(This story was published in 2001).

There’s this guy in the gym where I work out. Gorgeous. Looks like an Abercrombie & Fitch model; dresses like an Abercrombie & Fitch model. For months, I have wanted to talk to him, but with him wearing his cap pulled down over his beautiful face, I haven’t had the chance.

Until last week.

We were both working out our upper backs and he was on a machine that I wanted to use. Aw, shucks. I went up to him between sets and asked if I could work in.

Not only did a purse fall out of his mouth but so did a compact, a pair of high heels, and a bottle of Nair.

Not to be daunted by his voice, I marched on, working in between his sets. I kept admiring his strong legs, partially covered by his A&F shorts; his biceps, bulging out of his A&F tank top; his beautiful blonde hair, barely visible beneath his A&F cap. The tank top said “Abercrombie & Fitch Football.” So, I asked him, “Do you play football?”

“No, I just liked the shirt.”

The folks at Abercrombie & Fitch had done it again–they got Mr. Nair with their image and got me with their label. They’ve been doing it to us for years now–fooling unsuspecting gay guys into thinking that, if another guy is wearing A&F clothes, he must be a jock, or at least masculine.

The whole gay community has gotten in on the act. Five years ago, could you even imagine a gay guy wearing shorts that were longer than his quad muscles (and I’m not talking about Capris)? Or shirts that were a size or two too big? It’s strange to drive down Santa Monica Boulevard now and see seemingly every guy wearing long shorts, baggy T-shirts, and baseball caps. There’s been a “jockization” in the fashion of gay men, and A&F has led the way.

It’s been their catalogs that have done it. Those dastardly catalogs. They first got me with their Christmas ’98 issue titled “Ring It In.” I still have it, kept carefully on my bookshelf, away from any coffee tables where a drink might ruin those beautiful pages. Looking back at it today, it’s no wonder I got suckered in.

Of course, I’ve tried to ignore all this and, for years, have tried to get away with sundry reasons why I wear A&F.

“It’s well-made.” Like hell. Like any gay guy has actually bought Abercrombie & Fitch because it’s “well-made.”

“I like the colors.” Yeah, gray, drab green and muted orange are real winners.

I’m sitting here now, writing this in a very stylish A&F T-shirt. It’s gray and not only says “Abercrombie” on it, but it also says “A&F”–a double bonus. But the cool thing is the moose on the front of the shirt. Of course, “I just bought it because I like moose.”

We’ve been duped, gentlemen, and it’s time to own up to it. Now, standing next to Mr. Nair, the truth about all of our A&F purchases shines: “I like looking at the catalog. It’s really hot seeing all these young guys running around in their shorts and underwear, chasing after each other. Subconsciously, I believe that, if I buy the clothes they’re advertising, I’ll have recaptured my youth and will be able to chase after those naked 20-year-olds too. Oh, and because everybody else is doing it.”

When I look at Nike campaigns, they feature good-looking people running on a track or playing basketball on a court. Gatorade features real athletes like Peyton Manning and Vince Carter playing their sports. Hell, even 2(x)ist has Giants cornerback Jason Sehorn actually doing what he does best: sitting there looking pretty.

Not Abercrombie & Fitch. They’ve suckered us all in on high hopes and false impressions, building an image around their clothes that 95% of the men in Crunch can’t possibly live up to.

This morning on my couch, I took a trip back to that Christmas ’98 catalog. What I found was page after page of a subtle paradox that said, “we’ll make you look like you’re a jock; just don’t expect us to deliver on the goods.”

There was a picture of a very cute guy–of course, no shirt on in December–with his cargo pants hanging down just low enough to see his A&F boxer briefs peaking out from under them, holding his ice skates, apparently getting ready for a hockey game. In the background, though, is an unfrozen pond–a little difficult to skate on.

Then there’s the picture of the guy–with his shirt on, but unbuttoned to show his tight abs–holding a basketball. Surely this guy can hit a three; I mean, just look at how he holds himself, how he’s dressed. Then you see that he’s in the middle of the woods–a little tough to play with no basket and nowhere to dribble.

And there’s the group of guys playing football wearing only boxer shorts and boat shoes, because what self-respecting masculine guy wears shorts or a shirt, or needs any kind of traction on wet grass, when playing football?

They saved my favorite for the last few pages. It’s an amazing image of two men wearing skis riding up on a chair lift. They have their arms around one another, looking off seemingly into their future together, content just to be with one another. I remember thinking back then, “why is one of them skiing wearing shorts and no shirt?” But, I didn’t care–these two boys were in perfect harmony together. Looking back at that picture now, I also see that there is no snow on the ground, or anywhere, below them. But who needs snow to ski on when you’re an Abercrombie boy?

Fast-forward three years, and the latest A&F image has changed. Sort of. Instead of boys playing football in boxer shorts, they now play in shoulder pads and jock straps. Of course, they play in ONLY shoulder pads and jock straps, but at least they’re protected. They’ve also figured out the catalogs: who needs all of those pesky pages with clothes on them when you can pack in more and more half-naked, or fully naked, guys . . . and the occasional chick?

Somehow, we continue to buy it. We know full well that not only do most of the guys wearing A&F have no clue on earth what a fullback is, but neither do the models or Bruce Weber–the guys bringing us these images. They’ve blissfully conned us into thinking that the cover on some of these guys walking around Chelsea somehow represents the book inside.

A friend of mine calls A&F “the poor gay man’s Prada,” and he’s not far off–when you wear Prada, you’re a rich, talented professional; when you’re wearing A&F, you’re a masculine, sports-loving jock. Both have been very successful at building an image and making us fall for it hook, line and sinker.

So next time you see a guy on the lat machine wearing an A&F shirt, don’t play the fool–assume he’s NOT a jock. Just ask him how he thinks the Packers will do this year. His answer will tell you all you need to know.