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2005.03.07

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Over at The Rage Diaries, there's a great discussion going on about the GAP. In particular, why the GAP sucks now. Is it just me, or is this season of American Idol kind of ... well, meh? I can't... [Read More]

Comments

Brianne

I'm so glad you commented on this. For one thing, the commercials are ruining that song for me. (And I really like that song.) Plus, I really don't want to buy what SJP is selling. Her toothpick frame really doesn't make the clothes more appealing. I long switched from Gap to Old Navy for my basics and the higher-end pieces at the Gap are just too bland to justify the price tag.

Samantha

Maybe this is just me, but I haven't really liked the gap for the last year or so. The designs have focused on really soft, faded fabrics. They aren't quite appropriate for work. It's like the juniors section, with all the fringiness and contrast stitching. It's just not polished enough. And I don't find the clothes to be very flattering. There are a few standards that they haven't changed, like the modern fit pants, and I still buy those.

I've been kind of mad at the gap ever since they stopped making standard cotton t-shirts that weren't super stretchy or super long and tight. I liked the old boxy styles. Thanks for giving me a place to gripe!

Lisa

The Rage Diaries: not just for my rage. Let it all out.

If any of you work in retail, I would really love to hear from you on this too.

Alexandra

Gap clothes just...don't really fit me very well. Granted, I'm only five feet tall, so very few brands could be described as "fitting me well," but lately I've found that I look like a toy dump truck in Gap clothes. And that look is so last year.

Also, like Samantha said, they're just weirdly in-between styles. They're too matchy-matchy cutesy trendy for me to be caught dead wearing to class/the movies/the bar. Gap clothes just make you look like you're trying, and not in the good way. But they don't look like you're trying hard enough to count as work clothes. They look like you got all your office attire tips from Legally Blonde. I wouldn't wear most Gap items to my secretary job because I'd feel like I was too...trendy.

So maybe that's their problem - the trendiness. Or at least the overt trendiness, which is not trendy right now (if that makes any sense.) I mean, Sarah Jessica Parker may have been somehow crowned the unofficial queen of fashion, but I don't know anyone who'd want to dress like her in real life. I feel like Gap clothes are possibly making the same mistake. It's like they're made for this pretend world where everyone is stick-skinny and bouncy, where people run around wearing things like a yellow t-shirt with pink contrast stitching, layered under a pink blazer with a fabric flower pinned on the lapel. And...dude, I don't live there.

I live in two places:
a) I live on a college campus, where I wear jeans and tees and flip flops. I wear polos and babydoll tank tops and cardigans and - yes, sometimes - khakis, but I'd die if any of it looked like it came as a set. All I'm doing is taking notes and eating pizza; I don't want to look like I just returned from the world's only safari fashion show.
b) I live in an office, where I'm required to answer phones and type a bunch of crap and occasionally be seen by clients. I wear button-down shirts and suits, and that's about it. It's okay for those to look like they came as a set - preferable, really - but I still don't want to look like I just returned from the world's only safari fashion show.

I don't know, I just feel like other companies mesh better with my "worlds." Gap tries to fit into both of them but fails to fit into either - although I'll admit that I am a fan of Banana Republic's expanding petite line.

Anyabeth

I work for a speciality store that competes with Gap but is a much bigger store (which shall remain nameless because I want to keep my job).

We review the Gap's numbers all the time and they have been on a steady decline since the line started to gear itself towards the trendier, fashion forward customer. Also when they changed their fit to be somewhere in between missy and junior.

The trendy line is a tempting one for retailers because that is a customer that is constantly buying new items. That customer does not buy a pair of khakis and then come back the next year for another pair. However, the fashion customer has almost endless choices now so its even harder to choose what she will like and when she will like it (I am talking about women as a customer because men are a totally different beast).

I think Gap (and Banana Repulic, its sister division) make their big mistakes here. Banana is very good at producing collections, collections that build that must-have factor. Where they fail is they buy every single trend. And they buy a lot of it. I wear a lot of Banana but I do not think I have bought a single thing at full price in almost three years. They buy heavily into trends and then cannot produce that kind of volume. The Gap, however, just cannot pick the trends properly. They buy weird and unwearable trends like sequin scarves and shrugs and so women who are career oriented don't identify with it anymore. The Gap stores started to fail when adult women (out of college) stopped shopping there.

Sorry to run on and on about this but this is something that those in retail talk about all the time. And believe me everyone is talking about Gap, Inc.

Alexandra

If any of you work in retail, I would really love to hear from you on this too.

Whoops. Before I saw this, I'd already unleashed my personal rage. I could tap into my ex-store manager rage for a second too, though.

I think Gap's main problem, aside from Anyabeth's spot-on comment about buying into too many trends, is that they don't know who they're trying to sell to. I mean, who are these ads targeting? I look at them, and I really don't know. I suppose they're targeting me? Twenty- to thirty-something women living in fairly populated areas? But I don't see any twenty- to thirty-something women from metropolitan areas wearing head-to-toe Gap. Not in my head, and not on the street. You really can't picture a "stereotypical Gap customer" - at least, I can't.

J. Crew suffered from the same problem back in 2002-2003 (incidentally, just before ex-Gap CEO Millard Drexler was appointed CEO of the company - J. Crew's fourth in five years). They were sort of trying to fabricate a demographic - the "if you build it, they will come" mentality. They hit rock bottom when they came out with this "preppy ranch" floorset that was all about checkered shirts and western-style jeans - and they were marketing this to the demographic I described above. It looked cute on the posters in a whimsical, fantasy-land sort of way, but I don't know anyone who'd wear it in real life.

I think Gap really just needs to take a look at their line and not just ask, "Why aren't our clothes selling?" but ask instead, "Where have our target customers gone instead?" Get down to what they're doing wrong now and what they were doing right before. Gap's current clothing line doesn't mesh with its reputation, which means that the people who go to the store based on previous good experiences don't like the clothes; and the people who'd like the clothes are less likely to go into the store in the first place.

When Drexler first took over J. Crew, he visited almost every store in the nation and spoke firsthand with employees about what was selling and what wasn't. He asked what customers' common gripes were. He also fired a boatload of people, from the men's clothing designers down to some district sales managers. Interestingly, as this fascinating article shows, a lot of the people who are currently making J. Crew so successful at rebounding have been brought over from Gap. So maybe that's Gap's problem - the guy who turned them around left, and took all the good people with him.

And, um, I think I took over your blog. Sorry.

Lisa

Not at all. I am FASCINATED by the J. Crew turnaround story. I was trying to see if I had linked to that article at some point, but I don't think I have.

I have, however, apparently been carping about SJP for some time.

Anyabeth, I am so glad you posted. You are not running on at all.

meghan

I'm 25, and when I was in high school and college, the Gap to me was where you bought your clothing staples - a pair of jeans, a pair of khakis, maybe a pair of nice black pants, a few button-down shirts, etc. Stuff that necessarily wouldn't go out of style in a year and wasn't TOO expensive; stuff that is OK to wear to class and maybe to work if work is pretty casual. But now I go in there and everything is just so... I don't know, "ugly" isn't the right word, but I just don't like it. Nothing appeals to me (except the Gap Body store, which I love; I think their bras are comfy and last me a long time, although they are a little on the pricey side. But they always have deals on cotton underpants, which is great). But if I go over to the J. Crew store, I see a lot more stuff that I like - and there is stuff that is more appropriate for me to wear to work or something. Plus, J.Crew is fabulous for having a petites line, even if it is online-only.

I also like Ann Taylor Loft, which has some of those basic clothes - black pants, white button-down shirts, etc., made for younger women. They also have a petites section in the store, which is always a huge plus.

So that's my 2 cents on the Gap. I hate those commercials with SJP, too. They really grate.

Anyabeth

Ok since its not running on at all . .

I think that Alexandra is right, that the Gap doesn't know who their customer is. I can imagine their buy meetings and I can tell you what they are saying, "Our customer is EVERYONE." You can pull that off in a department store, or speciality store like Neimans, but not in a smaller store like the Gap.

I wasn't kidding about the fit, they are using a modified junior's fit. Which basically means that it has the smaller waists of the missy fit but the smaller hips of the junior fit. This kind of explains the use of Sarah Jessica Parker--her body type fits the clothes.

Its a weird situation and every retailer is dealing with it. They want trends, because trends sell clothes. But if you become too trend orientated then regular people are going to stop shopping there. I think that with the hiring SJP, they took their final step towards where they wanted to go. They want to be the "Sex in the City" store. As in, they want to bring the very fashion forward trends to the masses. Problem is that I do not know anyone who can wear that style in real life. Its not work appropriate. Its not casual appropriate. It really only works for very specific situations.

Ok, going to stop hogging now. Except to note that one area where they have been wildly successful? Children's and maternity. That should explain their problems in the women's line upstairs to the execs right away.

Girl Detective

It's been a few years, but a Minnesota chain called Christopher and Banks (a friend calls it reasonably priced soccer mom clothes) had great success by relentlessly profiling their target customer and even giving her a name, Mary. http://www.succeedinginbusiness.com/blog/archives/000013.html

Eve

I think that Gap's color story has been crap since about...forever. As Samantha astutely pointed out above, Gap's focus on "soft, faded fabric" makes it tough for most of us with jobs to pull off, especially since the stuff is unusaly colored enough that the only things that seem to go with it is...more Gap shit!

When Old Navy does something in a funky color, they also have it in basic colors (neutrals, colors from the damn color wheel you had in your grade school art class), that compliment the less-common colors, making it work as an accent color.

If I want something in an unusual color (which I usually don't), I can get it at Anthropologie, and it's going to be more interesting in a number of oher ways, and stand on its own as a cool piece. But al lot of Gap stuff seems to be a regular cut and style, just a weird-ass color and fabric, which just makes it look like a mistake.

When I went into the San Francisco flagship last week, all I could think was that it looked like a Gap outlet store, where all the weird-colored stuff goes to die.

I'm just not really sure there's a place for Gap any more. You can go to Old Navy for your basics as well as trend items, and go to Banana for your "higher-end" stuff. I guess I don't see what market area Gap's trying to fill -- but, I'll tell ya, whatever area it is, you're not filling it with salmon acid-washed looking cropped pants.

Alexandra

I agree, Eve, Gap seems to have cannibalized itself a bit.

Girl Detective, that was really interesting. During high school I worked for a mid-priced teen retailer that was in direct competition with the Gap, and we had something very similar. There was a huge poster in the stockroom about who our target customers were. "Keith" worked at a record store and attended a "nearby state university (NOT a private school)." He was on the lacrosse team, which required him to maintain a B average in his liberal arts studies - his major was perpetually undeclared. Keith's favorite bands changed every floorset, but he tended to be a big fan of bands like Third Eye Blind as well as edgier alt/rap stuff. Kelly worked as a part-time waitress and went to the same school as Keith. She was on the soccer team and the track team, and she was a communications major. Kelly really liked techno music, but only in the right setting - for most purposes, she favored music like Matchbox 20 and Dave Matthews Band. Neither Kelly nor Keith's race was specified, and their pictures changed every floorset - sometimes Kelly was a black girl while Keith was a Latino guy, sometimes one was Asian and the other caucasian. Each floorset we got an update on Keith and Kelly's lives - their favorite thing about winter, their new favorite bands, and (of course) their favorite items from the new collection.

At a separate, slightly more expensive college-geared store I later worked at, we targeted our customers by targeting our employees. Little mention was made of customers, but we had to be relentless in our pursuit of the perfect employees: attractive, athletic private school kids whose list of favorite hangouts included the frat house, the gym, and the beach. The idea was that our employees would create the brand image, and our insecure teen/early-twenties customers would buy into it. As a manager, I frequently visited college campuses, crashed sorority meetings, and trolled college sports events looking for brand-positive kids. I'd stalk kids who were shopping in my store, I'd grab an outgoing employee and together we'd walk the mall in search of recruits. Did you ever see that Army recruiting scene in Fahrenheit 9/11? Yeah, it was a lot like that. I'm not proud, but it is currently paying for my college education.

And Lisa, I've spent four holiday seasons with J. Crew since age 16 (I'm currently 22.) It's sort of like the Hotel California. Nobody ever really leaves (except, uh, all those CEO's.)

For real, I'm going to stop talking now.

Lauren

The Gap just seems...cheap now. And I say that as someone working on a limited salary (god bless journalism!).

The colors are always slightly off -- the pink is too Pepto, the sea green makes you look seasick, the yellow is too acid. J.Crew's going for a bright, trendy demo, but somehow their colors are always flattering; not so at the Gap.

All the pants -- including the jeans -- have stretch now, too, and stretch is the devil. It's just not flattering. I used to buy two or three pairs of jeans there each year, but haven't done so in at least two years, since they imposed their Lycra fetish on innocent Americans.

The quality of fabrics in general has just gone down hill, I think. I wouldn't buy khakis there now if you paid me, but the Gap used to be a good place to look for those.

To sum up my ramblings, I think they've killed their staples (jeans, khakis, things like that) and haven't executed the trendy stuff well.

Old Navy is cheaper and turns trends over faster; J.Crew's staples are pricey but they don't pill after the first wash. I'd rather buy up than settle, and buying anything at the Gap these days is settling.

Sheila

You know, I was thinking that I'd just grown out of the Gap -- I'm 33, maybe just too old for the Gap... but the thing is, I got two pairs of dressy wide-leg pants from the Gap when I was in law school (oh, maybe six years ago? seven?), and I still wear those. I'd still shop there if they still sold clothes like that. They're well made, the fabric and cut makes them hang nicely, they're long enough to be just right to wear with heels. The Gap just -- grew away from me, I think. Their clothes have been a turnoff for long enough that I had literally no idea about the junior-missy sizing; and I sure as hell would have noticed that, because it sounds like nothing in there would fit me.

I think the other main problem is their theory that they can sell ooh, CRAZY, WACKY clothes to the masses. If I want to wear something really distinctive (like that Scarf of Many Colors they tried to shove down our throats a while back), there no -chance- that I'm going to buy it from a store that's selling exactly the same piece in every town in the country. Chains are for nice, neutral, basic stuff.

Sars

As a Hipless Wonder, I don't mind the narrow hip cut -- in fact, I prefer it -- but I remember this Gap color wheel from 1992, and it wasn't any more flattering then. And the wide-leg pants...forget it.

It's a pity that the Gap isn't the staples store it used to be, because for every trend that some retailers are making a mint off of, there's a hundred thousand women who are drumming their fingers waiting for it to go "out" already. Eddie Bauer gets this; the Gap doesn't anymore. Nor does the Gap seem to get that we already have an American Eagle and it's got a way better palette than the Gap does. And is cheaper.

Mary

Wow! Being the plus-sized gal I am means that I haven't shopped at the Gap for many years. But I'm not dead--I've seen the commercials. From a "Grass is always greener" perspective, since I can't buy anything there, I've longed for it. But I'd like to think that if I went in and could wear their clothes, that I wouldn't wear any of the things that make me shake my head in amazement.

I am older than the other posters, but I'm young at heart and I can wear jeans everyday, so I can do the more casual looks. And I am currently losing weight. But after what I've read here, I probably won't fit into their sizes even after I lose weight!

And Lisa--SJP is pushing 40 pretty hard herself. I had to look it upon IMDB.com. She'll be 40 on 3/25!

Kate

I'm surprised to hear that their maternity line is doing well, Anyabeth. Maybe it's just because there is no other decent maternity stuff out there, but as someone currently shopping for maternity clothes I am pretty dismayed by what the Gap has to offer. A lot of it suffers from the same too-trendy-yet-cheap-looking disease as the rest of their offerings. I mean, I'm looking for some comfortable, spring-y maternity skirts, and what the Gap has is a) flared, too-bright prints that hit six inches above the knee (because it's not awkward enough to bend over when you're pregnant; short skirts let you worry about actually baring your expanding ass!); several skirts with knots/ribbons at the waistband (because you really want to have your top hit right at the band of the skirt, thus meaning that every time you move you bare your expanding belly); asymmetrical, messy-looking handkerchief skirts (for which I have no explanation); a two-tiered pleated skirt in aquafresh green; and a couple of pencil skirts, the better to emphasize how much wider you are in the midriff and hip regions than at the knees. Nothing, to my mind, that's cute. Nothing classic. And, worse, nothing more than a buck or two under $50, which is way more than I personally will spend on something I'll wear for a maximum of four months.

The pants are a little better and appear to have been designed with some thought given to the bodies of pregnant women, but they're still a bit pricey. At Old Navy, I got four or five serviceable things for a grand total of about $75.

I have an easier time understanding the popularity of Gap Kids and Baby Gap, where there is a lot of adorable, serviceable stuff that is very well priced. But I really think Gap for grown-ups has jumped the shark. Just a couple of years ago they were at least coming out with a must-have item every spring or so. Now, their stuff all just looks tired and junky. All those cheap, gauzy fabrics and ruffles and flares and so on really seem to lose sight of what the brand used to be about.

Uli

It's interesting, I haven't lived in the States since my college years and where I do live doesn't have the Gap (I know, it's remarkable, but such countries do still exist). However I do return to the States at least once every 12 months and generally hit the Gap, and every other store one can think of, while I'm there.

What I have found over the last six or seven years is that one year I will go to the Gap and want to buy everything in the store. The next year I will go in and buy nothing. The latter was the case the last time I was there, about 12 months ago. With the exception of the aforementioned Gap Body bras - which I literally live in - nothing appealed on any level. On the other hand, on my previous trip less than two years ago, I bought 5 pairs of jeans and several other things including the work pants I'm wearing right now.

I guess what I'm saying is that in my experience Gap goes wildly up and down from season to season and year to year. So I give up on a season, not the store entirely - and giving up on this season appears to be the way to go, based on your comments and the horrible khaki SJP ad on the back cover of the Vogue issue I just received in the mail...

Marie

Gap has just forgotten why they named themselves that in the first place. It was for the age gap. The people who weren't seniors and weren't high school kids. The company built itself on a stylish -- not trendy -- quality product (except denim they left to Levi) and staple clothing to supplement a wardrobe. You didn't go to Gap for flair, you went because you could find the perfect black sweater. When was the last time they even carried one?

Also, I used to work there from 1990-1994. I can say that they seriously do not adhere to their former customer service levels. And, if you buy something nice you have to fight to get the hanger. That's just rude.

Rachel

I just want to agree with Uli - as someone living in a nonGap country, I always hit Gap when I go to the US and it is remarkably hit and miss. Last November, I spent a ton of money and got 4 pairs of trousers, a skirt, several T-shirts. Last month, a lot of stuff from an outlet store and very little from the main store. Interesting to hear about the cut - a lot of the trousers no longer fit me (short and hippy). Marks & Spencer in the UK has suffered from the same problem for the past decade - it switched from doing classics for professional/middle-aged women (and great underwear) to being fashion forward, but failed to realize that teenagers won't buy from a store with a fuddy-duddy rep, regardless of how good the new stuff is. Sounds like Gap has the same problem.

Margaret

I haven't personally set foot in a Gap in years- for a while I was fluctuating in weight and nothing fit me. Then when I was back in their size bracket again- nothing fit me. I'm tallish but not really tall with a narrow waist and wide hips, so I'm used to it being a little difficult to find pants that fit properly, but nothing there fit properly. Every shirt gapped, every pair of pants pulled in some odd place. And not only have they lost the concept of how actual women are shaped, they seem to have forgotten what their market was by chasing every trend.. just a minute too late.

I worked in retail until last winter at a chain store that doesn't compete directly with Gap exactly (at least I don't think so). At one point in the late fall of last year, I actually had a customer in her mid- 20s come in and rejoice over the fact that we had plenty of sweaters that weren't "weird ass candy colors" (her words). I asked where she'd been - the Gap across the street. The store I was working at has a bit of a 'fuddy duddy' reputation, but annoyance had brought her in. So on behalf of my old employers, I'd like to encourage the Gap to keep doing whatever it's doing (except please get SJP off of my tv, and stop using songs I like) but from a consumer standpoint it would be nice if they'd go back to making wearable clothes at a decent price.

Pirate Bride

"You didn't go to Gap for flair, you went because you could find the perfect black sweater. When was the last time they even carried one?" <---word, Marie. I think well-constructed basics. BASICS. Not $68 plain-assed khakis that come in fits made for sticks like SJP. Being a curvy gal who's only 4'9", it's obvious that my limits are many. However, I could always count on them for pants, tops, and even skirts that would mix well with others (scarves, shoes, flair, etc.). Now, all they focus on is "others".

SJP brings an air of condescension with her that makes me frustrated--I don't have millions, I don't have to have my already-teeny pants tailored down (girls, you KNOW she's doing that), and don't want 15 pieces of fluffy pink flair on me at any time.
Gap does not = Banana Republic, Old Navy, Eddie Bauer, Abercrobmie & Fitch, Forever 21, H&M, etc., yet they're taking ideas from each store any trying to make it work under Ye Olde Gap Brand.

Please, make her stop.
And please, bring back the basics.

hannah

I used to shop at the Gap a lot, pretty much through my high school, college, and about half of grad school. Now I have no idea how long it's been since I set foot in one of their stores. Part of the decline came when they closed the Gap that was within walking distance of my office, leaving only the store in our horrifically crappy mall. But my main problems are that their clothes are too expensive, poorly made, and completely unpredictable when it comes to sizing.

So now I buy nearly all of my clothes from Ann Taylor Loft. They have incredible deals and promotions (like the 1/2 off your next purchase cards, plus they mark things down really quickly). The last time I went on a shopping spree there, I got five sweaters and a watch for about $115, plus two of those 1/2-off next purchase cards. And their clothes well made--they last nearly forever. And they offer a lot of their line in petite sizes (which is what I need) that don't assume that shortness = no hips/bust. Their sizing is very predictable--I can order things online (when I'm too lazy to go to the store) and know that they are going to fit.

Anne

I still have a black cotton sweater I bought at the Gap in 1988/89. I don't wear it much now, but it's held up great and was a perfect cut and style for the time.

However, I haven't seriously shopped in the Gap for years. My problems with them are a like many who have already posted here: the clothes are too boring for fun, too casual for work, they fit too small, they're poorly made, the fit isn't consistent, the colors are usually off-putting, and the shirts always gap at the buttons. Over Christmas break, I was in search of a decent pair of jeans, and the Gap ones that fit me best, and that I wanted to buy, had a pointless sailor-pants seam at the bottom cuff. Why? Who knows.

In addition, unlike the Gap stores of the 80s -- the stores now are always a huge mess. Pawed over, sloppy, and poorly organized. I can accept that from Old Navy, since they're so cheap, but most Old Navy stores here are better kept than our Gaps these days.

Finally, at my advanced age (36), I'm looking for pieces (for fun or work) made with a little more care, detailing, interest. Eve mentioned Anthropologie -- we just got one here and that's the chain I'm currently obsessed with. I think they are over-priced (stupidly so), and hope not to get lost in there and get dizzy with my credit card, but as Eve said, their clothes stand on their own.

I've actually been complaining a lot lately about not being able to find interesting, age-appropriate clothing. There are a bunch of stores for young women, and a bunch for older women, but I'm not sure what's being marketed towards Generation X. What's an aging hipster with an office job and more chub than she'd like to do for clothes?

Leila

When I think of the Gap, I think of soft comfortable shirts and even more comfortable undies and bras. I also think of lots of jeans, khakis, buttoned down shirts, black A line skirts, the staples of anyone’s closet. Trendy is not a word that I would have associated with the Gap. That’s why I’m baffled to see SJP (who in my opinion is the uber queen of trendy fashion thanks to her run on SaTC) as their spokesperson. Their current campaign seems to be “What’s hot now?” which is disturbing because the Gap isn’t where I look to when I’m trying to figure out what the current trend is.

I don’t shop at the Gap anymore because it’s progressively become way out of my budget ($98 for a blazer? I’d rather go to JCrew). Though I must say you can’t beat the sales.

Like Alexandra, I briefly worked for JCrew over the holiday break when I was 19 (I’m now 23). While my managers didn’t obsess over Gap’s sales, they tripped every time I’d show up for work in anything from the Gap (even though the company’s policy was you can wear whatever you wanted as long as you looked “preppy” and didn't rock any other company's logo). I only lasted that one season, though remained as a loyal customer.

I find myself walking into a Gap now and turning right back around, horrified by the explosion of hideous color paring and ill-fitting cuts. I want the old non-trendy Gap back.

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