Abercrombie’s hired model
Agent Nguyen came up with the idea for this mission when he noticed the 5th Avenue Abercrombie and Fitch store had a shirtless male model greeting all customers as they enter. Upon further examination, we discovered the model is only one aspect of the store’s celebration of the shirtless male. There are photographs all over the store of bare-chested men, both on the wall and on the products themselves.
There’s even a four-story tall mural of shirtless men working on boats.
To top it all, in the basement of the store, there’s a six-foot tall bronze statue of a shirtless man.
I sent out an email recruiting men willing to take their shirts off in public, and 111 agents showed up to the meeting point in Central Park. Everyone wore jeans and a shirt that would be easy to stuff into a pocket.
I explained to everyone what we’d be doing, and then the shirts came off for a very tasteful Abercrombie-style photo shoot coordinated by Agent Nicholson.
The men played a giant game of football
Agent Ace$Thugg had the best running game
Some men lounged in the shade
Agent Hurricane Andrew (age 11), center, with football
During our photo shoot, a small crowd gathered to laugh and take their own photos.
After the photo shoot, we regrouped and got organized for the mission. There are four floors in the Abercrombie, so I divided everyone up into four groups by birthday month, to ensure we’d have an even number of men on each floor. Those on the second floor were out of luck, as they’d be shopping on the women’s only floor. I instructed them to claim to be shopping for their girlfriend. I then divided the group up by birthday year and had them enter the store at staggered times, to prevent an obvious line forming at the entrance. At exactly 4:37 everyone was to discreetly remove their shirt on their assigned floor and hide it in their pocket or pants. (We figured that if we had 100 people trying to enter the store shirtless, they’d probably stop letting us in after the first 20 or so slipped by.)
To get the best footage possible in the store, I wore the hidden camera glasses loaned to us by the UCB’s Matt Besser
. Agents Nicholson and Shafer helped me connect it to a video camera and hide it away in my backpack.
Around 4:15 we all started heading down to the store. We had 11 people taking photos and video, spread out over the four floors. Five of them were women; we figured they could get away with blatantly filming and taking photographs more easily, especially if they dressed like typical Abercrombie customers.
Our men used a variety of tactics. Agent Shafer had his video camera hiding in a Virgin Megastore bag.
Agent Nicholson had his still camera poking out of a duffle bag, controlled by a wireless remote.
Agent Nicholson’s self-portrait using the wireless remote in his left hand
Agent Fountain went with a more casual approach, simply hanging his camera around his neck and taking photos when no one was looking.
Agent Fountain pretends to shop
Agent CScott was the first to take his shirt off. He thought the go-time was 4:30 and accidentally pulled the trigger 7 minutes early.
He slowly realized he was the only one and that he must have gotten the time wrong, but decided just to roll with it. Employees didn’t seem to care. In fact, one went and checked on a size for him without even commenting on his bare chest.
At 4:37 the other 110 joined in on the fun. Within seconds everywhere you looked there were shirtless men.
I instructed everyone to simply mill about the store and shop. I told them that if anyone asked questions, to just claim that you’re shopping for a shirt.
Customers and employees very quickly started reacting to us. The majority of them laughed, smiled, and took photos.
A customer laughs
An employee laughs
Customers watch from the stairs
Those employees in management and security were predictably not as amused.
It’s tough to say what the model himself thought of us. He had a variety of reactions over the course of the mission. He was positioned in front of a wall at the entrance, so when the first couple of shirtless guys approached him, he had no knowledge that there were 100 more behind him in the store. He was very aggressive towards these first two agents. It probably didn’t help that the two guys happened to be both taller and more sculpted than he was. “At least I get paid to do this,” he scoffed at them.
He seemed to loosen up later, as he smiled and happily posed for photos with other guys who came by.
The model was happy laugh and joke around with Agent Uncle for a full minute
Back in the store, agents continued shopping, with some trying on items of clothing, looking for a perfect fit.
Agents on the second floor were forced to browse through women’s clothing.
Another interesting thing about Abercrombie is the mannequins. For some reason, almost all of the male mannequins have their jeans pulled down quite a bit below the waist. There’s a bulge poking out of the tops of the jeans, which if you think about it could only anatomically represent the shaft of a penis. Crazy!
Notice the bulge in the background
One agent sat underneath the statue and mimicked its pose.
After about 15 minutes, the Abercrombie management decided it was time to kick us out. Security employees started approaching all of our men and asking them to either put a shirt on or leave. They informed us that the model was a paid employee and his state of undress didn’t justify ours. So despite the fact that the store constantly bombards you with the image of the shirtless male, Abercrombie still maintains a “No Shirts; No Service” policy. Some agents protested that they were trying to buy
a shirt, but the staff countered with the not-so-logical, “If you put on a shirt then you can buy a shirt.” Many agents just politely agreed to leave and then walked to another floor to shop some more, getting asked to leave several times before finally heading out.
Two agents were actually stopped while in the process of checking out! They were waiting in line for 10 minutes to buy some $45 shirts, only to be grabbed at the register. One of them was in the process of handing over his credit card as he was nabbed and informed he wasn’t allowed to make a purchase!
Caught in the act of buying!
An agent is asked to leave
The stairs got very crowded as agents started heading towards the exit.
Agent Nguyen, center
Everyone leaving the store at the same time created a whole new scene out on the street as 5th Avenue soon became filled with half-naked men.
Many passing tourists asked if they could get their photo taken with our men.
Others just looked on and laughed.
Everyone had their own theory on what had happened. A British woman told me, “One guy took his shirt off, you know as a rib on the model out front. Then all these other guys saw him and decided to take their shirts off too! One did it, and then they all did!” It was a pretty awesome theory, so I smiled and laughed with her without revealing the truth. Her version of events was much cooler than the truth.
Of course not everyone was as impressed. One guy took a drag off his cigarette and coolly told me, “They’re all just fat asses who are mad because they couldn’t get a job at Abercrombie.” His friends laughed and snapped photos.
Agent Nicholson’s Flickr photoset (highlights only) (18 photos)
Agent Nicholson’s Flickr photoset (full) (156 photos)
Agent Fountain’s Flickr photoset (97 photos)
Agent Scott’s Flickr photoset (77 photos)
Agent Sokoler’s Flickr photoset (69 photos)
If YOU happen to be without a shirt, why check out some of the brand new Improv Everywhere T-Shirts? We think they’re even cooler than Abercrombie’s fall line!
Add your own report in the comments if you were there!