As shopping goes, I'm pretty tolerant of stressful situations. I can tackle a stinky charity shop without shame, delve into dubious boxes at car boot sale with delight, and even rummage through sale rails with relish. Arguably, working in a vintage shop prepares you pretty well for most gross selling situations, but even so, I'm no retail wuss.
Or so I thought. Abercrombie and Fitch, for the blissfully unaware, is a hugely overpriced preppy American brand which exploits rich parents of demanding prepubescents by selling 70 different colours of four identical garments: the hoodie, the polo, the vest, and the jogger. Every now and then they might go a little crazy and chuck a skinny jean in there, or, as my recent visit demonstrated, a plaid shirt, but essentially that is what they create.
As the above image would suggest, the target market is not really for those who wear many clothes, or indeed, are prepubescent. However, judging by the size of the female sales assistants and the fact my size 6-8 sister snugly wears an Abercrombie M (medium), the waist of an 11 year old is a prerequisite. Unless you are male, in which case I imagine the sizing is similar, as despite a six pack, every polo must be worn nipple-protruding tight. For an early noughties cultural reference, see LFO's 'Summer Girls' video here.
The irony of the seemingly wholesome image Abercrombie likes to throw out there is that the shop itself is a LIVING HELL HOLE. They've taken a beautiful, rococo ceiling-ed mansion hidden away off Regent Street, painted the entire interior black, pumped it full of seriously cheesy yet unrecognisable dance music and A&F scent and waited for the hoards of people with more money than sense to flock on in.
I nearly asphyxiated upon entry. Initially I was gagged by the choking scent of 'youth' - intriguingly not cigarettes, cider, 'So Kiss Me' body spray and the hamster smell of teenage boy, but something with far more patchouli - then matters were made worse by a flabbergasted reaction to the naked, hairless bodybuilder in the doorway, with whom I'm supposed to want a Polaroid photograph taken; the final nail in the coffin being my uncontrollable laughter at the sales assistants who are made to dance on a balcony, just, you know, 'cos it's so fly in there.
Once I'd regained the ability to respire, I was able to reflect on the most awkward dancing I've seen outside of school discos. Not that it was inexplicable - the music was the type that's only played in bad Majorcan cocktail bars, the 'dancers' were presumably sober, and wearing plaid. You can't dance to cheese in plaid. Especially not on a balcony, for no apparent reason, when you are, by contract, a sales assistant.
After being led around the labyrinthine set-up of rooms and corridors, all the while being constantly greeted by smugly attractive identikit teenagers, the dancing made a little sense. It was, after all, strongly reminiscent of a Berlin club, minus the graffiti, what with the constant shoving and pushing of shoppers eager to get their hands on overpriced jersey.
Upon discovering that every dingy room was essentially full of the same thing, failing to find a changing room and then establishing that a lot more could be done with fifty quid than buy a polo shirt, I was happy to leave the most stressful shopping experience I've ever encountered and take a big breath of polluted central London air. It tasted a damn sight more realistic.