Starter Style Review: Banana Republic

Editor’s note: Building great style on a budget can be difficult and expensive. This is the sixth part in an occasional series chronicling great locations to start a wardrobe and buy affordable, good-looking style staples. Catch posts 1-5 in the series here .

The more formal, older brother of the Gap, Inc. group.
The more formal, older brother of the Gap, Inc. group.

Earlier in the year, I took a  look at some essential stores that can be used to start building great personal style at nice, affordable prices. Now, we’re getting back to that same idea, diving into the dressiest of the Gap-Old Navy group — Banana Republic. It’s a store that most of us seem to shop at during one point or another, and it’s not that tough to see why. The prices are, by and large, affordable. The quality is well put-together, and the items feature a fairly good bit of variety. So why does a store like J. Crew seemingly get more attention and appear more on the cutting edge? It’s a question worth considering.

A trip to an NYC Banana Republic (the Upper West Side location, for those curious) offered some answers to those questions and revealed some unconventional items. BR does a lot of things well, quite well, but doesn’t appear to stand out in one particular area (as J. Crew does with its Ludlow suiting and its curated collaborations with brands like Mougin & Piquard or Timex and Alden). However, that doesn’t mean the store is worth overlooking in its entirety.

A selection of lighter-weight blazers on display.
A selection of lighter-weight blazers on display, right next to some polos.

Namely, the store’s lighter-weight blazers and tailoring are a particular strong point. From houndstooth linen to a light grey cotton-linen blend and a khaki option, all were relatively high-quality, with nice, trim fits, minimal interior lining (a crucial point in the hot weather), and features like slimmer lapels. The basics were included too, like some navy and light grey suiting options. However, the selection even in this NYC store was nowhere near as extensive as the website, and only appeared to include the brand’s Tailored Fit option, as opposed to the trimmer Modern Slim option. On the other hand, there were quite a few tailored dress shirts and silk ties on display, making BR a pretty solid first bet to pick up a starter suit and tie set.

Some of the extensive shirting and ties offered at BR.
Some of the extensive shirting and ties offered at BR.

So, the suiting and dress shirt selection is solid and reasonably-priced. What about the rest of the store? Banana Republic has, to this point, done a nice job staying competitive in the men’s footwear market. Some of the more modern options offered in-store (like the Ryan suede double-monk strap shoes, as reviewed here) seem durable and of reliable quality in terms of construction and appearance. And the options offered in-store seem to reflect that  — basic oxfords in grey and navy suede, a chukka sneaker option and some leather loafers, among others. The selection had nice variety in terms of color and options offered, and when on-sale, (like the 30% off featured on this particular day), the prices are knocked down to just north of $100 for some shoes — definitely not a bad price at all.

Shoes on shelves, mostly in summer suede.
Shoes on shelves, mostly in summer suede.

But, it seems Banana Republic could do more to draw in younger customers looking for more contemporary items. The brand’s slim-fit denim is a relatively recent arrival, and exists on the website next to a relaxed-fit option — admittedly, most younger, trimmer guys are looking for something a little more polished and free of most pre-distressing, as found in some of BR’s pairs. Now, not that a lighter-wash or slightly distressed jean is a bad thing (it’s certainly not, especially in the spring or summer) but when combined with a slightly less-trim fit, it would seem that J. Crew has Banana Republic beat in this department (with its slim 484 fit).

The 'vintage straight' fit, as seen in-store.
The ‘vintage straight’ fit, as seen in-store.

Elsewhere however, the brand turns up some pleasant surprises. Many seem to love the dressy sheen of BR’s Luxe-Touch polos,  which can also be worn fairly casually with shorts. Some other eye-catching options include the washed vintage polos (as seen near the bottom of this page) and a bevy of striped and colorblock selections (try and avoid that logo, though!). And some more unique, sporty-looking summer and early fall sweaters were on display, too (think thicker, athletic-inspired stripes, sturdy buttons and ribbed collars — like this option here.

The store’s selection of T-shirts, in both crewneck, V-neck and pocket options, is pretty straightforward, although the shirts that combine, say, colorblocking, a slight wash and a pocket (as seen online) look promising for the future. Much of the same goes for Banana Republic’s shorts, which recently underwent a slight overhaul with the introduction of the slimmer-fitting Aiden short. As always, be sure to keep an eye on the sale section — a spin through that area of the store turned up some pieces with a pop of color, including the dark green military-inspired jacket below (which was not available on the website).

photo 1While the brand has done a nice job positioning itself as a good entry-level location for suiting and tailored blazers, as well as standard sweaters, polos and T-shirts, it appears there’s one key factor that could be keeping younger customers out of Banana Republic stores. The brand seems a little more straightforward and less edgy than, for example, J. Crew, and has only fairly recently introduced more tailored fits in some products. The slimmer fits are largely a positive step, but it’s come a bit later than other brands.  And the same qualities that make it ideal to build starter style also might keep more stylistically advanced customers away.

At the end of the day though, it’s a store that’s worth checking out for affordable, more tailored basics and some good steals in the shoe department. When combined with slightly more forward brands, like J. Crew, BR’s products can definitely exist side-by-side as part of a well put-together wardrobe. That’s about all you can ask from your closet.

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