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.


Summer Style Suggestion: Patterned Shorts

My favorite look so far this summer also happens to be the easiest to style: patterned shorts.  These have been gaining popularity for a while, and for good reason! You can throw on some shorts, a loose tee and sandals in the morning for a daytime-casual look, and then switch into a crop top and flatforms or wedges for a night look. My favorite thing about these shorts are how comfortable they are. I prefer the looser cut so I can still move around in them.  Most of the patterned shorts have a wide color scheme, so you can wear almost any color with them.

Check out these specific pairs:

Urban Renewal Gauze Ruffle Short

Urban Renewal Gauze Ruffle Short









JOA Daisy-Trim Floral-Print Short

JOA Daisy-Trim Floral-Print Short

Urban Outfitters has so many cute options for patterned shorts, but these two were my favorite!

Nasty Gal It's a Trip Shorts

Nasty Gal It’s a Trip Shorts










Nasty Gal always has so many patterned shorts in stock.  I love this pair because the lace trim can help to dress up the shorts a lot!

Tobi Carrington Shorts

Tobi Carrington Shorts

Tobi, one of my favorite online shopping websites, has some great options as well! I love the ruffle at the bottom of this pair!

These shorts look great on so many body types, go with everything, and are super comfortable. They are all the rage, so almost any store in your price range will have some! If you are crafty, pick up a pattern and some cool fabric (vintage fabrics are great for these!) and sew them yourself!

That's what I did!

That’s what I did! Vintage fabric and tiny pom-pom trim!

Spring Style Essentials, Part One: Shorts

Warmer weather means it's time for shorts. Navy polo and shorts by J. Crew Stanton. Belt by Target Merona. Glasses by Burberry.

Warmer weather means it’s time for shorts. Navy polo and shorts by J. Crew Stanton. Belt by Target Merona. Glasses by Burberry.

With what appears to be the arrival of spring here in Michigan (finally!), it’s time to unpack some essentials from the closet. Spring bring with it breezy weather, sunshine and some occasional rain, all of which necessitate dressing differently than other parts of the year. Fall brings in colder temperatures and winter brings in chilly snow, meaning those parts of the year are about increasing the weight of textures and adding visual interest to outfits through unique layers.

With spring here and summer upcoming though, this time of year is all about lightening things up — in weight, color and texture.

These can be done through simple combinations that can easily rotate in and out of a personal uniform — an incredibly helpful and useful style move that can solve even the biggest conundrums. An easy upgrade to start comes with the occasional move from pants to (gasp!) shorts. Now, there’s a difference between putting on shorts and putting on shorts (kind of like the difference between a dinner jacket and a dinner jacket).

Forgo the bulky cargo pockets for something a bit more streamlined, like this Old Navy pair.

Forgo bulky cargo pockets for something more streamlined, like this Old Navy pair. Khaki works, but also look for color!

The right pair of shorts fall right in line in terms of fit with the best pieces in your wardrobe — as in slim or tailored.

This means that cargo shorts should be thrown out altogether, as there’s too much fabric hanging around with those extra pockets, bells and whistles (get a look at the top picture here). Several brands out there offer nice varieties of slim-fit shorts, which add a much more polished look to something as simple as a pocket T-shirt or striped henley.

A great starting point (slightly pricey, however) is J. Crew’s Stanton short. Unless you’re exceedingly tall or exceedingly short, look for something with about a 9″ inseam, like the Stanton — that seems to hit a little above the knee for most people, creating cleaner lines and an overall more tailored look. A wide range of colors for those J. Crew shorts is a nice touch, too. The Comer Chino shorts from Land’s End also are a personal favorite — two pairs have been in the personal rotation for two years now with lots of wear, and they’ve held up great. A lower price point is certainly beneficial, as well.

And because there’s less fabric on your legs, it’s OK to play around with color (for example: It might be too much to wear, say, bright blue pants at this time of year, but colorful shorts are definitely alright). In fact, stepping away from the typical khaki shades of shorts gives you more leeway to mix and match smaller colors in other parts of your outfit (just don’t go too color-crazy — keep it to one large pop of color and smaller complimentary colors elsewhere).

There also are both dressier and more casual options to pair with shorts —from a simple pocket T-shirt to a blue or white OCBD, but those will be explored in greater detail in future posts, as will essentials like spring shoes. Are there any go-to brands or colors you have for shorts or other spring style items? Leave feedback in the comments below!