Case Study: American Apparel

Ad_Nylon Korea (spread)

American Apparel is a clothing manufacturer, distributor and retailer in the United States. American Apparel is famed for making very simple clothing items that come in around ten block colours and various basic cuts. These include T-shirts, leggings, jeans, trousers, dresses, underwear and nail polish. American Apparel has in recent years expanded creating accessories and clothing for men. Whilst there clothing is deemed “natural” and “simple”, their advertisements proclaiming to depict, “everyday normal people in their twenties”, American Apparel advertising is so much more.  AA has quickly become an “edgy” brand that appeals to young people-but why?

Above:  Jessie Andrews and Sasha Grey

“Sex sells” seems to be the driving force behind AA’s advertisements: they are always ultra sexual. The female models are eternally thin and youthful with glowing complexions, reminiscent to seductive nymphs. The “women” with their lean physiques, baby doll faces and suggestive poses are like an imitation of the seducer of much older men: Lolita. The women are often posed and photographed in ways that draw attention to their body parts or imply sexual activity. The images often show the girls in beds: always taken with an average quality camera to evoke a sense of spontaneity as well as naturalness. Porn actresses such as Sasha Grey (now retired) and Jessie Andrews have also appeared in American Apparel, which reinforce the sexual nature of AA as well as natural, youthful beauty. Indeed, Grey and Andrews represent an image of “ideal” feminine beauty. Both are: sexually aggressive and willing (given their career paths), youthful, slender, petite and most importantly don’t look like the typical porn star: no fakery, no implants, just pure sexual beauty. Both have even been famed for sporting a healthy bush of pubic hair!

The key aspect of AA’s advertising is that their images are very minimal, reflecting their clothing range aptly. In spite of the vivid sexualisation of the young girls depicted, the images are not heavily airbrushed nor the models fake looking. The girls appear to be completely natural and youthful, reinforced by their clear complexions, tight bodies, long hair and slenderness: all visual mimics of what we associate with a young girl. It’s perhaps this lack of re-touching and Photoshop, which makes American Apparel so appealing. Their images are in stark contrast to the heavily airbrushed advertisements for other brands. This is probably what gives AA that “edgy” and gritty quality, thus appealing to millions of youngsters. I’m sure having mainstream porn stars sporting their gear also plays a role!

However, their minimal use of digital retouching still doesn’t outweigh the fact that nearly every image promoting AA fashions is objectifying young girls. In fact, despite AA being a clothing brand, the women are often naked, thus the clothing items become the last point of focus. Also, whilst airbrushing is minimal and models more natural, the advertisements still depict a very narrow and stereotyped female body: thin and tall. In fact there aren’t any variations in terms of body size and weight. If we compare Sasha Grey with Jessie Andrews, the only noticeable difference is arguably their hair colour!

American Apparel have had a series of adverts banned in the U.K due to their sexual nature, deeming them to be objectifying women-not to mention seven unresolved sexual harassment cases against Dov Charney, the founder and main photographer of AA.  Whilst they claim that these are natural women representing everyday women sporting simple and attainable clothes and styles: they are portrayed through a male gaze, reduced to body parts and objectified to subjects of our desire.


In 2007, an American Apparel billboard in New York was defaced. The billboard featured a slender model bending over wearing AA leggings. Across the image someone had written, “Gee, I wonder why women get raped?”. This sparked much controversy and put into question if such advertisements encourage men to view women as mere sexual objects: where rape and violence become “normative” in having their needs fulfilled. Of course, rape is never the woman’s fault but this act put into perspective how damaging these photographs can be. American Apparel despite featuring more natural looking models and editing their images to the mere minimum, sexualisation and objectification is apart of their selling point. Thus, even AA an “edgy”, youthful brand are still continuing to represent women in stereotypical and distorted ways.


Collective Shout (2010) Don’t buy American Apparel [online] available from <>> [28 February 2014]

Huffing Post (2012) American Apparel ‘Exploitative’ Adverts Revealing Breasts And Buttocks Banned – But Beckham In His Pants Is Fine [online] available from <> [28 February 2014]

GA Daily News (2012) American Apparel nude ads banned [online] available from <> [28 February 2014]

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