Breaking up with American Apparel

Breaking up with American Apparel 1-001

When you write a break-up letter and don’t hear back you know it’s really over, as somethingyousaid’s Oliver Heath discovers:

We were done, and I’d decided to pull the plug in a letter, like a dick. Instead of pointing to the general reasons it would never work, I pointed to a specific failing to make it clear that it was the other’s fault, and to show how patient I’m being. I’m even being patient by pointing it out and saving them from the same future problems. The worst kind of polite arsholery I know, but I’m not totally over it, so bridge burning was necessary to prevent a relapse.

Here’s the letter:


Am Appy, you’re dumped. Its not you, it’s me, I’ve changed.. which means it’s you, but it wasn’t you until I changed. I’m trying to stay changed and I’m going to move on.

This leaves me with the problem of where to buy my underwear. It’s important for a gent to take care of his appearance. I think you could form an equation where a man’s haircut should cost three times his underwear; my $30 dacks make my haircut look like I went to a $90 straight shave tattoo bro joint. But it’s a fraud, I got my cut from the safari suit comb-over Korean guy for $10. He has one of those candy-cane barber poles, fading posters of 80s Full House hair cuts, and black combs in blue fluid. If you’re lucky you’ll catch him slow dancing with his lady between haircuts. I have to finish the cut off at home to bring it into this century, but overall it works out well.

boston-fly-2Given my discount haircut, maybe the $5 dacks at the variety store are a more honest match. They’re actually not that bad, but the discount branding ‘Boston’ label front and centre really let’s them down – it’s a giant ad for what a tightarse you are. Picking the label off forces too conscious an acknowledgement of my brokeass life that I can’t bring myself to do it. But I also can’t risk leaving it there – imagine the risk of ridicule/disappointment when a lady sees it.

Perhaps you’re thinking that I shouldn’t go for superficial women (thanks for looking out for me, friends!), but maybe she has other really great qualities, and anyway half-undressed is not the state when you want to deal with such discoveries. Better in the morning when she also notices the furniture is flatpac; hopefully after a night of passion the pauper discovery will be rose-hued, and with luck I’ll be a fixer-upper rather than a write-off. I’m not ready to move on from under appreciated genius to cautionary tale. You can be all grunge and torn jeans, heel flapping, chatting to the pavement, but with fancy dacks. Nobody likes a tightarse.

I started to take care with these details when I was a teenager. Marky Mark’s decree that ”Nothing gets between me and my Calvins” was the rally call. Extra nipple airbrushed out, model draped over him equally airbrushed perfect, I knew that if I wore the right underwear I’d live in that well-toned grey-scale life. I wore CK cologne, showered three times a day, and nobody saw my expensive briefs.

I’m done with Am Appy, but I can’t go back to CK land; after years of the LA ethical manufacturing, paying top dollar for something made in a factory next door to those in the variety shop doesn’t make any sense. CK was the centre of my aspirational identity and I’ve moved on from such things, but I wonder what the equivalent is today?

As I type this I realise that it’s been American Apparel (duh) and I haven’t moved on from this kind of hype at all. Their non-visibly labeled yet instantly recognisable underwear is the most intense kind of branding you can get. Maybe it’s not the badly stitched waists that are the final straw, maybe it’s just their diminishing cool in the twighlight of the beard bro era. I’m still buying into the same kind of Marky-marketing. I’m still that guy.

breaking up with American Apparel

Am Appy’s vertically integrated “Made in LA” felt like the antidote to the cruel Chinese sweat shop CKs, but minimum American wage for a local underclass isn’t that different to an overseas underclass. “Legalise Gay” was the activist whitewash that allowed me to buy into the sexist American Apparel fantasy sold on the backs of magazines. Through the distorted lens of their marketing I erroneously thought that being pro-gay marriage made it impossible for them to be misogynistic. It’s all just sex positive retro kitsch, right? No. The DTF gonzo porn chic of their ads is an evolution of Marky Mark’s CK trophy woman, and I’m still stuck in my teen mentality where women are the trophy of good underwear purchasing decisions.

It’s hard to know what to do. My search for underwear that doesn’t have the brand baggage highlights the actual problem: basing my self-image on superficial things, on outwardly branded things. American Apparel can ditch founder Dov’s sexism and transition from party kid hi-vis to normcore beige, but I don’t want any of it. It’s stupid. Nobody really cares, I don’t care, nobody remembers what dacks we wear, we just worry that other people do.

I can say all this, but I’m not as beyond it as I’d like to be… so back to my problem, what underwear? I’m open to suggestions. I haven’t given jocks a bash since primary school. I’m thinking more black 80s high cuts than y-fronty irony. Would I look smashing in black budgie smugglers? Shit, I’m just transitioning to normcore, aren’t I? FML I don’t even believe normcore exists. Does it exist? Isn’t it just a faux taxonomy beat up by dull journalists? Nobody says that they’re normcore, do they? I don’t want to wear turtlenecks, I want to be a cowboy. But you can’t always get what you want.

I might have been the dumper, but if I wind up just riding the normcore trend, American Apparel’s not going to be the one who’s crying.

oliver heath


Words by Oliver Heath. Pictures of Oliver by Claire Flannery.