Young Republicans?

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After a decade during which marketing became raunchier and raunchier, the tide has now turned. There are signs that glamorous blond women and muscle-rippling playboys are no longer the answer to every marketing officer’s prayers.

Matthew Lynn reports that the U.K. retailer, French Connection Group Plc will drop its “FCUK” logo this summer. Abercrombie and Fitch have decided to cease publication of the catalogue that drew comment for its scantily clad models. Sex doesn’t sell the way it used to, apparently.

Lynn believes the change in advertising content is a matter of wear out. “Sexual imagery is now so ubiquitous in marketing campaigns, it has lost the power to shock us.”

In June, I commented on the fact that young women are adopting more modest clothing, that the bare midriff was now passé. I wondered whether this represented a deeper cultural trend than the “wear out” explanation acknowledges. Perhaps women in their teens and 20s are insisting on new terms of reference, that they are rewriting the rules of femaleness.

There are cultural definitions that have a certain primacy. Gender is foundational in this way. Make a change here, and a change ripples through the social order and the marketplace. If young women are reworking our notions of gender, we must look for a substantial change in their notions of family, community, and politics. Indeed, we may be looking here at one of the “feeder” trends that helps drive the “values” issue of the recent Presidential campaign.

But it would be wrong to think of this as a mere conservatism. It is something more than simple risk adversion, the search for a higher moral ground, or a return to conventional values. One way to track this trend might be to think of it as 4th wave feminism. And if this is the case, we may look forward to yet another reinvention of contemporary life.


Lynn, Matthew. 2004. Europe’s shoppers get weary of sex in advertising. Bloomberg News. here

McCracken, Grant. 2004. Anthropology and Economics of the Bare Midriff. June 11, 2004. here

McCracken, Grant. 2004. Fashion and Economics. Aug. 8, 2004. here

4 thoughts on “Young Republicans?

  1. Steve Portigal

    A&F had an ad in the Sunday NYT magazine. It featured their new hero, a young man without limbs – okay, I don’t have the medical terminology clear and it bears describing – arms stopped at the elbow, legs stopped above the knee. He is a wrestler.

    He and his brother were posed in what I imagined were AF clothing, with the fully-limbed boy holding the other on his back, piggy-back style. He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother?

    The text told a whole story about bravery and accomplishment and all that, but the ad, especially with their brand on it, evoked a slight whiff of disabled-teen-fetish. Sort of a latter-day Benetton imagery thing.

    But hey, they bleeped Marge Simpson on last night’s episode. She said “BFD” and they silenced the F. So now you can’t say F? No T, A, or F, I guess.

  2. Grant

    Steve, this -is- interesting and you’re right very Beneton. Very “real,” and “authentic,” to use the terms the creative team almost certainly used to persuade the corporation to make this daring choice. And good for them. Just when you think poor Ewing might have a point, the ad world goes and finds a new play book. And it makes me think of the guy who is now doing the talk show rounds with the story of how he sawed his own arm off after a hiking accident. It’s heroism, where the hero is very much committed to their own journey and self creation (even at the cost of self distruction)–perhaps the most virulent form of individualism. I wonder if we are hearing something here? Thanks very much, Grant

    Tom, nice post, thanks, I guess we are, in keeping with today’s (Tuesday’s) post, looking at a new multiplicity of options, with something for everyone. But the thing, for me, is to figure out the middle of the flock, the point that captures the most birds in the least space. And this middle points feels like it’s moving to modesty. I for one am buttoning up. Thanks, Grant

  3. Liz

    OK, Grant, you ‘ve thrown down a challenge….I WILL go wade through the girls’ mags–Seventeen and the like, and see if the “new modesty” is really happening. I don’t think so yet, based on what I see available in Target and the like for the pre-teen set. You are hard-pressed to find everyday clothes that aren’t too sexualized for an eight-year-old.

    Personally, I think A&F is again heartlessly jumping on some bandwagon….I find the company particularly smug and repulsive in their smugness.

    I think the bigger deal is going to be when hip-hip sales numbers start to slide down in mostly-white areas.

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