Abandoned Republic, a blog all about Banana Republic, back when it was cool, has a wonderful scan of a 1985 profile of the company’s founders in Metropolitan Home magazine. Catnip for the safari shirt set.
Banana Republic When It Was Banana Republic
An anonymous reader in Yucca Valley, California sent me a cool gift in the mail today - a group of Banana Republic catalogs from 1987 and 1988.
The company was founded by a pair of journalists in 1978, and purchased five years later by the Gap. Initially, they sold vintage international military surplus, then started reproducing their most popular items. In 1987 and 1988, the founders were still traveling the world, looking for unique and classic clothes to reproduce. The company didn’t become the vaguely Eurotrashy upscale cousin to the Gap until the 1990s.
Above I’ve photographed a few of the coolest items from the catalog - from Ghurka shorts (a passion of mine, I must admit) to reproduction flight jackets. There’s even a cameo from Bloom County artist Berkeley Breathed. If the catalogs pique your interest, the blog Abandoned Republic is dedicated to the early days of Banana, and features tons of photos of clothes and scans of catalogs. Just be careful: once you get yourself down the rabbit hole, it can be tough to get back out. You’ll be saving eBay searches soon enough.
Scott Adams of Abandoned Republic just added some more great catalog graphics from Banana Republic back when it was Banana Republic (seller of safari-inspired adventure clothing), not Banana Republic (seller of Eurotrash-inspired business casual clothing). Love this blog.
(via Archival Clothing)
Banana Republic was originally a surplus vendor, then started to make reproduction surplus goods, then original designs. They were purchased by GAP in the early 80s (both were Bay Area-based) and transformed over the course of ten or fifteen years into the metrosexual mecca they are today.
Whether you’re already a fan of early BR or not, the book they put out in 1986 is a great read.
Our friend Thom Wong from The Sunday Best was foaming at the mouth over the new Banana Republic Mad Men line. I asked him to share his thoughts with our readers, and this is what he sent. - JT
My advice to you if you’re thinking of buying something from the Banana Republic Mad Men® collection - wait. It has all the hallmarks of being one of those deep discount items come November, and most of the pieces won’t be wearable until then, anyway. I could be wrong but I really hope not - this collection makes about as much sense as a Hollister line inspired by people who frequent malls.
Created by the admittedly talented Mad Men designer Janie Bryant, this misguided “collaboration” has taken good style and literally reduced it to a costume. Hey, Banana Republic: men were already shopping at your store thanks to the Mad Men phenomenon. They don’t need you to label the clothes for them. Men have long been taking tips from the show, namely that a certain drape and a tailored fit and good quality materials look awesome on a man. This collection pisses all over that.
Overt self-awareness is the opposite of style, which is at least half of the reason why so many men feel ridiculous at weddings. Trussed up in an outfit someone else has chosen, most grooms look like they just broke into a stranger’s closet and are now wearing his clothes. Costumes are for acting, and a suit marked Mad Men is a costume. It says, “Look at me, I’m playing dress-up.” I call shenanigans.
It doesn’t help that the items in question are virtually indistinguishable from anything else at Banana Republic, largely because the BR crew have been taking cues from Mad Men for the last three seasons. Looking at them I feel the same way I did when I came across a McDonald’s poster advertising Chicken McNuggets®, now with 100% chicken. Thanks for the heads up, McDonald’s!
I know that Put This On readers will not be fooled by this blatant cash grab, but we shouldn’t feel smug about anyone who does buy into it. Make no mistake about it - this is an affront to all men, everywhere. BR is basically calling us stupid and lazy, and between the Ed Hardy and “Megan Fox is hot” nonsense we have to suffer through, I say enough is enough. This has nothing to do with Janie Bryant, who I’m sure is lovely and spends her spare time trying to cure cancer. But if we buy into this now it’s only a matter of time before we’re spraypainting our heads and calling it hair. Rise up.
Maximinimus longs for the return of the old Banana Republic. Perhaps he might enjoy the book published by the company’s journalist founders.
Trav from Street Etiquette writes a bit about his vintage Banana Republic safari jacket. The first Banana Republic store was in my wife’s home town - Mill Valley, California. Another brand that has stumbled far from its roots. At least J. Peterman bought back J. Peterman.
By the way: the SE guys have a Tumblr now.
Q and Answer
Jason writes from frozen Albany to ask:
OK, it is officially really fucking cold. What can the well dressed man put on his head to avoid loosing it to frostbite?
We’re big believers in keeping it simple. Let’s go with a simple watch cap.
The one above comes from the Billings Army-Navy store, is 100% wool, made to US Navy specs, and costs a grand total of $6.95. If it is good enough for the deck of a battleship, it’s good enough for your head. And we like navy blue over black, generally speaking. The advantage of ordering it from the good people in Billings is that once you’ve got them on the phone, you can ask them to throw in a union suit ($29.95), a brass bugle ($39.95), and a Vintage European Wheelbarrow ($199.95).
Of course, if you’ve got sensitive ears, you could also go with this ladies’ watch cap from Lands’ End, which is 100% cashmere and only $29.63 at the moment. A little less heavyweight, but a L/XL should fit a pretty sizable man head, and will be nice and soft. If you’re too embarassed to buy something from the ladies’ section, you can keep your eyes peeled after Christmas as retailers mark down winter accessories pretty dramatically. My two cashmere watch caps were about $15 each from Banana Republic.
Q and Answer
Chris S. writes:
What considerations are necessary in the cuff/sock/shoe colour/pattern decsisionmaking flowchart?
A good question, Chris.
We can start with this: gym socks are for gym shoes. If you’re wearing basketball sneakers, you’re probably off to play basketball, and you should wear athletic socks to do so. Same goes for other athletic endeavors. I buy my gym socks at Costco, and I always buy the same kind so I don’t have to worry about losing one in the wash.
For casual wear, gym socks are dicier, but most padded athletic shoes would look silly with any socks but gym socks. (Excepted: the simplest classic canvas and leather sneakers are usually more suited to a finer colored sock.) If you’re wearing shorts and athletic shoes, no-show athletic socks (the kind that encircle the lowest bit of your ankle) are the most appropriate.
Once you’re wearing proper shoes, the basic rule is to match your socks, more or less, to your pants. The basic principle behind this is that you’d rather lengthen the appearance of your legs than the appearance of your shoes.
In dress situations, you should never show bare leg. That means that over-the-calf dress socks are best - you can buy them at most reputable men’s stores, though shorter socks are the norm. I’ve found great pairs at great prices at the Nordstrom Rack with some regularity. You can also find solid quality plain men’s dress socks (Gold Toes, for example) at warehouse stores like Costco. A few pairs of plain charcoal grey and a few pairs of navy will build the foundation of your sock wardrobe.
We’re big supporters of colorful and patterned socks, generally, but stay away from novelty socks. Argyle is a wonderful choice, with the color pallette varying by season, though we would be disinclined to pair argyle with a suit. Obviously, too, the color, weight and feel of the sock should be consonant with the rest of your outfit, particularly your shoes and pants. Patterned socks can be quite nice with casual pants and an odd jacket. We’ve had good luck with sock sales at Banana Republic, which often get down to $2 or $3 per pair in-store. These usually won’t be very tall, but that’s less important in a more casual context.
Bright socks are wonderful, but they are most effective when used as an accent in an otherwise conservatively styled outfit. Perhaps purple socks with a navy suit and dark shoes pick out a color in your necktie, perhaps they’re just fun. But that’s Advanced Placement dressing. Get your no-skin-showing, no-gym-socks game tight before you start in on stuff like that.
And no socks? We’re no Sartorialist, but we’re fine with that when the weather’s warm. We do prefer loafer or “no show” socks, which will protect your shoes a bit from sweat and your feet a bit from blisters.