This week Gap Inc. announced that they’re closing 175 stores. This news was met with almost universal sorrow by everyone I know, even the people who haven’t set foot in a Gap store since they stopped selling pocket tees. Gap is so much more than just a clothing store. They provided the wardrobes of our adolescence: Remember those oversized jean jackets (mine was mint green)? What about your first Gap outfit? Mine was a “popcorn” sweater and jean mini. Right after college, I got my first pair of “real pants” there: taper-leg stretch pants in black with a hidden zip up the side.
Gap has always been there, a reliable stop in every mall and every town where you’re sure to find something cute and easy and decently made. It won’t be something snatched from the runway and it might not be an eye-catcher, but that plain tank top and those not-too-skinny jeans will be totally current, affordable and flattering, and if they don’t have your size, the salespeople will call one of the other 10 Gaps in the vicinity and find it in a flash.
The store closings have forced us to consider a world without Gap. Here are some of the ways the retail landscape and our lives would have been far bleaker without it.
1. No Pocket Tees
What would I have worn from 1988 to 1993 without the pocket tee? I had it in lavender, green and, of course, white. I rolled up the sleeves when rolling up the sleeves was cool. I wore it tucked into jeans and untucked with a black elastic-waist Gap skirt. I wore them under sweaters (long to cover the butt), and when I spilled bleach on them, I wore them to bed until they were threadbare.
2. No Logo, No Orange Stores, No “Fall Into the Gap”
3. No Dorm Room Decor
I papered my first-year dorm room with Gap’s gorgeous and, dare I say, moving ads of celebrities wearing khakis.
4. No Denim Shirts or Jackets
Remember when those oversized Gap denim shirts were so hot? A little bit country, not exactly a little bit rock ‘n’ roll, but definitely the coolest thing to wear when busting a move to Terence Trent D’Arby’s “Wishing Well” at the Coleytown Middle School dance. And don’t get me started again on the baggy jean jackets. Beyond awesome.
5. No Wall of Sweats
Remember when you first went into the Gap? It was around 1983 for me, and I thought I’d died and gone to comfy clothes heaven. Floor-to-ceiling shelves crammed with sweatshirts and sweatpants in every conceivable shade. I had pale pink sweats that I wore with slouchy white socks and white Reebok high-tops every day of third grade until my mother insisted I change clothes. I was a beautiful, before-my-time study in athleisure long before Lululemon came along.
6. No Mom Jeans
7. No Banana Republic
No Gap Kids, no Old Navy, no Athleta, no Piperlime (RIP), either.
8. No (RED)
Gap’s (RED) tees for the AIDS/HIV charity were stylish, socially conscious and everywhere.
9. No Colored Denim
Gap wasn’t the first company to make jeans in rainbow hues, but they were certainly the ones who told kids of the ’80s it was okay to wear them. I happen to have been the proud owner of a pair of pink jeans. Pastel-colored Love’s Baby Soft-pink jeans. They were hideous! But they were cool (I think?).
10. No Heaven
Remember when Gap started selling fragrances in the mid-’90s? I so wanted to love their scents in their lovely utilitarian packaging. They did not smell good, but A for effort, Gap.
The summer after I graduated college, I was a nanny for the kids of a woman who was a design executive at Gap. When she’d leave for work, her daughter would throw a tantrum and ask her what was so important that she had to leave (evidently someone didn’t think repeated viewings of Anne of Green Gables was fun). “I’m dressing America,” her mother would reply regally. And you know what? She really was.