Hollister: Sort Of Like "Girls Gone Wild", Only With Girls Too Young For Joe Francis

It's Fashion Week, and we know how much that means to you all, but we thought we'd throw a bone to Jezebel readers who'd trade their newfound understanding of Vena Cava for a decent glass of vino. This is the story of Hollister, a powerful branch of the Abercrombie & Fitch youth retail empire and the sort of work environment and probably middle America's closest approximation to working in fashion. All through the country, thanks to retailers like Hollister, average heartland American teenagers are trading wages for status, obsessively attuning themselves to tiny aesthetic tics, throwing themselves into the insecurity-superiority spirals and learning to hate bread. And the tiny crop of straight dudes smart enough to plant themselves in the middle of it is getting unjustly and prodigiously laid. Meet The Douche. His name might have been Scott. Reader Christine has blocked it out. He was her first retail boss, and he was verrrry good at preparing his charges to meet Joe Francis. Welcome back to "I Work Retail," the Jezebel column about the only industry more depressing than women's magazines.

Photo via Slagheap [Flickr]

My memory seems to have permanently replaced the name of my first retail boss with the title "King Of All Douches," but it will never forget his hair. Long and straight with professional golden highlights and a distinct flip at the end, it was an endless source of fascination to me: did he achieve the look with a hairdryer alone? Or did he use an actual straightening iron? Douche King had been dispatched by a retail empire to open one of the first in a new chain of stores that desired to impart a "cool, young, beachy surfer vibe through clothing." Apparently, the Douche had once been a surfer. Now in his mid-thirties, his pastimes seemed to be limited to patronizing tanning beds and teenage girls' beds. He was a longtime employee of Abercrombie & Fitch, and he had come to our local mall in Southern Indiana to open one of the nation's first Hollister stores, a mammoth effort on the part of an Ohio corporation to spread California style to heartland mallgoers. Probably because we were highly susceptible to pretty much anything in Southern Indiana, we had been deemed an ideal "test market" for the Hollister .

I had never, obviously, seen a Hollister before. Perhaps I might have been bothered by the communal dressing rooms, the deafening meathead-rock, the fact that it was darker than most nightclubs. But it was 2001, before Orange County mania swept the nation and Hollister grew to be a mall powerhouse on the backs of skintight sheer "Team LC" and "Team Kristin" T-shirts. I just thought it might be fun to earn a discount at a national mall retailers that wasn't one of the five I had been browsing for my entire consumptive career. It was the summer before my senior year of high school, and I wanted new clothes to accompany my epic senior year.

The interview process was extremely brief. An Abercrombie representative asked about my extra-curricular activities (sports, luckily) and whether I liked the Abercrombie brand ("uh, sure?"). The Douche did not appear until our orientation: "Look around you," he said from behind his long mane and strategic stubble. "These are the coolest people in the area. Your lifestyles and looks set you apart from your peers. You won't find any band geeks here!" Um, were you really allowed to say that? He went on to explain that we were "fresher, better, and better-looking than our counterparts over at the mall's Abercrombie. (The Abercrombie representatives would seem to agree; wandering over to our store during breaks and lobbying for $5.50 positions.)

I stuck around, because at the very beginning, the store actually did seem cool. It was laid-back and we had fun receiving boxes of never-before-seen clothes. I bonded with classmates who had never acknowledged my existence. It wasn't until the days before we opened to the public that everything changed: The Douche informed us he would have to approve the outfits we wore on the job. We had to pay for all our clothes, but in order to qualify for the discount, he had to approve our purchases first. The approval process consisted of parading in front of him and subjecting ourselves to his critiques and suggestions as to how to make our clothes 'hotter" — like cutting the necklines to make our V-necks lower, or buying jeans in a size or two smaller.

Somehow, this process only served to ingratiate the Douche to my sixteen year old colleagues. Unsurprisingly, he was not offended. I began to wonder if he invented the "outfit approval" process just so he could ogle all of us, but I was wrong; Douches played out the same process at Abercrombie outposts in malls across America, something that would eventually become one of the numerous things they'd settle major lawsuits over. Personally, I hated him. I shot him evil glares during the fashion shows and he left me alone, probably because I was, at a Hollister size 5, one of the biggest girls at the store.

I stayed, of course, because it was sort of an honor not to be fired. That I somehow passed the Douche's militaristic standards was a sick form of affirmation, as was the fact I was getting waved at in the hallways and invited to more exclusive keggers. Working at Hollister, in southern Indiana, was a huge deal.

But if I was attractive enough for King Douche, he quickly began to suspect I was not "cool" enough to uphold the "cool" standards of Hollister. One memorable time, I was at the cash register when a normal, unassuming girl asked to fill out an application, and I let him know she was there and wanted to talk to him. "Is she hot?" he asked. "She's normal, not ugly or anything," I said. He rolled his eyes, and lifted himself out of his seat to go take a look. For approximately 5 seconds, they chatted. No sooner had she turned away, the Douche made a dramatic gesture of crumpling up her application and throwing it in the garbage. (This is, not that it mattered, against the law.) "SHE is good looking? Wow. You have awful taste in women. Good thing you aren't a boy." He then laid out the type of person we did not hire at Hollister: "weird" (not white), "ugly" (not skinny), "losers." (It was always hard to say.)

At first I felt sorry for the merely average-looking high schoolers who flocked to our store to ask for jobs; over time it became a kind of pity for their cluelessness in thinking they could work here in the first place, and my real empathy went out to the shift managers; college graduates who coped with Hollister's preteen sizing standards and meager wages by not eating food. One in particular seemed barely able to function. She was always shivering cold, wrapped in a huge sweater, and was permanently attached to a huge cup of diet soda. Of course, the Douche would only tell her how good she was looking and that she would be up for a promotion soon.

Rumors began to fly that the Douche had taken some "chosen" girls, two high school juniors from another school, into his office, where they had stripped for him and made out with one another. None of these girls ever denied the rumors, but I was truly horrifided during the shift during which a friend of mine confirmed them for me. (It helps to remember, Britney and Justin were still together at the time.)

Not long afterward, the Douche informed me that for the Spring/Summer season, we would be required to buy at least 1 bikini and wear the top with a hoodie — unzipped — on top for all our shifts. All the girls with navel piercings were instructed to show them by tying up their shirts (these points were discussed in detail during a special meeting about employee hotness, and anyone who would go against these suggestions would not see their names on the schedule). I quit. Six years later, I am still working retail, and that is still a happy ending.