In the late 1980s, I was a big fan of Banana Republic. Actually, I’ve bought items from Banana Republic many times since then, but the Banana Republic of today is very different from the Banana Republic of then.
It used to be that Banana Republic was more of a catalog experience, where the catalogs were printed on cream colored, heavy stock paper. The items were not photographed but illustrated, and they were described in expansive, worldly prose. The vibe was Continental Explorer — as if you were planning a trip abroad, maybe in deepest Africa, maybe in the sultry streets of Cairo, maybe wandering along the streets of Paris. More likely, you just needed clothes for wandering around your American town or suburb, but you wanted it to feel like an adventure, or like you might need to jet away on a transcontinental flight at any moment.
Banana Republic is nothing like this now, as we know. Now, it’s more like eternal casual Friday at a law firm. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; as I say, I’ve shopped there a lot, at least when I am size 12 and under (they seem not to choose to clothe the full-figured folk). But back in the day, it was a store for the wanna-be adventurer.
Fortunately, we can return to those glory days easily, thanks to Abandoned Republic, a website that seeks out catalogs and clothing from old school Banana Republic.
This weekend, the site featured a catalog from 1986, and in it was a dress that I coveted for a long time, then bought and wore with great joy for years. The Weekend Dress.
I got this in black. I think I bought it at the Banana Republic store in Faneuil Hall, which had an old Jeep built into the store wall, half in the store and half outside. The pockets seemed like they’re be useful, but they threw off the line of the dress and made one look lumpy, so mostly they added unfortunate weight. I also bought the Collar Stud Belt advertised on the same page of the catalog and the Brass Knob Belt on page 57, but I didn’t end up wearing them with the dress — never liked how the dress bunched up with a belt.
The Weekend Dress was much-admired by my female friends in college, but not so much by my boyfriend. Looking back, I see it was really pretty frumpy, particularly on my figure, and it was kind of like wearing a sack.
But I loved it so, in no small part because I loved how it had been described in the catalog: a versatile, ready-for-anything piece that would adapt to any situation. Really, what I wanted was to be versatile, ready-for-anything, able to adapt to any situation, and I didn’t feel that I was. I hoped buying the right piece of clothing would cover for what I didn’t think I had. It took me a long time to understand that clothes don’t make the woman — the woman makes herself. But I do appreciate that that dress helped fill in for a short time.