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Shopping From the Past: Banana Republic

In the 1970s, Banana Republic started out by buying old military surplus clothing and washing, restoring, and selling them. Pretty clever plan, if it’s sold right, and it was done very well indeed – the catalogs felt like a less flowery J. Peterman crossed with a dash of Paul Bowles fanboy. Lots of fun. Eventually, Banana Republic starting buying surplus fabrics and making their own clothes…. one thing led to another and they were bought by the Gap in 1983. The quality held on for a while – Italian-made cotton fleece, English and Italian luggage, and even US-made Ventile safari jackets.

I was paid for a delightful day helping Matt at the Flea with a gorgeous English-made shoulder bag from the spring 1987 collection, found for $5 at a thrift store. Lesli is pretty sure that it was made by Chapman, given the material and webbing clues. Stating the obvious, it’s sad to compare this gorgeous bag with Banana Republic’s current made in China offering:

Here’s the original catalog entry:
Here are more catalog pages for your shopping pleasure, courtesy of the fantastic Abandoned Republic (essential browsing for fans of the early BR). Send your orders to BR in Mill Valley, c.1980-87.

8 thoughts on “Shopping From the Past: Banana Republic”

  1. I have many of the catalogues – couldn’t bear to toss them. I framed several for a client (kept them intact), and told her she had to return them to me when she changed “decor”.

    Also, thought of your site when I read “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”, because the author talked about a store in a nearly abandoned town, that had stacks of brand new (as in vintage, unsold) Wolverine? shoe boxes that she could see through a dusty window. I returned the book – it’s a great read, so maybe you can read it and find the info about the shop.

    (I usually post as colorinformal)

  2. GREAT POST. I LOVED BR IN HIGH SCHOOL AND WHEN I FIRST SAW THE FLAGSHIP WITH THE LAND ROVER BUSTING THROUGH THE STORE I NEARLY LOST MY SHIT. HOW DO THEY LOSE THIER WAY? SAFARI JACKET ANYONE?

  3. I remember being an early member of REI co-op. You could find great buys in surplus camping gear and clothing. Now that they have so many retail stores everything is Chinese made junk at top $$$$. I miss the good old days.

  4. I used to love Banana Republic. I used to be able to get cute shoes made in Italy and Spain from them. Now they are all throw away junk from China. Prices stay the same but the quality is way down. Sad.

  5. I have that bag! My father was a bit obsessive/compulsive about English field bags — he must have bought at least 2 dozen over the years from several producers — some are too pretty for me to beat up, but the BR version is one I use regularly.

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