The End of an Era

7 years ago by

Ask anyone you know, and they have a story about American Apparel. Almost always, the story starts with something they bought there, and where that piece took them…

The neon spandex from your ’02 Halloween 80s Glam Rock costume that you had to walk-of-shame in the next day through lower Manhattan (and not giving a F*(@)#$! — for the record, not me, but won’t name names here).

Or it’s the short white jumper and sleeveless hoodie combo you wore to a rave in Bushwick, that came home coated in a million different hues of black-light dye, topped off with a layer of glitter (maybe me).

Maybe it’s that bodysuit that fit perfectly with your casual (butt tight) jeans you always wore on a second date, when you’re deliberately trying to not try too hard… but not really at all (every girl I knew in my 20s).

Or maybe, it’s just the perfectly cut v-neck t-shirt you have in 6 different colors, that gets you through the summer (my fiancé Kris, an American Apparel shopper since the late 90’s, and I LOVE him in those t-shirts)…

Now, with the iconic brand’s closing, it’s time to say goodbye to an end of an era — and close the book on a piece of American fashion history… but at the same time, think about what this means for the future of fashion and retail.

What Dov Charney created in the late 1980s was no small deal (and let’s put the sleaze factor aside for a moment). Not only did he create a behemoth of a brand that was wildly successful for decades, but he also created a fashion movement. American Apparel was the original brand for the perfect basics from literally every category, and in every color imaginable… but it was never boring. Their basics were just the beginning. Their (at times) raunchy and (always) sexy ad campaigns made hipsters mainstream — and uncomfortably seductive as a new “real”, less skinny idea of the model emerged. But back to the sleaze factor for a second…The sexual harassment allegations that plagued the founder around the time of his dismissal can’t be ignored and will always be a negative (and frankly unacceptable) stain on how the brand will be remembered.

Then, there was the brand messaging. You could say they were among the first to really embrace the transparency in fashion movement we’re so deep into now. Charney made sure American Apparel’s “Made in L.A.” message was at the center of everything they did – from press stories (good or bad), to billboards on the Sunset Strip. Cue, the locally based fashion movement… now, everyone could know where their neon crop top was actually coming from! The brand that billed itself as an “industrial revolution” also took on activist causes with their “legalize LA” campaign in support of immigration reform and the “legalize gay” campaign in support of marriage equality.

Fast forward to 2017, and we’re entering a new era of consumerism… less trend driven, more focused on pieces you can build as essentials, and wear for years. We’re focused on the story behind the products and how they are made and undeniably, this is a consumer focus that American Apparel had a hand in starting.

Major iconic stores that have defined the 90s and 2000s are now on their way out. American Apparel is one of those victims of where shopping is headed. What would the brand have looked like in the future of fashion and retail…I guess we’ll never know.

But let’s give American Apparel a moment of silence out of respect. And take a minute to think about your own fashion story. I, for one, will never let Kris throw out his collection of v-necks… and I’ll always have a soft spot for my white jumper and hoodie hanging in the back of my closet (glitter and all).

The End of an Era


Add yours
  • ça a fait du bien de lire cet article, je me souviens très bien de ma période “American Apparel” en 2006-2007, j’ai encore d’ailleurs une robe que je porte toujours. Oui c’est bel et bien la fin d’une époque, merci d’en avoir parlé!

  • American Apparel…. wasn’t in retail in 2002.

  • Genevieve April, 26 2017, 7:02

    Sure they were–they’ve had stores since the late ’90s. I remember first buying from them (online I think?) around 2000 after seeing an ad of theirs in the Village Voice, I believe, when I was in college.

  • I co-edit an online fashion criticism journal with some friends, and a couple months back, we, too, reflected on the legacy of AA . For for most of us, AA’s passing was met with a great deal of ambivalence, but once we all got to thinking about what the brand meant to us in the early aughts, we realized that AA (mostly pre-sleaze) was intimately tied to our collective coming-of-age, and therefore to materialized memories of breakups and bad judgment…but also to just some really fun party looks that we wore when we had fewer inhibitions. AA was always a super complicated brand, and it’s time has definitely come and gone, but we were surprised to see the kind of memories it conjured.

    You can read all of our reflections here:

  • Good bye American Apparel. Was American Apparel a good corporate citizen? Disposable clothing is going to be the next big Ecco movement if it is not already .We are all becoming more conscious of the effects of clothes that end up in a landfill . I encourage everyone to invest in clothing that will last and clothing that we care for and can be reused.I often write about vintage clothes. Some vintage clothing have many incarnations. This would be beneficial to all of us , dealing with our over consumption.
    Dress The Part

  • Laure M April, 26 2017, 2:00 / Reply

    Et sans oublier les vernis à ongles à tomber… :'(

  • Melissa April, 26 2017, 2:18 / Reply

    Love this. AA first made me aware of the value of “made in the USA” as a teen, and I will forever be grateful for that!

  • Caitlin April, 26 2017, 8:56

    Thanks Melissa, totally agree! Xx

  • Very well written article. Kind of sad actually. I remember recently seeing the close-out sale in my neighborhood in Vancouver and couldn’t believe it. However I went in to buy a nice pair of stirrup (haven’t seen anyone else wearing them) pants. The end of an era indeed.

  • i love AA, and have always found their ad campaigns (using real people, long before any one else was) innovative and inspiring, dove charney be damned. they started the Made In LA thing a long time before the others, and paid fair wages as well, a *long time ago*. at the root of it all, they had *great* basics, in a variety of basic but excellent fabrics. i have yet to find hoodies and leggings as well made, with such a high % of cotton, for such a cheap price, with all of the ethical considerations. bravo to AA for accomplishing all of this. you will be sorely missed!

  • Moi je me rappelle Berlin 2009 rayon homme le short qui m’a sauvé de mourir de chaud et NY 2011 pareil rayon homme même short mais en bleu. Simple confortable une marque géniale !!

  • The Startup Podcast Season 2 was all about Dov Charney and American Apparel – a fascinating listen, highly recommended if you want to learn more about him and the company’s history.

  • Allison C. April, 27 2017, 5:11 / Reply

    I only ventured into American Apparel a few times and every time I did I was uncomfortable. The staff was rude and I was made to feel like I did not belong there because I was far from twenty-something. The lighting was terrible and the layout was not attractive. And frankly, the clothes did not seem worth the money.

  • Honestly, they got sucked into their flashy 70’s exercise video vibe and seemed to ignore everything else. While I honestly believe that they revolutionized tees and basics when they came out, I think they eventually forgot about what everyday people wear.

    When I hit my mid-twenties and could afford more of their clothes, I would laugh because the whole ladies section was racy spandex, boxy granny sweaters, and see through blouses. This was around 2010, when crop tops were getting popular. The sales people would tell me most of the everyday basic tees were online only. I’ve always loved well thought out basics in unexpected colors, so I would try to like AA, but they seemed so apathetic about the design of everyday clothing.

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