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Glazer: Countering the message in the merchandise

POSTED: February 21, 2014 1:00 a.m.

It’s not hard to identify with Utah mom Judy Cox’s frustration. She was recently shopping in her local mall with her 18-year-old son when she spotted the window display in the PacSun boutique.

This clothing chain sells casual wear catering to teens and young adults with over 600 stores nationwide and a booming online business. The shirts featured pictures of scantily dressed models in provocative poses along with matching promotional posters.

Cox said she complained about the window display to a store manager to no avail. The T-shirts couldn’t be taken down without approval from the corporate office. She then bought all 19 T-shirts in stock along with the accompanying posters, for a total of $567. She told the Provo Daily Herald that she plans to return them later, toward the end of the store’s 60-day return period.

Since Cox made the purchases last week, she has contacted PacSun corporate offices with her complaints. PacSun CEO Gary Schoenfeld issued a statement asserting that the company takes pride in the clothes and products it sells, which are inspired by music, art, fashion and action sports.

“While customer feedback is important to us, we remain committed to the selection of brands and apparel available in our stores,” Schoenfeld said in the statement.

I envision him sending out that message while skipping around his desk. After all, you can’t buy this kind of publicity for any amount of money.

Cox has complained to the mall management and the city attorney. She has reached out two national organizations, Women for Decency and One Million Moms. Both organizations have had success in stopping the spread of indecent material and subject matter on TV, in movies and in print media.

It’s notable that in every article I’ve read about the incident, all images of the offending T-shirts were blurred. A search on the PacSun website for the “Visual” line revealed shirts with photographic images of women in minimal clothing striking some poses that looked like they’d hurt if the models held them for too long. The products may not qualify as pornographic but they sure pass the “tacky” test.

As parents, we pick and choose our battles every day. When our Molly was a preschooler, I had my PacSun/Judy Cox moment in the candy aisle of a convenience store. There amid the chocolate bars and chewing gum were packs of candy cigarettes. I remembered them from my childhood, white sugary sticks with the tips painted red.

Suddenly I was infuriated. This early encouragement of a nasty, unhealthy, possibly lethal habit was wrong to me on every level. As a former smoker who had watched a grandfather die a slow, agonizing death from lung cancer, I was horrified at the idea of marketing this habit to another generation.

I complained to the clerk who simply rolled his eyes and shrugged. It’s probably a good thing there was Plexiglas between me and his smirking face.

I grabbed up every box of the offending product and threw them on the counter. I paid for them and left, tossing them in the trash when we arrived home.

I told Molly the story of my sweet grandfather with a green thumb, the man who showered me with books and read to me while he smoked hand-rolled Prince Albert cigarettes. The man she would never meet since he died gasping for air long before she was born.

Like Cox’s T-shirt purchases, my actions were symbolic. The store made money off of me and I’m sure they were restocked within a few days. But my child saw me take a stand and we had that conversation about why I did it.

Now, more than 20 years later, I have two daughters who, I can say assuredly, will be lifelong nonsmokers. Whatever I paid for those candy cigarettes, it was money well spent.

Fashion choices are personal choices. Attitudes are formed early and shaped by marketing and the media. How else can one explain the existence of a Kim Kardashian clothing line or Justin Bieber cologne? What other reason can there be for the popularity of a teen clothing line that displays hyper-sexualized images that objectify women?

Everyone has to find their own style. But I don’t think I’m too far off base in saying this: Guys, wear that PacSun shirt if you like. Just don’t count on attracting any REAL girls.

Teressa Glazer is a Gainesville businesswoman. Her column appears biweekly on Fridays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint.


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