Banana Republic

I own one item of clothing from Banana Republic. It is a pair of brown shorts. I never really intended to buy them at all. One August day I was doing some back to school shopping with my girlfriend. An enthusiast of the Gap and all Gap subsidiaries, she insisted that we drop into the Republic for a few minutes and see what they had in the way of back-to-school clothes. I was looking for some new shorts, and while my girlfriend went off to peruse a collection of black and white "tops," I was told to try on a few pairs.

I have never been one for fitting rooms. I suppose most guys aren't. Generally, I know what I want, in terms of color and style, and do not need to stare at a mirror from three separate angles while contemplating a purchase. Unless size is an issue - and it rarely is - there's no need for me to see myself wearing something in order to justify buying it. In my experience, women are totally different. They'll bring six pairs of jeans into a fitting room with the intention of just buying one, or sometimes none at all. In general, women shop; men buy.

So there I was, in the middle of a fitting room, wearing a brown pair of shorts. Suddenly, my girlfriend knocked on the door and asked what I had picked out. While trying to describe the shorts I currently wore, I used the word "chocolate." My girlfriend squealed with excitement. What a fun color, she said. I must have looked so cute, she said. I had to let her see them on me, she said, and right away. I opened the door and she reacted with a look of minor disappointment. It was sort of like the look you see on a person's face when they have forgotten where exactly they have parked their car and then notice it about a hundred fifty feet further away than they thought it was. "Well, I do like them," she said, "but that's much more of a sepia than a chocolate." Of course. Anyway, one bout of using the fitting room and having my fabric color vocabulary criticized was enough for me for the day. Unwilling to try anything else on, I bought the shorts and left the store in a haste. I wore them once the following school year.

And, yeah, that's the first and last Banana Republic purchase I have ever made. I wonder why. It's not because the clothing isn't my style. After all, the retailer is essentially just an upscale Gap, and their threads are pretty crisp and classy for the most part. It's not because it's too pricey. I mean, yes, $25 is a bit much to pay for a plain white cotton tee, but I've seen far worse. It's not because the store's name is a pejorative reference to the turmoil-filled nations of Central America. In fact, if there is any real reason for my lack of a second purchase, it is probably a certain sales associate.

It was spirit week, senior year. More specifically, the day before dress-up day. For some reason, I really wanted to participate in dress-up day. Our theme was the wild west. I had my get-up all picked out and ready to go. All that was missing was a cowboy hat. So, at the eleventh hour, I scrambled to the mall to look in every store I could think of for a simple cowboy hat. No luck anywhere. My next-to-last resort was Banana Republic. I figured I'd find nothing. I knew they primarily sold "business casual" and "urban chic" items, and that my quest for a country style cowboy hat was likely to turn up nothing. Nonetheless, I went inside and looked for one. A sales associate walked up to me immediately (the store was empty) and asked if she could help me find anything. I asked if Banana Republic sold any cowboy hats. What followed was an epic look of disgust I will never forget.

The woman was a thirty-something blonde with her hair up in a tight bun. She wore a pearl necklace over a black turtleneck sweater up top, and a pinstriped gray knee-length skirt. Pointy-toed heels and sophisticated-looking glasses were also part of the ensemble. The whole costume made her seem like an important board member of some gigantic firm, or perhaps an extremely professional real estate agent. It certainly did not say, "I fold clothes for twelve dollars an hour." Anyway, upon hearing my question, this pseudo-CEO just sneered in disgust. She didn't say a word, but her raised and furrowed eyebrows, evident grimace, and flared nostrils said more than enough. "Are you fucking serious?" they asked me, rhetorically. "Cowboy hats? Look around. Fuck, have you seen what I am wearing? Do you even know where you are?" Hammering the blow home was a slow and deliberately condescending shaking of her head, the look of shock and horror staying all the while.

Banana Republic was founded with a "travel and safari" theme just thirty years ago. Safari vests and hats frequented their early inventories, I'm sure. Was I really that unjustified in asking - not even assuming, but just wondering - if there was any chance that cowboy hats were still sold at Banana Republic? Apparently. While the name "Banana Republic" may bring to mind images of a tropical place full of colors and adventure, the store is instead an uninspired sea of grays, blacks, whites, and chocolate sepia browns.

I ended up buying a felt cowboy hat at a costume store for $5. It was a big hit, especially with one kid who had grown up in Texas who was, by default, the biggest cowboy hat aficionado I knew. Best of all, I never even had to try the hat on before buying it.

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