This week, hannah considers the Dour urban outfitters model

Anna Vignet/Staff

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There has been much discussion among academics over the years, in such scholarly journals as Jezebel, as to the recurring phenomenon of the Miserable Urban Outfitters Model. One insightful article from the aforementioned online journal, entitled "The New Urban Outfitters: I Want To Sell You This Skirt But My Dog Just Died" (2007) first planted a worry in my mind for the emotional security of these chic yet despairing young ladies.

Exploring the store on Bancroft the other day, I once again noticed the abject misery of the stores' campaign models. The Early Fall '10 catalogue does include some curious scenes of friendship and smiling, however the prevailing theme appears to continue with loneliness and anxiety.

Why are these girls so sad? American Apparel models were willing to smile for the recent online "Best Bottoms" amateur competition. (Congratulations, "Musclebutt" from Los Angeles!) Meanwhile, the company is losing money to the tune of $30 million per year, according to Amelia Hill of the Guardian. Surely these are the girls that should be scowling.

But beyond twanging at my heartstrings, these frowny U.O. models confuse me. Having not lent too much thought to the subject of my column, I had assumed that the ideal ad would picture a happy person with an object that had delivered said happiness. But these girls go hard against the grain. They aren't just sad, they're downright insecure.

In one photo from the Fall catalogue, a mousy model stands awkwardly in front of what might be an idyllic college campus in an outfit of preppy, pricey clothes. Duck-footed, with her hands behind her back, she seems to say: "I hate my life. Shop Urban Outfitters."

Now, it would be easy to magic away the company's responsibility for injecting its models with such melancholy by deeming its fashion spreads "art."

Young ladies my age have been well-trained in spotting the fine line between commercial and editorial modeling. Every week on "America's Next Top Model" we would hear the scorn in Tyra Banks' voice as she would kick off an aspiring model for being, for instance, "Too pretty. Too commercial. At least she'll make a lot of money."

Money. How plebeian.

The line between the commercial and the artistic is an especially blurry one in the fashion world, and one that is often clearly demarcated by a smile or its absence. The moment a model doesn't turn that frown upside down, the moment the price of what she's wearing is likely to skyrocket. Why do we assign such a high value to the miserable?

Perhaps by becoming miserable, and dressing as the miserable dress, we can become artsy ourselves. Some of the best art in history was fueled by its creators' despair, be it the poetry of Emily Dickinson or the unhappily-married, closeted-homosexual, deeply-depressed beauty of Tchaikovsky's 6th symphony, the "Pathétique," first performed about a week before his probable suicide.

In life, it seems, we must often choose between being great and being happy. Sorry to be such a bummer. On the bright side, now my column is totally artsy.

It still doesn't quite make sense why we are expected to be attracted to a miserable model. It's not like anyone would want to hang out with Scowly Urban Girl, unless it was another Scowly Urban Girl who wanted someone to scowl at.

Odd as it may seem, the company is limiting its brand's image to an overly-specific target consumer: The impressionable young female outcast, self-conscious, angry at her parents, emotionally immature, exploring a newfound horniness for boys and overpriced cardigans. Like me.


Indulge in Tchaikovsky's melancholy with Hannah at [email protected]

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