Having been a kid myself once, I understand just what it feels like to want to have the same clothing that all the other kids have. For the most part, my daily sartorial decisions were pretty much made for me. In both grammar school and high school, day in, day out, I wore a hunter-green jumper and white blouse. U-shaped neck in grammar school; v-neck in high school. Short-sleeved blouse with rick-racked Peter Pan collar in grammar school; long-sleeved, men’s wear-look shirt in high school
Of course, there was after school and weekends, and, certainly by junior high, I wanted what the other girls had.
In eighth grade, all of my friends had an identical red windbreaker. I wore mine with a sweater under it on plenty of days when I should have been wearing my winter coat. My pals and I would stand their shivering in the schoolyard in our flimsy little windbreakers, like a little flock of cardinals.
In high school, I still wanted what the other girls had. So when I was in civvies, I wore wheat jeans and denim cut-offs, madras shirts and madras skirts (not together, of course), poor-boy sweaters, and black stirrup pants, etc. When I had the money – which didn’t happen that often – I went brand-name, and shopped Filene’s Basement for Villager, John Meyer of Norwich, and Lady Bug. And, of course, I wore Bass Weejun penny loafers.
Back in those days, there were no outward signs of what brand you were wearing. Other than if someone used the Lady Bug tiny little stick pin with the ladybug on it, you just had to know what the brand was. None of this logo-wear stuff that became prevalent later on, when I was well past caring about what anyone else thought.
When did the logos get so important? With Ralph Lauren and his man on the polo horse? The LaCoste alligator shirts? (My friend Marie’s son Chris, when in kindergarten, really wanted one of those. Marie was going to be dipped if she paid for a LaCoste shirt for a five-year-old, but she felt bad for her little guy. So she took a razor blade and scraped the alligator off of one of her husband’s rag-bag shirts and sewer in on a no-brand shirt for Chris. That was over 30 years ago, so it’s been a while.)
One of the big teen brands over the past decade has been Aérpostale.
Two years ago, Aérpostale Chief Executive Officer Julian Geiger shared his view of the adolescent shopper. “The teenager today wants to fit in,” he told analysts. “They want to fit in by wearing things that make them feel safe. If there’s a brand promise for Aéropostale, it’s that the teenager can wear our clothes, go to school, and not be teased or made fun of the way they look.”
It turned out he was wrong. After decades of battling rivals Abercrombie & Fitch and American Eagle, brands that sought to reposition themselves after realizing normal didn’t sell anymore, Aéropostale doubled down and ended up the ultimate loser in the teen fashion wars. More broadly, the bankruptcy of this giant of the American mall is a cautionary tale for other retailers, like Gap Inc. and its Banana Republic unit: Not only are teenagers happy to stand out these days—so are their parents. (Source: Bloomberg)
Looks like the kids decided that they didn’t want to do any free advertising for companies when they were already overpaying for that logo-wear, and started looking for places where they can get clothing that’s more interesting, has more personality, and is not as cookie-cutter as Aérpostale.
The bad news for Aérpostale was that once they took the logo off, there was nothing to distinguish their clothing.
Over five years, they lost 40 percent of their sales. In May, the company filed for Chapter 11 protection and had to shutter 150 stores. When the kids stopped liking the logo look – which apparently started in the early 2010s – they had less cushion to fall back on than higher-end brands like Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister, as Aérpostale prices were lower as were their margins.
I’m actually delighted that the kids have been fleeing the logos. I always thought it was kind of silly to wear some product name emblazoned across your chest, unless it was given to you for free. (When I wear my Red Sox gear, the logos are ultra-subtle.) But somehow I don’t think kids have changed all that much that most of them don’t want to look like everyone else, whether it’s blaring a logo or not. My guess is that all this personality-filled, non-cookie cutter clothing looks pretty much all the same. And that’s probably just what kids that age want and need.
I got a lot of pleasure out of that red windbreaker, those Weejun penny loafers. Kids haven’t changed that much.