Brandy Melville: Harmful or Fashionable?
By Anika Buder-Greenwood and Violet Chernoff
The 80’s were a time of head to toe neon and acid wash jeans, and the 90’s were a time of flannel and combat boots; the 2010’s, however, are a time of Brandy Melville apparel. Walking the halls of Packer is like walking through a real life Brandy Melville ad, with girls throughout the middle and high school rocking the signature Brandy tube top, or the equally popular striped tank, and the same is doubtlessly true for other New York City high schools. We’ve become so accustomed to the Brandy trend that we often overlook the aura of exclusivity and the objectionable body image messaging that surrounds the brand.
Until recently, the ultra popular clothing brand had sold shirts and pants that were marked as “one size fits all.” The issue is, of course, that one size does not fit all, or even most. In reality, most of these shirts are actually around a size small or extra small, and the pants are also impossibly tiny, sized at approximately a zero-two. To put this in perspective, an average American woman wears a size sixteen or above.
Recently, amid pressure to emphasize body positivity and diversity promoted by the media, the brand has finally made a few gestures toward inclusivity. In stores, Brandy has changed “one size fits all” to “one size fits most,” and online clothing items are no longer marked as “one size,” but rather are given real sizing. However, most shirts are still only available in one size: extra small/small. Although Brandy has taken steps to broaden their image, we feel that these changes are not stemming from a genuine strive to achieve inclusivity, but rather are an attempt to appease the backlash they are receiving, and emulate other leading company’s diversity standards.
Leila Narisetti (‘20) commented on the brand, saying, “I definitely do not think it is inclusive of all body types, or makes clothes for all body types. I am on the heavier side, I guess, for the average Packer girl, so the majority of the girls shop at Brandy, and I just can’t – because nothing fits.”
While Paloma Larson (‘21), was browsing the racks of Brandy Melville, she was approached on three separate occasions, photographed and eventually asked to join the staff. At other companies one applies for a job, but, at Brandy, looks come first; they actively promote and control their image. However, Brandy Melville does not even have unwavering support from girls whose bodies do conform to their very specific image, including their employees.
Furthermore, the company’s online models do not reflect any movement toward diversity. When perusing the Brandy Melville website, extensive scrolling is required to find even a single person of color. The brand is criticized more for their body exclusivity than their lack of racial diversity, but both issues can be blamed for their primarily skinny and white client base. It is uncomfortable to shop at a store when it feels like their clothes are not made for you.
“So when you have white models, and people of color go on the [Brandy] website and see that only white models are wearing [the brand], you know that that clothing is not necessarily made for you,” explained Leila. In addition to the lack of diversity in advertising, Leila considers the customer base to be primarily white, and adds that when she and her friends walk into a Brandy store, they are often the only people of color there.
Clearly, the superficial values of the company do not align with those of many in the Packer community. The question is, will this stop us from buying their clothing? Should it? According to Frayda Leiber (‘21), the answer is no.
“Well, I hate [the company], but I sit here wearing a Brandy top, which is terrible. How could I support such a corrupt place with such corrupt morals and values? That is just a testament to the fact that they are the leading, trendsetting company… Brandy is kind of setting the trend…” The cool, carefree girl that Brandy Melville is selling us is suspect, and unattainable for many. And yet, Brandy retains its sacred place in our closets. Maybe it is time to reevaluate. The issue is a bit more complicated than deciding whether or not you can support a company without supporting its values. For us, the authors, it has been difficult reconciling our desire to support body positivity while simultaneously wanting to fit in with the stylistic trends at Packer. It would be extremely hypocritical to advocate for a boycott of Brandy, seeing as we shop there pretty regularly, so rather than pretending we have all the answers, we should start discussing if and how our clothing choices affect those around us or reflect our own morals. An argument can be made that sometimes a hoodie is just a hoodie, but, simultaneously, it is important to continue putting pressure on companies to acknowledge the full diversity of their potential consumers and on ourselves to more deeply consider our choices.