bullshit,” she says. “I mean, I love their basics, but they’d have to really do a hard rebranding to win back the public trust.”