What happened to the Gap?

The language of style.
March 9 2006 6:37 PM

Never Mind the Gap

How the retailer's clothes got so dreadful.

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Next stop on my tour was GapBody, where sleep- and loungewear in cheerful lollipop shades filled the racks. Hanging above them were color photographs of beaming "nice girls" with their arms folded modestly beneath their bras. GapBody may be all about the bedroom, but the idea of sex had been excised from the place. (Also, the padded bras seemed a little expensive at $36 each.) Here was an area where the company seems to have confused basic with boring—certainly not the best way to woo the youth market.

Or maybe the youth market is the problem. Perhaps the Gap should give up on the young folks (whose tastes are notoriously fickle, anyway) and get back to the business of black pants and the women who once lived for them. It's too bad, really, that the Gap's parent company has launched Forth & Towne, a new line of stores that will cater to women over 35. It might have been smarter for the Gap itself to reclaim a generation whose fashion senses were cemented at the age of 21 (and who are unlikely ever to get their heads around crocheted gauchos—or their hips into J Brand 914 cigarette jeans). These people need clothes, too, and they're not ready to shop at Talbot's. The trick is not to scare them away with rubberized trench coats, but to give them clothes so basic and familiar that they begin to shop at the Gap again without even realizing that they're doing so—kind of like those unwitting Ambien drivers cruising the streets at 3 a.m. It's time for the Gap to give up on being cool. Middle age is about accepting yourself and your limitations. And the Gap, after all, which came into the world in 1969—just as I did—is rapidly approaching 40.