Clothing connects people to cultures and communities in ways that few things can. In dressing ourselves, we implicitly reflect an identity: Yeezys for the hypebeast, Dickies for the skater, or leggings for the gym rat. Clothes allow us to move through aspects of our personality by configuring to whatever a given day feels like. But not everyone is interested in dressing up. For the not sartorially inclined, finding clothes that make you feel good can be a challenge. That's where the American clothing manufacturer Gap found its niche. A brand that has provided unimpeachable basics for the past 48 years, Gap makes clothing in its purest form: supremely functional and aesthetically reasonable. Gap makes clothes for everyone.
My first experience with Gap came when I was a child. Much like the company’s founders, Donald and Doris Fisher, I had a tough time finding pants that fit and often faced the indignity of buying adult-size clothing while I was still in elementary school. One afternoon, at one of the many sprawling shopping malls that litter suburban Texas, my mother and I went hunting for khakis at Gap Kids. Anxious with the familiar fear of being denied cool clothing for kids on account of my above-average waist size, I entered the store prepared for defeat.
To my surprise, I encountered a new sizing standard called “husky,” a descriptor that immediately resonated. I am not fat, I am husky, I remember thinking to myself. Of course, the sizing denomination “husky” is probably not unique to Gap, but it was the first kids’ brand I encountered that prominently put pants for big boys on display.
A timeless staple in American clothing, Gap embodies the democratic potential of clothes like none other. You probably won't dazzle anyone in a pair of Gap Relaxed Fit jeans, but you'll be comfortable and look fine, which, for some, is enough.
What is it?
Gap was founded in 1969 in San Francisco by the husband-and-wife duo Donald and Doris Fisher. The company started as a boutique that sold a number of brands before branching out into manufacturing its own products. Gap grew in popularity as decades passed and, in the ’90s, transitioned into a more high-end niche, becoming something of a status symbol for mall rats around the country. After a period of excessive expansion, the company has recently returned to its roots, outfitting everyday Americans in everyday basics.
Why is it the Gold Standard?
As suggested by the rise of "normcore," a back-to-the basics style movement identified by the trend forecasting agency K-Hole in 2014, clothing can be a way of blending in, of connecting to the masses by turning away from contrived individuality. As a brand, Gap is as pure a distillation of “average," in the most positive way. Whatever you’re looking for — a sensible jacket, sweatpants, a warm hoodie — Gap has you covered. Look in any closet across America, and you are sure to find at least one item from Gap. More than just sensible basics, the brand makes athletic gear under the Gap Fit umbrella. Much like its time-honored denim and t-shirts, Gap Fit provides sensible workout gear for people who want to look and feel good in the gym without splurging on the latest hyper-technical fitness apparel being doled out by Nike and Adidas.
In 2014, Gap enlisted the director David Fincher to capture the brand's inherently egalitarian ethos. The campaign, titled “Dress Normal,” featured an array of people dressed elegantly simple, displaying the effectiveness of Gap’s commitment to strong, standard basics.
Recently, Gap embraced the revival of the ’90s by re-releasing its classic archival pieces, with advertisements featuring the children of the models from the ’90s. There aren't very many American brands that can reach so effectively into the past, present, and future of the way we dress. In our current political climate, marked by nationalistic uprisings around the globe, brands like Gap remind us what is really great about America. The country might not agree on anything right now, but we all own a pair of jeans from one of America’s most iconic brands, and that’s a start.