‘That’s American Apparel’, is what the American clothing line likes to emphasise on many of their advertising campaigns. Writers and bloggers accuse the company of fuelling Lolita type fantasies, mainstreaming sexism through objectifying images (these images that are viewed by many as those that objectify women) and operating underage soft-core porn, (1) through their photography techniques very much influenced by the 1990’s style of ‘realistic’ fashion photography. (2)

From the 1980’s to the 1990s art photographers have gained great limelight not only in the eye of the camera but through the eye of the fashion community by employing their artistic practices through fashion photography. The above image is of a typical American Apparel advert. The way the image has been set out is very similar to that of a Polaroid photo and social media forums such as Instagram and Tumblr feeds, suggesting ideals of youth and the desires that are associated with a particular lifestyle. American Apparel’s approach to advertising employs the use of employees from their boutiques to act as the models in their campaigns. By using ‘every day’ women as models the company/photographer is challenging social structures, desires and conformist ideas of beauty. This is done through the casual technique of the ‘snapshot’ aesthetic. The image also suggests a less constructed set up in taking the photo. For example the above advert is set within the back of a car boot, hardly glamorous or sophisticated compared to fashion spreads seen in high fashion magazines such as Vouge. There is no special lighting or techniques that could suggest it was taken in a professional style. It seems that photographer Terry Richardson (who photograph’s American Apparel campaigns) inhabits the 1990’s style of ‘realistic’ fashion photography, pioneered by the likes of William Klein (Fashion fiction and photography since 1990, Susan Kismaric and Eva Respini page 31.) (3) Klein’s style was very much surreptitious and spontaneous. Klein moved freely with the influential developments of the anti-establishments new vision on how art and fashion photography could mix. Again the notion of ‘Realist’ fashion photography is very much evident within the “Sweaters and Tights” advert, challenging the ideals of beauty and luxury as the model is wearing minimal makeup and her hair is very much ‘slept in’, giving the image a sub-culture aesthetic relative to the punk and grunge styles of the late 80’s and 90’s. The lack of colour in the image also suggests little emphasis on the clothing itself but has a much greater focus on what the ‘narrative’ or lack of in the image is portraying to the viewer. The clothing is merely a prop on the model.


(1) Robson, S 2014, American Apparel slammed over sexist back to school advertising campaing, media release, 7 August, viewed 19 August 2014, <>.

(2) Berry, J 2014, ‘Fashion Photography: From Heroin Chic to Narrative Glamour’, retrieved from Griffith University, Queensland College of Art, Learning@Griffith website: <

(3) Shinkle, Eugenie. (2008) Fashion and Photogrpahy: viewing and reviewing images of fashion.

London; New York : I.B Tauri.

Ch. 2 Kirsmaric, Susan and Respini, Eva. “fashioning fiction in Photography since 1990”. pp. 31