Sunday 16th May 2021
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On love and chain stores


In retail, as in romance, you are in love until you are not. Often, it’s tough to get at what went wrong; whether they changed, or it was you, or if it was just time. What is there to do? You accept, and you move on. Such was the fate of my relationship with Banana Republic. The last good time I recall—and I’m not just saying this in order to extend my cute love metaphor—was practically Elysian. I’m guessing the year was 2003, because I was wearing a camisole, blazer, and jeans that day, and I was very big on that particular combo in 2003.* I was browsing the Banana at The Grove in LA, doing my homework for a meeting I had the next day at Gap/Banana/Old Navy HQ in San Francisco.  The store itself was bright and brilliant with color; the merchandising was spot-on, and most everything on the racks felt not just wearable—which BR so often is—but on-trend and really genuinely cool, too. When I spoke with the company’s CEO the next day, in the type of meeting where one is expected to discuss one’s own brand for a while and then praise one’s host’s brand at great length, I got to mean every word I said. It was a rare treat.

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And then: nothing. Until Saturday, when the siren song of this yellow beaded tee beckoned from the window of a Banana Republic near my home and I was drawn in to take a closer look. It’s part of a collaboration with Milly, and is somehow chicer and slouchier in real life than as shown here, and because it was just $45, I made it my own immediately.

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I also quite like this tunic: the print is great, and the colors are just slightly unexpected. Also: those are rather excellent elephant shorts she is wearing on the bottom, but they are both itsy-short and sold out.

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But this elephant print scarf isn’t.


*The fact that I remember what I was wearing but not the year is a whole other story. Another day.

Posted on June 12th, 2013 24 Comments

24 Responses

  1. Audrey says:

    I still can’t stand this store. The sizing is huge and generally boxy, the quality is bad, and the colors are garish. I also don’t understand their infatuation with Mad Men considering their clothes do not match the stylishness and tailoring of clothes from that era. I haven’t bought a thing from this store in almost 10 years.

  2. Linden says:

    I gave up on the Gap in about 2000 or so. I used to get all my jeans, khakis, and t-shirts there. I didn’t even have to try anything on anymore, because their sizes were so reliable I could just run in and grab what I wanted off the shelf. Then their sizing and styles changed and everything was aimed at tiny teenage girls.

    They seem to have tried to reform in the past few years, but I tried on a pair of jeans there recently and the size that fit me in the thighs was huge in the waist. I could have had them altered, but for the price plus alteration, I could buy a pair of jeans that fit in the first place.

  3. kathyj says:

    I have kind of given up on Banana Republic, except for buying basic suits for work… I always seem to be bored when I try to shop in there. I do agree that the sizing is off, especially in shirts. BUT, I just bought that same tee with the pink beading the other day. It was too cute to pass up.

  4. cedar says:

    I don’t love BR, but I go in regularly, since they have a significant petite selection. There are so few petite options that are not frump-tastic that I take what I can get. They also do a lot of navy every year, which I appreciate, since I can’t wear black anywhere near my face without looking jaundiced. Between the fairly-short-can’t-wear-black-plus-significant-boobs I feel like my options for very cool clothes are limited. Sometimes I go into All Saints, pet things, sigh, and leave.

    Linden, I too gave up on Gap for years. Hated it. Then this winter I wandered in during the end of season sale and came out with a dress, a sweater, cords, and a ls tee, having spent less than $100. I’ve worn them all to death too. I still don’t go in very often, but I’m re-assessing my thoughts.
    The problem is that I’ll show up wearing the same clothes as my students if I shop there, and that’s never good.

  5. corrin says:

    I just can’t with BR. Regardless of the style or collaboration, the quality isn’t there anymore.

  6. I remember BR circa 2003. They did a runway show that year and had hired a talented in-house jewelry designer who was turning out pieces that look like J.Crew’s stuff now. I bought a glorious deep peony coat that I wore forever.

    And then it became an admin’s closet wasteland.

    Gap has the strangest fits, especially in tops where the arms are tight and the chest is huge.

    Old Navy is having a mini Renaissance at the moment, but still looks like the official outfitter of the flyover states for the most part.

  7. Joanna aka Alexa (@alexa11221) says:

    Since I have no money and have been losing weight, I have been investigating the BR/GAP/ON possibilities.

    So far I have had the best luck at ON, but inconsistency of sizing is a major headache (though when things do fit, it’s quite a thrill) and you don need to pick and choose carefully so you don’t look exactly like everyone else. BR used to be fab, but now it’s so dull, and GAP is just … heaves deep sigh.

    I have also had good luck with American Eagle but then I REALLY look like my students!

  8. Joanna aka Alexa (@alexa11221) says:

    Commenting again to say I wish you would add comment editability for those of us who can’t type.

    I think I might like that BR/Milly elephant scarf better than the Virginia Johnson ones.

    And also to say that above I meant “do need to pick and choose” and not “don need to pick and choose.”

  9. marjorie says:

    >And then it became an admin’s closet wasteland.

    dang. meen. but true.

    agree about the general meh of BR but MILLY! i love MILLY! love the yellow beaded tee, love the bib necklace and the preppy two-tone stretch bracelet, am oddly drawn to the colorblock pleated dress, and those scarves look beautiful and soft and expensive, but no elephants for me, ever, b/c i worry someone will think i am a Republican.

    old navy is GREAT for kid clothes. cuter than GAP, with more consistent sizing and better price points for stuff they’re going to grow out of in four minutes anyway.

  10. Robin says:

    BR had the most amazing jewelry going on 8-10 yrs ago. Now, I just can’t. Maybe the shoes every once in a while. They seem to be good quality when they are made in Italy, which they seem to be. Back in they day, they were my go-to place for professional clothes. If I need an interview suit on the cheap I will still head there first but leave empty handed. It’s sad. Gap – I’m waiting. ON – I gave up. Also, where is all this stuff made? Has anyone noticed that J.Crew recently posted some lengthy info. on their sourcing of products. May be a good direction. Now if Zara and others would do the same. I wish it was more comprehensive but it’s a start.

  11. Tamara says:

    Yeah, no more banana for me either, not for years, but banana was always second fiddle to jcrew, which remains, after 20+ years, my favorite.

    • Sara says:

      Yeah, I love jcrew too. Even when I tell myself to stop, I can’t. wearing one of their “silk popovers” now.

  12. Love that you’re voicing your reservations about Banana Republic AND that they happen to be one of your blog’s sponsors at the moment. No really, it’s great.

  13. Suz says:

    There are signs of life at Banana Republic. Still more misses that hits, but its wearable. I had a gift card that I was able to use up on more than black pants and/or t shirts this past holiday. I want to be able to shop there happily again But yeah….its been a while.

    Ha – maybe I can meet them for coffee 🙂 Catch up…..see if they got all that gray out of their system….

  14. Suz says:

    ^ than not that. Typing is not a strong point.

    I was just thinking – I cannot recall the last time I was in an ON or Gap without sighing and leaving. I can’t even score a decent t shirt there anymore. I miss having reliable stores for basics.

  15. Sara says:

    For me Banana Republic was perfect around 1998. The quality was soo good. I can even remember the catalog! They had the perfect thick black cashmere sweater that lasted me many years. Even if I managed to find such a beautiful sweater now, it would most likely be prohibitively expensive…

  16. keirele says:

    Are we really discussing the Gap without talking about Bangladesh? It’s only been a few weeks, people.

  17. liz says:

    I know what you mean about BR. I have not regularly shopped there for 5 years aside form the occasional pair of pants or basic skirt or earring. I prefer J Crew for everything!! Oddly, I still like the gap. I like the younger look now that I am in my late 40’s.

  18. Viajera says:

    I never quite bonded with BR because they used to only have muted colors.

    But I know other people who really liked them, especially because they had these certain types of pants fits that you could rely on from year to year. I hope they don’t change that! I don’t see why things that work have to be thrown in the garbage just because they aren’t trendy.

    Gap has been variable on quality for a while, but I found pants there that fit, which is pretty hard to do. They were well-made too. It really depends.

    I thought the Gap was one of those places that tried to treat workers well. Did that change?

  19. Katie says:

    The Gap/BR/ON family is one of the only sources I’ve found for long length tops. Long arms *and* long torso. They have therefore earned my loyalty if I ever want to wear a non-baggy shirt that touches my wrists.

  20. carrie says:

    From the point of view as an ex advertising print stylist and now a wardrobe stylist for those on a budget. This work has brought me to BR often through the past 15 yrs. They have good and bad seasons. They do their bread and butter boring basic from work to casual. But I often find some great things that most would describe as J.Crew like which you can get at about half the price when on sale.
    I felt like commenting because I find it interesting the comments people make when they haven’t been in the store for several years..

  21. Suz says:

    I agree with Carrie ^ above. As an arts person I have zero funds generally; I am still a little peeved by the “admins closet” snark a few comments back. Really? As if wardrobe and paycheck were so aligned as far as style. BR has basics (as many have said – pants are a strong point) for those of us on budgets.

  22. Gersha says:

    I have enjoyed BR these last couple years. Gap had a great year in 2011 for me.

  23. Lizzie says:

    BR is generally too colorful for me, and I agree about the decline in quality overall. But I just went recently and found dark skinny jeans (long enough for my 34 inseam in the regular size) and a basic white tee (from their essential line, or whatever it’s called) and am very happy with them. Excellent quality basics and that day the entire store was 40% off (including full priced items)!